The CEO thought he’d inspire employees with his words. “I believe in you,” he said. “… Your dedication, focus and expertise are essential in the vital work we are doing. … I couldn’t be more grateful for all you are accomplishing.”
No one believed him. His words rang false. On a three-minute Zoom call the prior week, he had fired 900 employees, telling them, “If you’re on this call, you are part of the unlucky group that’s being laid off,” effective immediately.” He’d also written to all employees, “You are TOO DAMN SLOW. You are a bunch of DUMB DOLPHINS and ... DUMB DOLPHINS get caught in nets and eaten by sharks. … STOP IT. STOP IT RIGHT NOW. YOU ARE EMBARRASSING ME.”
Did all 900 employees deserve being fired without notice? Here’s what one fired employee who worked 18 months for the company told NBC News. “I had perfect reviews and thought I was an integral part of the team. … I worked really hard to help build up that company.”
There’s more. This CEO made it hard for his employees get hired elsewhere, anonymously writing a scathing blog post slamming 250 or more of those he fired, saying they were stealing from the company by working an average of two hours daily but clocking eight or more hours daily.
While this CEO serves as the poster child for disrespecting his employees, readers fill my inbox with questions like “How do I deal with senior managers who lie to my face and then expect me to believe their rah-rah speeches?” and “How do I work for a manager I can’t trust?”
I tell them they have six options.
1. Evaluate whether you’ll stay. The most popular lie employees hear is “We can’t pay you more.” While sometimes true, more often it’s not that a company’s leaders couldn’t pay more in salaries, it’s that they’ve directed it toward other priorities, such as their own bonuses. While leaders have the power to determine compensation, employees can locate employers with better compensation packages and vote with their feet.
2. Have the frank discussion, calmly and factually. I helped “Linda,” a woman I coached, do this when a promised raise didn’t come for the third time. The manager said, “Of all people, you deserve a raise the most. But no one’s getting one.”
Linda had done her homework and responded, “I was told yesterday that seven individuals received a raise this week. Could you explain why them and not me?” When Linda called me afterward, she said, “I have to remain to fulfill the remaining year under my contract. But not a day more, so they’ll lose — me. I also escaped the biggest insult — that he thought I’d fall for his b.s.”
3. You can try to understand the motivations of the leader. The Zoom and Doom CEO may have felt powerless to deal with remote employees who didn’t work a full day.
4. You can gather your documentation and sue. The CEO who fired 900 employees used an ax, not a scalpel, to remove employees lacking work ethic. He fired at least some employees who didn’t deserve it and they may be able to prove wrongful termination.
5. Realize that like a piece of toast, you can’t be burned twice unless you fall into the same toaster. Pay attention. Does what your manager says fit the truth as you know it? Ask that promises be made in writing.
6. Finally, eliminate the shadow untrustworthy managers cast over your work life by not carrying their memory into future jobs. Don’t flame out, letting yourself feel so burned you won’t trust or engage when you find a manager with integrity and company with a mission you can believe in. Personally, I prefer dolphins to sharks.
Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is president of Communication Works Inc. Send your questions to her here.