I came across a story on news.com.au that astounded me. I’ve observed some unkind leadership acts in my time but this one takes the prize. The story is about Carol Jumper, an American woman who was fired from her job as soon as she told her boss she had been diagnosed with cancer. Carol received a letter from her employer, Dr George Visnich advising her that her employment was being terminated because:
“You are currently engaged in a battle against cancer that will be demanding physically, mentally, and emotionally … You will not be able to function in my office at the level required while battling for your life … Because of this, I am laying you off without pay”.
Unfortunately Dr. Visnich isn’t the only employer inclined to put their own needs so disgracefully ahead of the people who work for them. Its concerning how often I observe leaders failing to treat their employees with what any reasonable person would consider to be common decency. Just last week I learned a business owner told a senior manager that his job was being made redundant, during a meeting with 3 other colleagues in the room. What made matters worse was the CEO chose to communicate his decision mid way through a casual conversation with the group.
Another leader I know fired a long serving employee by remote control. Refusing to carry out the deed himself, this CEO instructed another leader to deliver the news for him. While that was happening the CEO took leave and returned to the business the day after his head of Finance had departed. After 12 years of loyal service Carol wasn’t even afforded the courtesy of a phone call. Apparently the not so good Dr. felt it unnecessary to call his employee and wish her well. Instead he chose to rid himself of the burden of having to support her through what would undoubtedly be the most challenging time of her life.
It is entirely unacceptable for an employer to take away someone’s livelihood without reasonable cause and at least a modicum of kindness. When that person is as vulnerable as Carol, the act is truly disgraceful. When alternative options are available to simply disregard the well being of employees and their families is inexcusable. Unfortunately it remains all too common for leaders to behave badly. Some clearly believe when it comes to making money almost anything goes.
Either these leaders are heartless or clueless. Either way a lot more responsibility needs to be taken for the consequences of their actions. While its most likely true that for a period of time Carol will struggle to consistently meet the demands of her role, how much of a burden would it really be for Dr. Visnich to keep her on his team? Temporary staff, creative ways of managing the job differently, asking colleagues to take on just a little bit more are all options he should have given a go.
Beyond a legal requirement in Australia to not discriminate on the basis of ill health, I believe employers have a morale obligation to treat people with kindness and compassion. The health and well being of our communities depend on it. Ugly bosses undermine the mental health of people, compromise their quality of life and put at risk their wellbeing. Its time we all took a stand against destructive approaches to leadership. The well being of people needs to matter more than financial returns.
If you struggle to believe it’s an employers responsibility to look after people on their team, consider for a moment the difference energised and engaged people can make to the performance of a business. If you are unwilling to behave respectfully because it’s the right thing to do, at least realise it’s the smart thing to do. The extent to which people apply the full potential of their capabilities to their role determines the ultimate value of their contribution. People who feel they are treated with respect and decency are entirely more likely to choose to behave in ways that leverage their talents.