Schwarzenegger Phobia–Part 2
"I did what you told me to. I told him that today was his final opportunity for improving performance. I showed him the computer printout, which listed his errors. I told him his error rate fell way below standards, and then I told him his services were no longer needed by the company and he was being terminated. We would mail him his final pay, which included pay for today." Valerie couldn't find any real fault with his procedure. "And you're sure you told him during the other counseling sessions that he would be losing his job if he didn't meet production standards?" she asked.
"Yes," Jerry confirmed.
"Well, everything you did sounds okay to me, but let's see if I can find out what his problem is," Valerie suggested. "Do you think you can get him to come to the phone?"
"I'll try, but I don't know."
A few minutes later Ravi came to the phone.
"Hello?" Ravi sobbed.
"Ravi, this is Valerie Morris, in the human resources department. I understand that you're very upset about losing your job. Did Jerry tell you during your counseling sessions that you would be fired if you didn't perform to company standards?"
"Yes," Ravi moaned.
"Are you surprised that you no longer have a job with us?"
"Nooooo," he whined.
"Well then, Ravi, why are you so frightened and upset?"
"Well . . . Jerry . . . said the company was going to terminate me," he wailed.
"That's right Ravi, you are being terminated for poor performance."
"But I just made mistakes. I didn't mean to. Why are you going to kill me for a few mistakes?" he cried, clearly terrified.
Valerie put her hand up to her mouth. "Poor Ravi," she thought. Then she asked him, "Why do you think we are going to kill you?"
"When Jerry counseled me he only said I would lose my job. He never said you would terminate me," he whimpered.
Valerie did everything to contain her laughter. "Ravi, let me explain. In this country, when we say terminate, we mean end your employment. We do not mean we will kill you. This is a civilized country. We don't kill our employees for poor performance," she said. "Although sometimes we'd like to," she thought to herself.
"Oh, bless you, Ms. Morris. Thank you for explaining. I am so relieved. I thought my children would have no father," Ravi sang out with joy.
"And bless you, Ravi," Valerie thought. "You made my day!"
While this may be a humorous incident, it illustrates two very important points. Human resources professionals tend to use the word "terminate" alone when the proper usage is "termination of employment." Termination is a harsh word even for an employee whose primary language is English–"separation" is a better choice. It is understandable that the employee was terrified!
Secondly, managers should carefully consider different social conventions and practices whenever counseling or disciplining employees from other cultures. For example, Jerry should have asked Ravi to explain his understanding of their discussion at the end of each counseling session. Using this technique, Jerry would have known if he had communicated effectively. As we continue through this century (Workforce 2000), our workforce will become increasingly diverse. Managers and supervisors need to develop a heightened sensitivity toward cultural as well as language (both direct and implied) differences. We suggest that the company provide some hands-on training to demonstrate how people of different cultures interpret what we consider normal or even mundane.
Finally, we think Valerie handled the situation very well. She remained calm, asked the right questions, and did not jump to conclusions.
What can we say? Employment-at-will — 'til death do us part!