Thursday, June 30, 2005

Performing an Extraction

There are fewer tasks as awful as having to fire someone. It just sucks plain and simple. I have often heard management blowhards espouse the dictum that if you’ve handled the disciplinary process correctly, then the person being terminated shouldn’t be surprised when they’re fired. To that I say “bullshit”. You can coach, document, verbal warn, written warn, threaten, cajole, personal-improvement-plan someone till the cows come home, and there will still be people who just didn’t see it coming. On the other hand, some people see it coming the second day they’re on the job.

I have, over the years, come to call the termination process “Performing an Extraction” (which is prison guard terminology for removing an inmate from their cell by force – somewhat apt since the blue/gray walls of a cubicle bear some resemblance).

Extraction #1: Hittin’ the Call Center Floor: I had to fire a woman for poor performance. There was a long, twisting muddy trail of documentation, meetings, talks, warnings etc leading up to the day of termination. Interspersed in there was a using-company-fax/time-to-fax-resume-during-on-the-job-job-search incidents as well. When the time came to lower the boom, I asked the assistant manager to bring her to my office. I had instructed him to wait outside my office for the termination to be completed, then usher the ex-employee to her cube to collect her belongings and hit the road.

As luck would have it, the employee was crushed into a million tiny tear-stained pieces by the news, which didn’t make it easy for me (selfish bastard). I was able to get her to hold herself together enough to make her exit from my office, where she was passed off for the final walk.

About three minutes later I heard this god-awful single wail, and rushed out of my office to see the woman collapsed on her knees on the call center floor at her cubicle. It sort of reminded me of that famous 1970 Kent State picture of the woman wailing over the body of the student killed by the National Guard. But this wasn’t Kent State – this was a call center, and this woman had, unbeknownst to her, been given a new lease on life – she was free of the call center! But she didn’t see it that way at that moment.

The assistant manager was standing over her, holding her by one arm gently urging her to rise and collect her things, which she did in due time. But that image is certainly one for the books because the drama reached its zenith in front of the whole call center – picture it: the loud, single wail, the stricken ex-employee in limp, abject supplication before her cube, the assistant manager attempting to assuage her grief, attempting to raise her up (and get her the f*@#k out the door!), the call center manager rushing out (and rolling his eyes). It was a tableau one sees in Renaissance religious allegory paintings, by God! And it was happening right there! Right there, on the floor of MY call center!!


Anonymous James Richards said...

Hi there!

You've an interesting blog taking shape.

Here's a link to 17 call centre blogs if you're interested.

Good luck


4:53 PM  
Blogger AnonymousCog said...

Incredible post! I loved it!


10:06 PM  
Anonymous Eva said...

unfortunately, call centers are full of drama queens.

9:35 AM  
Blogger whoinsamhill said...

My reaction to your story was a tear and a smile; the best comedy does have a tragic element, doesn't it? While I trust your judgement that she had to go, I despise the company policy of marching the fired one out the door, with what belongings she can carry, in front of the whole call center. But your exctraction sure painted the picture of employee stress that characterizes a lot of these workplaces. Thank God she knew how to wail!

6:58 PM  

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