Keeping it human – is it ok to sack staff via zoom?

Keeping it human.

You’re working at home when you receive an invitation from your company’s CEO to join a video conference. You join the call with 900 colleagues, only to learn you don’t have a job anymore.

Not next week, not even tomorrow — as of this moment, you’re unemployed.

This was the experience recently of 9 per cent of the workforce at US mortgage company And the video of the Zoom sacking promptly went viral, causing much comment.

It is never easy being sacked; but many felt being axed in this manner made it worse – ‘less human; I felt like nothing,’ as one of the employees said. 

In the company call, the chief executive Vishal Garg reveals how he cried last time he decided to sack staff but ‘hopes to be stronger’ on this occasion before breaking the bad news to the distant 900.

‘If you’re on this call, you are part of the unlucky group that is being laid off. Your employment here is terminated, effective immediately.’

Mr Garg gives market conditions, efficiency, staff performance and productivity as reasons for his decision. 

This isn’t the first time the CEO has been involved in controversy.

In November 2020, Mr Garg sent an email to staff telling them they were ‘too damn slow’ and that they were a ‘bunch of dumb dolphins’.

(Aren’t dolphins famed for their intelligence?)

You will have your own view of how people should be sacked. Some will say it is brutal however you do it, and impossible to sugar-coat.

So why not do it by Zoom?

Others feel the diminished sense of human connection in this process. Emotionally-remote sacking probably reveals a company that offers only emotionally-remote working; numbers on the payroll, rather than people. 

Bad news is best given face-to-face. Hence police visit the home of someone killed, to speak to the bereaved in person.

It would be much easier to send a text or email; this would avoid the difficult words, the difficult feelings. 

But it doesn’t seem right. 

It’s not what we do; it’s how we do it. And maybe the avoidant story is a reminder – in whatever role we play or communication we engage in – to keep it human, as much as we are able.

Life is difficult. But it’s much less so when we are treated as humans along the way.

It’s possible I can do better.