The Opposite of Engagement: When People Decide to Fire Their Company

“I need to speak to you when you get in this morning, preferably before the meeting with XXXX.

OK, no problem. Is everything OK? I sure hope it is not what I think...”

That email exchange took place about 10 pm one night last week. The young woman who sent it had finally received a job offer and was letting her manager know that she wanted to meet so that she could finally say “you’re fired.” — not to her manager, but to the organization.

I read with dismay the other day about the AOL executive that fired someone while he was conducting a company-wide conference call. The headline should have read “Bully acts out again and fires someone on the spot.”

Happy to let them go

That is why, in a lot of cases, I love to cheer for the underdog. I love to cheer for the employee who says, “I realize that I am talented and I am not going to take this anymore. Mr. Organization, you are fired!”

In my career, I have fired two companies when decided I was just not going to take it anymore. Yes, I let them go. It was such a great feeling.

The young woman I heard about who sent that email to her boss said she felt like a new person the next morning. She was up bright and early, singing along with the music as she got dressed for her big day. She said someone asked her at work if there was anything wrong since she seemed so happy.

This is what happens when you get rid of the company. It is what happens when you fire someone out of your life, but it’s not easy because you may need to find another job first before you let go.

In one of my own firing episodes, I simply walked out without a job. It worked out in the end for me, but I would not recommend doing it unless you are sure that you have a plan.

When this woman I heard about got into the office on that fateful morning, she said she had a feeling of euphoria. She knew, that in a few minutes, it would be official and she would begin the process to get out. Finally, the manager came in and once she made eye contact she motioned for her to come into the office. When they closed the door, she told her boss that she was resigning.

Dysfunctional management at work

Her boss became very distraught. She knew that this young lady held this department together. She was the one person who was always left in the office at the end of the day. She stayed to make sure everything was prepared for tomorrow, to make sure that everyone else’s work was complete. She started as an administrative assistant, and within 10 months, was promoted to manager in her division.

She was leading client engagements in major cities across the U.S. — all of this at the ripe old age of 24. But it eventually took a toll. You see, the executives were out of control, throwing temper tantrums for something as trivial as the car service being a few minutes late.

This smart young woman was even screamed at one day because IT was nowhere to be found. Someone was always in the bathroom crying because the big shot was on the warpath. Yet, all of this went on throughout the organization, and no one would step up and stop it.

When these tantrums would happen in a conference room, no one would say a word. It is called “looking-down-at-the-desk-and-being-afraid-to-look-up syndrome.”

They were all in fear of making eye contact, worried that the wrath of this inhumane individual would be thrown at them. When this person called me crying one day, I asked her to go to HR, but she said they would not do anything because they were afraid, too (that will be another blog post).

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They had employees that would leave for lunch and not come back, but the organization was clueless because no matter how many times this happened, management would start ANOTHER job search. No one thought about getting to the cause of this, or then again, maybe they knew not to go there.

Corporate leadership is an oxymoron

We all know of these types of individuals who are totally out of control in the workplace. They are the main reason our organizations are dysfunctional, and leadership dysfunction creates a breeding ground for this type behavior.

Sadly, many organizations just want leaders to go along and get along. This type of leader will not call out the bullies, because in a lot of cases, they are afraid or they just overlook it for a whole host of reasons.

I worked for one CEO who was different; she warned this out-of-control executive that she would not tolerate it. She was running through administrative staff  like underwear. The next time it happened, this CEO walked into the bully’s office and fired her, saying she wanted her out of the building ASAP.

That maneuver killed leadership dysfunction in its tracks. She sent a message to the organization, and all the bullies-in-training were halted in their tracks.

My friend who decided to “fire” her organization met with her manager and then she simply walked out of the office. Her boss called in the rest of the team to make the announcement. Now they must try to figure out how to align duties to take over my friend’s role. When the meeting broke, a few of her co-workers walked out with tears in their eyes. Some of those tears were the fear that now they were going to be in the line of sight and their workloads would all increase.

Are you happy when they leave?

When the word finally leaked out through the building that my friend had resigned, her email in-box was filled with congratulatory messages telling her how happy they were for her and that, yes, she did not deserve this type of treatment. Another common thread through these emails was that all her now former co-workers were all looking for new jobs, too. They all hated it there.

Folks, this is what happens when your organization becomes a breeding ground of intolerant behavior. When everyone is looking to get out, you have lost the “war for talent.”

When your manager tells you that she is jealous of you because you got out, that is the crowning statement.

So, my hat is off to my daughter Lauren, for being so accomplished at such a young age and realizing that, “I can be empowered and I can fire an organization just as well as I can be fired.”

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


3 Comments on “The Opposite of Engagement: When People Decide to Fire Their Company

  1. I love this post! We all have choices.
    I’m in a similar position, waiting for my opportunity to resign from a job that is making me physically ill. It feels a bit like an abusive relationship…no matter what I do, it’s never enough. And I know my boss won’t change – when I told her how I have been feeling she responded, “Oh no! I have a tendency to make people feel that way.” Thanks for the reminder that it’s just a matter of time.

  2. Guest, I applaud you on your responsibility and desire for a decent workplace. I was stuck in such a position in the 1980’s, when the job market was similar to what we have now. When I finally could leave, I felt so much better and shed a number of stress related physical issues. So, keep trying – you are worth it!

  3. Congratulations to your daughter, Ron, and what a wonderful article! My ex-husband worked for a bully like the one you describe, and it even made things tough at home sometimes… like when she would call our home in a rant late in the evening from some hotel, screaming about the hotel not putting her on a high enough floor to match her status or not having the right brand of water or some such nonsense. Kudos to Lauren, Ron.

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