LETTER: Langley retiree critical of workplace cruelty

Watching four friends be fired in a callous manner has a local woman questioning modern business.

Dear Editor,

[I read a magazine article] by psychotherapist Liza Finlay. Ms. Finlay spoke about bystander apathy, how easy it is to find reasons for not speaking up when witnessing injustice in one of its many forms.

For me, this was a call to action, as I have been stewing for the past couple of weeks about what I should do in response to an appalling practice which has made its way into the Canadian work force. I’m talking about a particularly vicious method of firing people.

Over the past year, I have witnessed four people who I know and respect go through this. Each was called into a manager’s office, instructed to hand over computers, cellphones, and keys, then told (with no explanation) that their services are no longer required. They were then escorted from the building. No opportunity to say goodbye to colleagues, or collect personal belongings from their desks. One was allowed to collect personal items from her desktop, but only under supervision, and only after she had proved the items she was taking were indeed hers, not company property. Another was left with no transportation home, as he was driving a company vehicle.

You might be thinking “They must have known something was going on,” or “Maybe the company was downsizing, and they were last hired.”

Doesn’t matter. In my books, there is no justification for this kind of appalling, soul-destroying behaviour. When did it become acceptable to treat people as if they had no value? As if they had no right to be treated with dignity and respect?

All four of these people were hardworking, dedicated employees who cared about the work they were doing. All had been with these companies for a number of years, two in management positions. (Shortest term, 10 years, longest 22 years.) Yes, different companies were involved.

When I retired, it was my choice. I cannot imagine having to experience what these friends did. For all four, it was humiliating. Two actually took early retirement, because they were financially able to do so, but that doesn’t erase the memory of those few moments. Another moved on to a new job, but says she’ll never forget the experience. “It was humiliating. I felt like a criminal.”

All four told me later it would have made a huge difference if there had been an explanation, if they had been told their service had been valued, or if there had been even a token expression of regret over the actions. But no.

It also troubles me that in all four cases, the employees ‘recruited’ to do the firing were women. What’s that about? You’re promoted to management, but your first task is to somehow prove yourself by treating others this way?

I’m part of the generation who fought for women’s rights. Equal pay for equal work. No discrimination in the workplace. I applaud the fact that there are many women now in management positions, but does this mean that in order to do a job we’re required to lose our compassion?

Being fired from a job is a life-altering experience at best, and in my eyes, there has to be a better way to do it. It should never be so devastating that people never fully recover.

Mary Gillanders, Langley

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