"I'm sorry, ________, I'm afraid I have to let you go."
After I sit them down in the office, when I have to fire someone, that's what I start with. No "I hope you know what a great person we all think you are..." or "I realize you've made a real effort here but..."
Just... out with it. I have come to believe that when it comes to bad news, it's best to rip the band aid off quickly. Be direct. No dancing. Then, after I lower the boom, I sit quietly and give their brain a moment to go "Wait, what did he just say?" and replay it to themselves.
"I have your final check here." I hand them their check -- although it's sealed I always make sure the math is right; that payroll didn't accidentally add insult to injury.
I terminated two people today, one right after the other. One of them -- the first one -- didn't take it well.
After he collected himself he asked me if he could "go out the back way" so he didn't have to see everyone. I said of course and walked him to the back door. I always walk people out. I hope that it feels like a kindness. I try to be calm and gentle, but it's also because I have a responsibility to my employers to make sure that there aren't any incidents as they leave.
I never feel good about it, no matter what the cause.
Today I felt like hell.
If I make it to that point with someone I assure you I've done everything in my power to help them straighten out and get on track. It quietly kills me to see how for some people they just aren't capable of taking the help in, whether it's from a crappy attitude or a lack of aptitude.
I flash back to when I was a foolish, drunken boy, fumbling and burning my way through educational and career opportunities. I think about the many people who tried to help me, to reach me -- and I just couldn't hear them. Sure, some of that was just stupid, careless youth... but in my case it was also the air raid siren of my alcoholism shrieking in my head, drowning out the possibility of hearing anything else but its driven, destructive, seductive song.
To make it worse, one of the kids I fired -- the one who didn't take it well -- phoned me earlier in the day to confirm their shift, and asked if it was a mistake they were being called in early, and wondered if their shift would be short enough for them to catch a ride home with a friend after. Feeling like the fraud I had to be in that moment, I did my best to be honest and still honor my responsibility to the job: "Yes, I need you to come in early. And yes, it's likely going to be a shorter shift today..."
("As in, fifteen minutes long," I thought, the glib betrayal like bile on my tongue.)
"Why?" he asked, genuinely clueless as to what was coming.
"Jesus" I thought.
"I have to make some changes to the schedule today." Also true, but still deliberately misleading. It's never good when I begin parsing the spirit of the truth from the letter of it. Dangerous for an old compulsive liar like myself.
I remember in one of my very first AA meetings a woman shared who, in talking about something else, almost as an afterthought said "It was in AA I learned how to stop lying." It was one of the first times I felt that electric zing in my gut when someone shares a truth about themselves in a meeting which until that very moment I hadn't been able to see in myself -- what an amazing place an AA meeting is, to give the chance to hear such things; freely shared, offered (mostly) via personal experience and in the spirit of helpfulness and recovery. I hope I never really take that for granted.
I keep a termination quick. I gently refuse to be drawn into debate about the grounds for termination. I just broken record whatever brief reason I have to offer them. Most people, once it sets in, aren't interested in prolonging the experience. My boss happened to be there today (though he didn't sit in on the terminations), and was, he said, quite impressed with how quickly I dispatch these conversations -- and one right after the other, no less.
I just shrugged and told him I've found that's best for all parties concerned.
I'm the boss now. It's my job. I can tell myself that it's almost a form of enabling to let people stay on and keep screwing up -- and it's not fair to the other people working there, as keeping someone who can't pull their weight in one fashion or another can make the rest of the team's jobs that much harder -- not to mention undermining morale.
I can tell myself that and on the days I don't fire people it sounds really good and healthy, like the Mission Statement at a Recovery Center's HR Department.
But on the days I fire people -- blessedly not that often -- I just kind of feel like an asshole.
In AA I've learned not to make things all about myself. I can be clear about how I feel of course, but comparatively speaking I'm not the one who had a bad day, when you tally up the score for this 24 hours.
It's still a tough job market, so even though I shouldn't have, I told them each that they could use me as a reference. I told them I would say they were let go because we didn't have enough hours to give them. What the hell, no one will know, those calls will come right to me. And with all the second chances I've had, who am I to not do what I can to give someone else the opportunity to get it right on their next gig.
That's not rigorous honesty, I know, to tell their next prospective employer such a thing. Oh, I could write here that the full sentence in my mind is "We didn't have enough hours to give them because if I gave them all the hours in the world they'd still not have had the aptitude -- or the attitude -- the job requires" but that's just playing a game. I wouldn't offer to be a job reference to someone fired for stealing, or a grievous offense along those lines, but... this is different.
To me, anyway.
And maybe this is their wake-up call, job-wise. Maybe they will do better in their next gig. If I believe in God -- and today I do -- I know they have a Higher Power and this is part of what they need to grow in the way they need to grow. In AA I have seen countless examples -- including my own -- of people who were able to eventually experience real change in themselves. But we 12 Steppers don't own that. Maybe a lot of stories don't go that way, but some do. Who am I to say I know how the next chapter of someone else's story will unfold?
Regardless, with all that said I'm still willing to lie and be a neutral job reference for them.
Maybe it's a mark of recovery that at least I'm not kidding myself about what I'm doing.
Being a grown up is hard sometimes.
AA helps me manage it more gracefully, I know that down to my bones.
But, with grace or without, some days have more of the suck to them than others.
In rereading this I want you to know that I see the contradiction.
I talk about how it is dangerous for me to parse the truth, about feeling terrible for having to be untruthful, and then turn right around and decide to lie.
It is a contradiction, yes -- yet it feels clean to me.
And what the hell, I'm a drunk who doesn't drink.
By definition I AM a contradiction.
It's just one day at a time, I try to keep moving in the right direction.
Disciplined but not rigid,
finding my way by listening to the little voice in my heart
and not the alcoholic one in my head.