Is it appropriate to use email to fire someone? Would you like to learn that your job has been eliminated from a few typed words on a monitor screen?
Last week RadioShack Corporation used email to inform 403 employees that their jobs had been eliminated, according to an article in the Dallas Morning News online.
Email is not the right medium for this kind of message. Here are four reasons why email is a poor choice:
- Email is one-way communication. When employees receive the news, they may have no one to listen to their concerns, respond to their questions, or empathize with their feelings. Also, management has no way of explaining the reason for each individual’s layoff or knowing how the workforce is responding to the news.
- Email is unforgiving. If any messages are sent in error, they may cause serious damage.
- It is virtually impossible to control the timing or circumstances of each individual’s email reading. An individual may read the email just after learning that his daughter has cancer or that his wife has lost her job.
- While email communication may be efficient, it is impersonal.
RadioShack took a tremendous gamble on this approach to termination. It risked low morale, a corporate image of callousness, and even possible lawsuits.
If the early results of a Dallas Morning News poll are any indication, RadioShack lost the wager–at least on the corporate image side. In response to the question "Is it OK to lay off workers via e-mail?" so far 93 percent of respondents checked "No, it should be done face-to-face." Only 7 percent marked "Yes, it doesn’t really matter how you get the news."
Here are just a few of the respondents’ comments:
I just emailed Radio Shack that I will no longer patronize their company. I do not expect a reply.
Doing it by email is doing it in a very cowardly way.
If the situation was reversed, an employer would not give a good reference if an employee sent an email from home saying "I quit."
I don’t care if the technology is there . . . if someone is losing . . . their job, it must be done with dignity. The face-to-face meeting adds dignity.
It is interesting to note that RadioShack provided a lot of information to all employees before the email notices went out, and it followed up with in-person meetings for those involved. Nevertheless, the focus of the Dallas Morning News and the reader opinion poll was on the use of email. The communication that took place before and after it does not seem to matter.
Does the efficiency of instant communication with 403 people outweigh any negative reaction? Or is email dead wrong in this situation? You know my opinion. Please share yours.