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Fired by Email

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Email is unforgiving. If any messages are sent in error, they may cause serious damage.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

4 comments on “Fired by Email”

  • It not only lacks taste but it doesn’t take the time to recognize the value of the employees’ time and effort at the company. Emails to large numbers of people can be effective if the communication is a newsflash or even a recognition of hard work like meeting a quarterly business goal however using it to lay off your dedicated workers? You are dead wrong on that one Radio Shack.

  • I just got fired via e-mail yesterday at noon. I am one of seven employees, making it even less professional. Also, my boss waited until our “Sunday” (a Monday)–the day before the workweek starts–to send it, meaning I just missed all of last weeks classifieds. NICE.

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