The etiquette of dismissal

P&O have brilliantly demonstrated how not to sack your workforce. You simply cannot wake up in a bad mood and sack your entire workforce of 800 on Zoom.

P&O now plan to replace them with Filipino crews who can also be paid well below minimum wage and treated badly.

Previously known as The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Packet Company, P&O is now owned by DP World, a “logistics solutions” organisation based in Dubai.

P&O Ferries sacked 800 workers last month, replacing them with agency staff. One anonymous seafarer working the Irish Sea ferry route for many years described the impact of abruptly losing his job and way of life.

“When you speak to ferry passengers they’re sometimes quite surprised you actually live on board the ship. It’s more than just a workplace. With your shipmates you’re living, eating, working together, doing all the domestic stuff like watching television, you’re the police, ambulance and fire brigade – you’re self-sufficient.”

“So when P&O-hired security boarded our ship, it wasn’t just a sacking. It was an eviction.”

He continued: “I’ve worked on the Irish Sea crossing from Scotland to Northern Ireland for many years, and been at sea since I was 17. It’s intensive work. It’s a non-stop operation, so we work 12-hour shifts for two weeks at a time. Then you have two weeks off. But it’s not leave, it’s rest. You’re shattered. The noise and the vibrations of the ship mean sleep is a lot more unsettled, especially when you get bad weather. The trip before the sacking we got three storms in a row. It can get rough.

“On Thursday, it was around 6.30am, when the ship was unloading the freight, that we got an order not to load it up for the normal 8am crossing. Then there was word other ships across the UK had been ordered to stand down too. This felt serious. I’d been up for hours and was exhausted. But me and the other guys were desperate to know. I was full of nervous energy.

“The captain was instructed by superiors in Dover to allow security guards to enter the port and board the ship. We saw them arriving like a funeral procession, these five cars coming into port and driving slowly towards the ship. One man read a prepared statement: ‘You’re dismissed.’

“We were escorted one by one to our cabins. There were two guards with me as I packed up years and years worth of gear. I wasn’t even allowed to say goodbye to the crew, which becomes like your family. It was disgusting, brutal, shocking. We were just escorted to a shuttle bus. I went home to my daughter, dazed and astonished.

“When you’ve worked on the same ship for many years like I had, there’s a pride and a wealth of knowledge that builds up. Pride in your ship. As a crew you learn these little tricks of the trade: how the water supply, sewage systems, engines work. Now all that knowledge is gone.

“I’m worried we’ll be dealing with this for years. Competitors are going to be fighting against this low-cost model. As soon as one company goes for fully cheap agency labour, the others will have to follow. How could you do this to a person? How can anyone plan their life when they’re living each two-week contract at a time? We’re becoming a society of those with job security and those without.

“I go through waves of anger. I wish I could rewind the clock. Sitting on land, the feeling is just disbelief. I’ve written a CV for the first time in years. My ship and cabin are still sitting there, but now they’re occupied by an agency worker. It’s so painful to be cast off in this way.”

Getting sacked happens to all of us at some stage; actually it doesn’t, but the likelihood of being fired are continually increasing as the highstreet gradually shuts up shop, company mergers lead to realignments and robots are being trained to take over all of our jobs. So, if you haven’t been sacked before, you probably will be in the near future.

Getting sacked can be devastating and the fear of an uncertain future can lead people to say or do things that are out of character and that they will probably later regret.

Lynn Taylor is a workplace specialist and author of the snappily titled book, “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behaviour and Thrive in Your Job.” She says:”Because most terminations happen without notice, anxiety about your livelihood and next move can be overwhelming. Being unable to defend yourself, coupled with the finality of the event, can quickly take you from shock and denial to anger.”

Even if you suspected that your job was at risk, there is always some element of surprise involved — and being caught off guard is when you can unwittingly make matters worse for yourself.

Taylor says: “If you’re concerned about such a possibility, you might think strategically about how to best react after an event like this. A good rule of thumb is to pause, breathe, think, and be proactive. You may be asked to sign documents, for example, but give yourself enough time to respond appropriately, when you’re not in an emotional state.”

As difficult as it is at the time, the best course of action is to try and keep a level head and not to burn any bridges, adds Kerr: “Take a deep breath and err on the side of saying nothing if you feel you can’t keep control of your emotions. And definitely avoid the temptation to say any of the following.”

‘Are you kidding me?’

That’s precisely what most employees are thinking when they get the unfortunate news, says Taylor: “That reaction suggests you’re ready for combat, but your employer, like it or not, can abruptly end the conversation right there, and you may be walked out within minutes.”

A much better approach is to take a deep breath, stay calm and focused, and try to be co-operative.

“This is not a situation you can control. But like most setbacks, it’s 90% how you react, and 10% what actually happens,” she says.

Consider how you want to be remembered on your last day by your boss, colleagues, and even your professional circle.

“The business world is getting smaller each day with the help of technology. Think about how you would want an employee to leave, keeping mutual respect top of mind,” she says.

‘You can’t fire me because I quit’

This classic line makes for many memorable movie scenes, but in real life it will only make you look spiteful.

In some cases, your employer may give you the option of quitting instead of being fired, and there may indeed be advantages to offering up your resignation if that deal is made. But yelling it out in the heat of the moment could backfire on you big time.

“Unless you submitted a resignation letter, if you’re being terminated, it’s better to accept the news with grace and dignity,” Taylor says. “Even suggesting that you were planning to quit anyway is an obvious defence that has no redeeming value.”

Keep in mind that most everyone has been or will be terminated from a job at some point in their life. And if your boss is unhappy with your performance, you’ll both be better off if you move on to greener pastures.

“Staying in a dead-end, stressful job with a difficult boss may offer a reliable routine,” she says. “But ‘routine discomfort’ is not good for your self-esteem, health, or your career. So your best approach is to leave behind a positive impression, as difficult as that may be.”

‘I know where all the bodies are buried.’

Unless you are actually in the mafia, there is little point in this plan of attack.

Making any suggestion that you are going to not only take company secrets with you, but also hold them over their heads and potentially reveal them will create a huge level of distrust and may even evoke a legal reaction on your employer’s behalf.

Don’t make threats of any kind. You’ll be sure to regret it if you do.

‘I’m not prepared to leave.’

“I’ve witnessed employees, who, after being told they were being terminated, said, ‘I can’t accept that.’ You may feel compelled to give a litany of reasons why you don’t deserve this fate. But that will just exacerbate the situation,” says Taylor.

You can attempt to get some brief insight, but unfortunately, most employers don’t feel that they must offer much detail. One reason is that it will increase their risk of legal liability if they misspeak, she says.

They may just say, “Unfortunately, this did not work out,” and explain the next administrative steps. Or, they may tell you that HR will be in touch with more details. In the most egregious situations, you may be informed via email; it can be that impersonal.

Your best bet is to be prepared on all levels. This is the time to put your best foot forward. You might explain that you’re saddened by the news, but appreciate all the training and experience you gained at the company.

‘But I’m so much better than anyone else on the team.’

Of course you are, it’s just that no-one else can see your monumental merits.

“Turning your sights onto colleagues and taking shots at their talents or abilities will make you look petty and send the message that you never were a team player, not to mention potentially costing you any emotional support or assistance you may have got from former colleagues,” says Kerr.

Leave everyone else out of the conversation.

‘Can I talk to someone else?’

This is another form of denial, and it will only irritate your manager, Taylor says.

“It’s best to get past the disbelief and think how you can go into damage-control mode. You may be asked to give an exit interview, but this is not an invitation to establish a new battleground,” she adds.

‘You’ll regret this.’

You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: Never burn your bridges.

“And the last thing you want to do is threaten your manager upon your departure, intimating that you may disparage them in the industry,” says Taylor. “That can easily come back to haunt you.”

You never know if, or when future colleagues will meet your former boss or management team. It’s a small world. But if you take the high road, your future career prospects will be much brighter.

Warning your boss about future regrets can easily be interpreted as being a threat. And wishing them ill won’t win you any sympathy.

‘I always hated working for you anyway — you were a lousy boss, so good riddance.’

This might make you feel better, but it is rather childish.

“It can’t get more personal than this, and that’s exactly what you want to avoid,” says Taylor. “Getting fired is personal for you, but taking the moral high ground is a better choice than attempting to fight back with insults — even subtle ones.”

Making a personal attack against your boss will create even more tension at a time when you might still have the opportunity to negotiate some of the final arrangements, and making enemies of your boss can come back to bite you and damage your reputation down the road.

‘%@$! you, you $%&*’

Why not? You’re only human and your boss must be pretty thick to want to get rid of you, but in reality, it’s best not to stoop to this level. Name-calling and cursing aren’t going to get you your job back. But they will help you burn bridges.

As tempting as it might be to swear continuously at a time like this, it will only raise the temperature and make you come across as immature, unprofessional, and rude. Swearing is the quickest way to lose any favour, shut down the conversation, and might end up with you being escorted from the premises by security. Keep your emotions in check and stay professional.

‘This place is a sinking ship. It won’t survive without me.’ or ‘Good luck with this place.’

Do you really want to be remembered as an egotistical idiot?

“It may be tempting to be sarcastic and suggest to your manager, or others within earshot, that this will be a sinking ship once you depart. But don’t take the bait,” Taylor warns.

Plus, any disparaging comments about the company will make you look small-minded and bitter, and from your boss’ perspective, it will reinforce the fact that they made the right decision by firing you.

‘You were always out to get me — you never liked me and this just proves it.’

This makes it intensely personal and accuses your boss of making it personal, which is never helpful and it suggests that you think nothing matters in your workplace other than being popular with the boss rather than assuming any responsibility on your part.

‘I’ll sue’

No you won’t. You really don’t want to make this kind of threat, especially if it’s an empty one.

If you really, truly believe that you’ve been wrongfully fired, then now is not the time to discuss it. You’ll want to talk to a lawyer. Threatening legal action will severely strain relations and get in the way of any smooth transition.

The best sacking I knew about took place in 1992. ITV put its 13 regional companies up for tender. One of the plumb ones was Thames Television and so, unsure as to their future, the Thames bosses took their staff to Australia for an annual conference and told their employees that they all had an open return ticket. 

When the results of the auction came out, Thames had been bought by LWT and so the Thames employees could either enjoy an extended holiday if LWT did not want their services, return to work for LWT, or make new lives for themselves in Australia.

I thought that was really quite classy.



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