Let Go of Resentment to Move Forward Successfully in Business and at Work
Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.
– Nelson Mandela
As these days of awe draw to a close this Wednesday, I’m reminded of a transformational termination of an employee. How can a termination be transformational? Because the employee took responsibility for terminating himself.
In the vast majority of terminations I have adjudicated as a Human Resources practitioner, the employees have terminated themselves: they exhausted the progressive discipline process (usually, the issue was a fundamental inability to get their butts to the building and work their prescribed schedules). Many organizations require employees to work prescribed schedules to meet / exceed customer needs. For example: like getting your paycheck on payday? It helps when the folks in Payroll are reliable so you in turn can rely on receiving your paycheck.
After many years of conducting termination conversations, I don’t expect the terminated employee to be happy about losing their job. Of course, they’re almost always upset. On the surface, they’re upset with me and their manager, but really, they’re upset with themselves and don’t have the emotional intelligence to take responsibility for their own actions. If they had that level of emotional intelligence, they in all likelihood wouldn’t have terminated themselves in the first place. At the beginning of my career, I alternated between incredulity and indignation at the lack of responsibility for terminating themselves. As time went on and my experience grew, I considered myself a termination doula, with the goal of making the experience of transitioning from their job as dignified and professional as the terminated employee will allow.
Attendance was this particular employee’s problem as well. He clearly did not care about getting to work on time, and his manager had given him more than enough chances to work his scheduled hours. I was waiting in the conference room for the employee and his manager. They entered the room and sat down. “You know why we’re here?” I asked the employee. His manager, inexperienced with terminations, took a deep breath. Employee looked at Manager, and then looked at me. “I did it to myself,” Employee stated calmly. I could feel my eyebrow rise in surprise. Manager finally exhaled. Employee turned to him. “Manager, don’t feel bad. You gave me more than enough leeway to clean up my act, and I didn’t take you up on it. This is my fault.” Manager was touched by Employee’s candor. “Employee, you’re a smart guy and I really enjoyed working with you. But-” Employee finished Manager’s sentence. “But I just couldn’t get my ass to work. I know.” Manager nodded, and looked at me. I nodded too. “Okay, sounds like we’re all set. Manager, please get Employee’s coat from his desk so we can finish this up.” Manager, relieved, left the room.
I opened up the folder with the two copies of the termination paperwork, and passed them across the table to Employee with a pen. “Please sign both copies and keep one,” I requested. “Sure, no problem,” Employee replied, and scribbled his signature on both documents. He slid one of the documents back to me, and folded his hands as if he had just bought a house. I was intrigued. “I want to commend you for how professionally you’ve handled this conversation,” I began. “Not the way this conversation usually goes.” Employee shrugged. “Why burn a bridge?” he replied. “You’ve all treated me well, it’s the least I can do given the situation.” Employee’s authenticity invited me to transform my role in the conversation. “Manager tells me that while you’re smart, you hated the clerical work you were doing. What is it that you’d really like to do?” It was Employee’s turn to be surprised. “No one’s ever asked me that before,” he replied. “I have 15 credits left to finish my Associate’s degree in Graphic Arts – I want to be a Graphic Artist.” There was the answer. Bad job fit. I leaned across the table, finding myself, surprisingly, in mentoring mode. “Do yourself a favor,” I replied. “Finish your degree, and get a job doing what you love to do. Clearly, you’ve learned what happens when you take a job hating what you do.” He laughed. “Clearly!” The door opened, and Manager entered the conference room with Employee’s coat. I stood up, and extended my hand. Employee shook my hand. “Thank you,” he said. “No, thank you,” I replied. “Best of luck to you.” Manager shook his hand too. “Take care,” Manager said. “You too,” Employee replied. “Thank you.” Employee left the conference room. Manager looked at me. “Well, that was different,” he said. “Yes,” I replied. “He was a good guy in the wrong job. Hopefully, he’ll go for the right job the next time.”
How will you let go of resentment, take responsibility and move forward to succeed in business and at work this week, and in the new year?