After you have visited a friend and the evening is over, it’s a lovely friendly gesture if your host waves goodbye at the doorstep or walks you out to your car. It says “I know you have to go, but I hate to see you leave.” You drive away feeling loved.
On the other hand, when a security guard at your workplace walks you out of the building, that’s a whole different story. It’s the white collar walk of shame.
I was recently at a social gathering where friends were discussing how some colleagues had been fired and escorted out. The firings had happened many months ago, but my friends were all still upset about it. The procedure of escorting people off the premises seemed to them to be unnecessary, excessive, and offensive. Whether or not it was justified, it was bad for morale.
The reasons commonly given for this kind of heavy-handed activity are related to security, but if truth be told it’s as much about theatre as it is about protecting the organization. It’s not hard to collect passwords, computers, and keys at the firing interview. The walking-out-of-the-building thing is entirely meant to serve as a threat to others. It says, “Watch your back.”
In the workplace that my friends were discussing, all the people fired were older employees who had been there a long time. They had varying degrees of accomplishments, but what they all had in common was that they were at the top of the pay scale. Instead of offering an incentive for them to leave, the administration charged them with infractions of the rules. The pretexts were perceived by others as being pretty thin, and that sent the message that everyone was at risk. It also said that money is more valuable than employee commitment. Everyone knows that new, younger, less experienced people can be hired at a lower wage.
This firing process seems to have become standard in many industries. It is one of the many ways I have seen the camaraderie among employees decline over the years. When I retired in 2011 I left knowing that my workplace was not as enjoyable as it had been when I began in 1994. I was sorry to leave my role but not sorry to leave the environment. We had gone from a focus on the purpose of the institution with a foundation of goodwill to a focus on the bottom line with a foundation of anxiety. People had become a necessary inconvenience in reaching the primary goal of making more money, and my values did not fit in well with that view of work life.
It seems as though no amount of money is enough to satisfy the powers-that-be, and any amount of long-term service is expendable. I want to live in a world where good relationships are valued along with financial success, and I know that the two are not incompatible. I have lived and worked where both coexist. I’m not Pollyanna; I’m just old enough to remember.
I’d like to say to all the people who think profits are the only form of success, “Let me walk you out.”