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Business is Booming for Experts Who Know How to Fire Workers

February 6, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A sputtering economy means business is booming for ″outplacement″ consultants who teach managers how to fire people and then counsel the very workers that are let go. In short, they say, you’d better not pout, you’d better not cry.

These consultants generally have a two-front campaign - first, they help managers prep for the sometimes ugly face-off with an outgoing employee and then try to inspire the fired worker to focus quickly on finding a new job.

″You would be sitting there, stunned, maybe crying. An outplacement consultant’s job is to turn your obvious negative reaction and energy into a positive action - looking for a new job,″ said Debra Benton, who owns a management consulting firm in Fort Collins, Colo.

The sooner the person is re-employed, ″the sooner any friction or tensions ease, and then they’re not out badmouthing the company,″ said Bob Shea, president of LeHane Consultants Inc. of Leesburg, Va., where business has gone up 25 percent in recent months as economic conditions have slipped.

These consultants tend to work mostly with white-collar executives who are let go, but they’re also called in for group seminars with workers laid off en masse.

The recession means more companies are forced to tighten their belts and turn people loose, but it also gives them an excuse to jettison someone out of front-office favor.

″They use the excuse of belt-tightening, but many times, the ones let go are the ones where there is poor chemistry,″ Benton said.

Many companies provide outplacement counseling because they see it as a way to ward off lawsuits - a happy, employed ex-worker is less likely to spend a lot of time seeking legal recourse.

But it can also help restore sagging morale among remaining employees because it’s viewed as a compassionate gesture.

″That sounds nicey-nicey, but if you’re cutting people, the rest are going to have to pick up the slack,″ Benton said.

Benton was close by when Sherri Gerity got the news that she would lose her job as an executive assistant to the president of the cable company in Englewood, Colo.

″Before you go out and slash your wrists or anything, they were there to pick you up. Of course they didn’t really have a plan of what you would do or anything, but you knew you wouldn’t be walking out the door to nothing. It was reassuring,″ Gerity said.

Top among consultants’ tips for fired workers: Try not to take it personally.

″You’ve got to set your emotions aside and get about the business of marketing yourself for the next job,″ Shea said.

Fired workers should tell themselves that the termination was probably caused by economic reasons, said Irene Mendelson, president of BEMW Inc. of Bethesda, Md.

″It’s important not to feel like ’The world is coming down, everybody’s against me,‴ she said. ″If you feel like that, then you’re depressed″ and the next job hunt could be jinxed.

Resist the temptation to hurl insults at the boss, the consultants advised.

″Don’t burn any bridges,″ said Martha Redstrom-Plourd of the Philadelphia-based Right Associates. ″How one leaves the company is the way one is remembered by the company, and the person that fires you may become the key contact for your next position,″ she said.

For the face-off, or the ″separation interview,″ as some consultants call it, Benton had these tips for employees:

-Don’t cry. ″Tears won’t change their mind. They will only embarrass everyone,″ she said.

-Ask for clarification of any financial separation package. Tell them you need time to think it over. ″You have the option to ask for more money. They can only say yes or no.″

-Go home. Don’t go to a bar. Give yourself the night to feel the pain. Then, early the next morning, get cracking on the new job hunt.

Managers should keep a few things in mind, too, Benton advised:

-Keep the statement short. Plan no more than 10 minutes to deliver the news.

-Release the news simultaneously to appropriate employees in a memo, before it hits the grapevine.

-Don’t look for understanding or absolution. ″Let them blame you. It helps them feel they are OK, which leaves them employable.″

People who are fired because of bad chemistry should take solace in knowing that the worst thing for a career is a bad fit, Benton counseled.

Getting fired can sometimes be a blessing because it forces people to find a different job that eventually brings them more satisfaction, Benton said.

″Few people will take the initiative to say, ‘You know, this is a dead end job and I’m going to quit.’ They can end up being much happier in the long run.″

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