When I was in my teens it was considered <i>very</i> bad form to break up with a boyfriend over the phone. Email, I'm told, makes the phone break up look classy. So why is it okay to fire someone that way?

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

September 23, 2007

2 Min Read

When I was in my teens it was considered very bad form to break up with a boyfriend over the phone. Email, I'm told, makes the phone break up look classy. So why is it okay to fire someone that way?The answer is it's not, but some companies are doing it anyway.

According to the 13th Annual "Attitudes in the American Workplace" Poll conducted by Harris Interactive for The Marlin Company 10 percent of U.S employees say their company has used email to fire or lay off employees.

Obviously compounding the sting of a layoff or a firing by having the employee get the message in their inbox, right next to a message from their mother and Old Navy is just not nice. But not having a face to face exit interview with each employee that once worked for you means that you can be missing out on valuable information that only someone on their way out can tell you.

Frank Kenna, president and CEO of Marlin, told InformationWeek, that for the boss, firing via email means "you don't get the feedback you should be getting" from the fired worker. He added, "you might hear things you don't want to hear, but should" as a boss.

And don't think your other employees aren't taking careful notice of how their company treats its employees. Not only does it do little to engender company loyalty but it can also engender active ill will and low morale on the part of those who are left.

According to InformationWeek, the use of email to "swing the hatchet" tends to be among "larger employers with 1,000 or more workers, rather than smaller companies, although they too are occasionally guilty of using electronic copouts."

But this is not a trendy way of using the latest technology that small and midsized companies should pick up on and make into standard practice.

Apparently managers aren't using email to just get out a bad work relationship. The survey also indicated that 17 percent of respondents said their boss used emails to avoid other difficult face-to-face conversations.

Who wouldn't prefer to shoot off an email rather than have to face an employee and tell them that their work on that last project was not great? Or that they are not a good match for the company? Or that the department needs to make some cuts?

But the damage of not hearing what your employees have to say and of not treating your employees with respect, even when they're on their way out the door, can reverberate throughout your company and can have implications that last a lot longer than the echo of the slam of the door as they leave.

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