Managers, how do you treat your weakest employees?

Winston Churchill famously said that you can judge the civillity of a society by looking at the way it treats its weakest members.  The phrase has been adjusted by many significant thinkers down the years.  Ghandi for instance believed how we treated animals determined how we could be viewed as a society, whilst Dostoyevsky believed prisoners provided the window into our heart.

As managers I believe it is the soon to be ex-employee.  A telling case has been in the news today, as new Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer has been setting to make her mark at the company.  With any new CEO it's perhaps to be expected that a management reshuffle will be on the cards, but how you go about doing it does provide a window into your personal style and credibility.

Sadly for Mayer, it seems this insight is not a positive one.  Mollie Spillman is/was the Yahoo Chief Marketing Officer.  It seems she was, as many managers do, enjoying a holiday at the beach this Monday morning.

On Monday afternoon however news broke that Yahoo was hiring a new CMO.  The new hire just happened to be one of Mayer's friends in the industry.  A source at Yahoo has said that Mayer informed Spillman of the decision just 10 minutes before the announcement was made official and public.

Now I'm not for one minute suggesting that employees shouldn't be replaced, or that new bosses shouldn't bring in people they're familiar with, but how you treat those soon to be ex-employees is important for a number of reasons.

  1. Beware the karma police - Ok, first things first, it says a lot about you as a person.  It's an old adage that you should treat others as you'd like to be treated yourself.  Losing a job is never a nice thing, so treating people with compassion is the right thing to do.
  2. You send a message to those left behind - Even if you don't perform the execution as publically as Mayer has done, the office gossip mill will soon get word around about the circumstances behind any dismissal.  If you behave callously then you send the message to those remaining that they're little more than commodities that can be dispatched whenever circumstances suit.
  3. Bridges are burnt - Having a strong network of people willing to help and cheerlead you, be it as an individual or as an organisation is vital in our social networked age.  If you treat someone shoddily not only will they not be singing your praises, the chances are they will shout out about just how poor you are.  It's a well known rule of marketing that people share bad experiences much more than they do good ones, so if you don't want to come across as a bad employer it pays to treat those leaving you with good grace.

Mayer has come to Yahoo with an excellent reputation as a serious high flyer from her time at Google, but for me this is not a good way to get her tenure at Yahoo under way.

Adi Gaskell is a writer on management and social media.