Fionn Kellas’ sudden loss of her retail job is stressful. But getting the news via WhatsApp messages rather than in person makes it worse.
“It was an absolute shock to me,” Keiras said, recalling the injury of being fired in such a sudden and cold way.
Months later, the memory of being fired from a Toronto-area candy store is still painful for Kailas.
“I was crying.”
Using technology to deliver this bad news — whether by email, video call or similar tool — is one approach some organizations have adopted during the pandemic, but employees and experts say it fails to take into account the people on the receiving end of job losses.
“I think it’s another example of where we’re really not fully focused on making the best use of technology,” said Paula Allen, senior vice president of research and overall benefits at human resources firm LifeWorks.
Thousands of employees at tech companies Meta and Twitter recently learned of the layoffs by email.
A few months ago, hundreds of UK ferry workers were sacked over Zoom calls. Employees at online auto retailer Carvana learned of mass layoffs in similar fashion in the spring.
While such mass layoffs by large corporations have grabbed headlines, it’s not just big corporations using these tools to part ways with employees.
For Kellas, the shocking news of his job loss via WhatsApp came from the manager of the small shop.
“I’m out of it, but it’s still a bit of a ‘What the F?’ situation,” Keiras said, noting that the manager could have made the moment less harsh by making the call.
But the phone might not be all that welcome in all situations, either.
Last winter, Kelsee Douglas learned she lost her job midway through her job at a hearing clinic in Saskatchewan.
It started with an email informing her of an unexpected meeting. Then came the conference call, during which she was told that her job was coming to an end — immediately.
“I was really, really shocked,” said Douglas, who has been in the job for two and a half years.
Allen, head of the HR firm, said it was key for organizations to provide support to employees, such as counseling and career guidance, as they adjusted to the new reality.
She warns that employers may not know the full range of personal circumstances employees face when they receive layoff or termination notices — nor do they know how receptive employees are to the news.
“A lot of people are dealing with a lot of issues and coming into the office every day, and that’s a straw that makes it hard for them to see the next move.”
Sixteen years ago, consumer electronics retailer RadioShack emailed 400 employees that they would lose their jobs.
At the time, prominent Labor leader Bruce Reynolds called it “a heinous way of treating human beings”.
But it seems to be becoming more common, especially during the pandemic.
Cannabis company Canopy Growth used Zoom to announce layoffs of 200 employees in 2020.
Just last year, 900 Better.com employees learned they had been fired during a much-criticized Zoom call.
700 people at Swedish payments company Klarna were told of the layoffs in a recorded message in May, and employees have since reportedly had to wait for emails to find out if they were affected.
Janet Candido, a human resources consultant in Toronto, said she hopes remote termination “doesn’t become commonplace.”
The use of these methods appears to have expanded during the pandemic, she said. As more people start using these tools to work remotely, the same technology is being used to keep some of them away.
Camilla Boyer, an executive communications consultant based in the UK, believes globalization has also played a role.
“Companies with employees spread across the world don’t have the option of bringing everyone together in a room, or meeting them face-to-face in the office like we used to,” said Boyer, who has helped advise companies that have cut jobs in the past.
“This has led to the increasing use of technology to reduce force,” she said in an email.
room for improvement
“I think there are good and bad things going on,” Martha Maznevski, a professor of organizational behavior at Western University in London, Ontario, told CBC News via email.
The process, Mazniewski said, was “completely cold and cold,” with little goodwill left by departing employees. But it can also be an effective way to share critical information, especially in geographically distributed organizations.
“Employers should be cautious about firing via video or other similar methods,” said Nadia Zaman, an employment attorney at Rudner Law in Markham, Ontario.
She noted that some aspects of these tools may allow employers to have discussions in a private and confidential manner.
In the long run, Allen doesn’t expect these practices to go away — and in some cases, people will continue to be hired remotely and fired in the same way.
Whatever the situation, she said that consideration of people should be at the heart of the process.
“I think the way it’s done needs a little more attention.”