We are all walking the corporate tight rope. There have never been many guarantees in life as a corporate employee. But now, despite employment protection legislation, there seem to be even fewer. We live in turbulent and changing times and no one is immune. Unfair dismissal is commonplace. So are lay offs. So it’s not just necessary to be strategic about career advancement, but to always have a safety net in place in case of an unexpected fall.
Even minor changes which at one time might have produced a little stumble, might send you crashing to your knees. These could be anything from a promotion disappointment, a take over, a new boss coming in, or even an economic blip that might unexpectedly impact results and performance. No one is indispensable. And sometimes our faces, from one day to another, simply don’t fit.
During COVID and what has become called the Great Resignation, many changed jobs. This involved an online hiring process, sometimes via automated interview, remote onboarding and remote working. It’s particularly difficult to get a handle on an organisation without direct contact with the people involved.
It’s not only high-profile CEOs who get fired over the phone. We have also heard about mass online dismissals. Better.com CEO Vishal Gard fired 900 people over Zoom in December 2021 and has now stepped back after a back lash.
Others only find out when they can’t access their email accounts because they are blocked from the server as we have seen with the many tech layoffs in recent weeks. I spoke to a victim last week with nearly 20 years service under his belt. He didn’t think it could happen to him.
In the last few weeks I have had two clients, who have been basically, summarily dismissed and they believed had cases of unfair dismissal. For some reason, out of the blue, their contributions were deemed to be below par. Within an hour they have been placed on notice, told to clear their desks and instructed not to return to their place of employment. Access to their company email accounts and records had been immediately blocked.
Had they committed some grave offence or were guilty of gross misconduct: hit the boss, lost a few billion, or sworn in front of a client? No they hadn’t. There seemed to be no obvious reason to either of them, nor was there any traceable record of any “sackable” offence, or even communicated under-performance. They both had contracts of employment. For some reason they were both surplus to requirements at one given moment in time and were “let go”, to use that hateful euphemism. Neither were senior enough to negotiate a golden parachute.
Regretfully, they have both found themselves in a void: hurt, angry, confused and wondering what their next steps could be.
The take away lessons to both these clients were significant and there were some commonalities. They realised with that great gift of 20/20 hindsight that when the going was good, they had taken it for granted and had not taken even basic precautions. Under- performance had been cited in both cases as reason for termination and in reviewing their next steps, the only way both individuals could support their own version of events was verbally and anecdotally. If considering legal action, this can be problematic. With future employers it might also be useful to have support documentation to hand.
Do you have your safety net in place? Check out the career transition programmes if you are in difficulty.
8 precautions to take around unfair dismissal
Whether this is a personal dismissal or part of a larger scale down-sizing, you still need to create the same safety precautions . I call this working defensively – which really means always plan for the worst.
1. Store personal information outside the office.
Always store personal professional information outside the office. Both used their office computers for personal use and had not stored key information privately, or as hard copy.
They had no access to vital correspondence on other hard drives, once access had been denied. In many cases this is even before a dismissal officially takes place. as we have seen in some of the recent layoffs in the tech sector.
Remember when you turn your computer and phone in the company willl ahve access to all your apps (Uber, Deliveroo, Fitness, Calm etc.) and other data. Remember to scrub your devices before you turn them in.
2. Always ask for KPIs
Always ask for annual goals and targets against which your performance will be assessed in writing. Keep a record of that document or correspondence. Neither had done this. If new in a post ask for soft targets or support in any probationary period, especially in sales. At least you can show any future employer than you are on track
3. Record your achievements
Maintain a success station. Save copies (in either a personal email account or as hard copy) of the good stuff! Any positive feedback or success stories. Once outside the swinging doors, neither had any record of their achievements or access to them, even previous performance assessment documentation where they had received strong ratings. Make sure these are visible in the public domain too.
4. Keep a record of any requests for feedback
Keep copies of requests for support or feedback and document any tricky problems as well, especially the methods you used to overcome them. Neither had hard or soft copies of ignored requests for support and advice, or any conflicting instructions they had received.
5. Ask peers for rcommendations
Ask for recommendations from peers and superiors within your company to support your success stories. These can be posted on your LinkedIn profile for the whole world to see.
6. Look for a mentor or a sponsor
Look for a mentor or sponsor both within the organisation and externally you can turn to for advice. Both felt isolated.
7. Network and network some more
Carry on building an external network and maintain it. You never know when you will be unexpectedly on the job market and have an updated copy of your CV at the ready. You never now when you will need it .
8. Keep an emergency fund
Try and have an emergency fund to tide you over. Not always easy in inflationary times.
This may all seem very cynical, but change doesn’t have to be cataclysmic to produce a massive personal downside in today’s cyclical job market. Organisations will be equally vigilant in maintaining their records. Unless you have negotiated a golden parachute as part of your contract of employment, having a net under the corporate tight rope is simply a basic and very necessary safety measure.
You’ve heard of driving defensively – well regrettably, although far from ideal, we now we have to work defensively too.
What other precautions would you suggest?
Note: written in 2011 and updated in 2022 and then 2023. Yep.. some things don’t change.
If you need support with career transition or a set back – get in touch NOW!
Dorothy, your advice is excellent. I’ve need this info both as an employee who has been laid off and as a manager who has had to fire or lay off direct reports. I always warn my direct reports – don’t use your computer for personal stuff, and if you do, save it at home. You never know when the business will no longer need you, no matter how well you were performing.
My team is at the top of their game, but my job was just eliminated. Luckily, besides a few pictures, there isn’t anything on my computer that can’t be deleted without any pain! Live and learn, and keep your important stuff at home!
Thanks Valerie – I think it’s all part of the gradual blurring of work/life. It sort of just creeps up on everyone. But best to keep key things stored outside the office. Just a sensible precaution.
Thanks – yes we all think things won’t happen to us – but they do! Plan for the unexpected is never a bad thing.
Helpful tips. I agree that creating a workplace safety net is a good idea. Ultimately no one can do that as well as the you (the employee). It seems that too many believe that they can “get to it later” or even someone else will take care it. Time to start now…
Thanks Dorothy – this is incredibly useful advice. I was very lucky; someone tipped me off when young about keeping a portfolio of useful thing like annual reports, thank you notes and comments on my work, as well as my own copies of reports etc that I had written. Of course one should not break confidence nor infringe the intellectual property of an employer but it still often possible to keep examples of work completed. I was lucky, I didn’t need any of until it became a time of my own choosing to write and evidence a CV. These days I think I would be at much greater risk and the portfolio would be even more useful.
Great advice. I would add to make sure you have your colleagues contact details available in another form that is not the intranet, as this can disappear from one moment to the next. I would also add to say goodbye to people, even after the fact, in order to keep a nice relationship and that they do not feel awkward or embarassed contacting you for anything (and have your contact details). One more thing is have work-related articles, training manuals and anything else you are entitled to walk away with either at home or in an easy locatable place. These can be so valuable that it would be a real shame to lose them.
I think my generation (Y) is much more conscious of these things than previous ones, as we have never seen our employment as permanent. I now see a blurring of temp/contract and permanent jobs for everyone. That comes as a shock for those for whom change has happened “under their feet”, but we never had a “stable, long term” job.
Victoria – thanks great additions.I think you are right that younger people are more accustomed to more short term pjoject roles – but one client was in fact barely 30 and still shocked/hurt/bereaved.
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