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After Work: Feet To The Fire

If ever you are in the unfortunate position of having to fire someone, be preapred to suffer.

“The misery reaches inside you, grabs most of your vital organs and then stomps on them, leaving you hyperventilating and heaving in disgust,’’ says Dona Gibbs.

To read more of Dona's real-life columns please click on Afet Work in the menu on this page.

Have you ever had to fire somebody?

I have. The misery reaches inside you, grabs most of your vital organs and then stomps on them, leaving you hyperventilating and heaving in disgust.

I was once asked by The Big Boss to write a performance review that would be a piece in a paper trail. The goal of his mission would be the dismissal of a writer from the agency where I toiled.

I struggled with the task. The writer was responsible – showed up within office hours, which was something not to be taken lightly. Many of us guffawed at the notion. After all, we were creative. He tore into every assignment that came his way with great enthusiasm. That was probably suspect in the cynical world that we inhabited twelve hours a day. However, he was a fledging. No wing feathers. And he was thirty-six or so. Old for a fledging. He’d taken time to find himself. He had flair but it took “too damn long to drag it out of him.”

The Big Boss had spoken. The fledging must be kicked out of the nest.

I sat down at my computer and I typed and typed and typed.

There was a limited budget for the creative department. And that limited budget had been cut. Somebody must go.

That process made TV reality shows for the public’s titillation look like ice cream and a trip to the zoo. After all, we’re talking about livelihoods and careers, not a shot at fame.

What happens in real life is more armpit soaking than the public will ever see on TV.

The Big Boss read my performance review.

“Run this through your typewriter one more time. It sounds like you’re recommending him for a promotion,” he slid the paper back with a half-smile.

Big Boss had a story of his own. Once upon a time he’d been asked to fire somebody, and that somebody was unspecified. Budget cuts, again.

He chose an older woman writer.

After he’d done this horrific task, he sat back and gazed out his office window.

The phone rang. It was his Big Boss ‘s assistant.

He heard sobs in the background. He assumed it was the insulted newly ex-employee.

His Big Boss wailed into the phone, “ I didn’t mean you should fire her. She’s been here for twenty years. Why did you have to fire her?”

He sighed. And let this all sink in.

I went back and rewrote. Not enough that the document would say, “You’ll never write copy in this town again,” but to urge the writer to seek out a slower-paced, more nurturing environment than I could provide.

We wished the fledging well. Drinks at a round the corner bar. And sent him off to find another perch.

Soon after, very soon after, I found out that the fledging had a friend, a wonderful nurturing friend in the agency ranks. It was the chairman’s wife.

When I mentioned this to Big Boss, he made a little steeple with his hands, creaked his chair back and smiled.


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