When you're asked to sack good employees

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Dear Help Desk

I am a senior manager and have been with my company for several years. My results are excellent and, when necessary, I have taken tough decisions and fired under- performers. While I regretted this, the organisation is stronger for it. There is now a new vision for the company, and I am being "asked" to get rid of people who are performing satisfactorily, because their face no longer fits. I believe that the fact that they are older has a lot to do with it. What should I do?


Paul Roscorla, occupational psychologist, Acker Deboeck:

This is unfortunately a by no means unusual situation for senior managers. By implication I guess you like and value some, if not all, of the individuals at risk. You, too, are at risk in that if you react emotionally you will be seen as obstructing change and not being "on-side". This is an occasion for cool, rational thinking. The organisation wants to change and you need to focus on the legitimate business reasons for it. Then objectively map the people concerned on to the requirements, to work out where real injustices may occur. Choose your battles carefully. You can influence the outcome more than you imagine, by reasoned advocacy. Although you may feel isolated, there are friends in the long grass who want to do the right thing but are frightened of committing corporate suicide. Organisations need people with conscience, but remember that you help no one by becoming a "dead lion" yourself.

Andrew Forrest, specialist in management training and human resources director for the Industrial Society:

You should take a stand on principle in this case. I recommend that you see your immediate manager and

establish exactly what "their face no longer fits:"means. Is it their age as such? As they are performing well, is there a personality clash with top managers? Are they regarded as obstructing change?

question how the company's new vision (which certainly will mention something about valuing people) squares with the proposal to remove effective employees.

cite the industrial tribunal case of Todd & Tuck vs Filtrona Ltd (1996) where two employees dismissed solely on age grounds were awarded pounds 30,000.

When companies launch new visions and values, inevitably some employees find themselves out of step. If their conscience will not allow them to support the values, they should resign. If they are neutral, but continue to produce good results, it should be possible to build a non-managerial role round their strengths. If they sabotage the values, they could be heading towards dismissal.

Yvonne Emmerson-Pierce, executive director for City & County Careers:

It is usual for a manager to be involved in appraising staff and making recommendations and I am sure that you will have done everything in your power to keep loyal, efficient and competent staff. Sometimes, however, changes in company policy, or reasons beyond immediate line-management control, mean redundancies have to take place. If your situation reaches the point when redundancy is the only option, then do try to persuade your company to offer out-placement/ redundancy counselling. This will ease the situation for you as their manager, and often the bearer of the bad news; it will also help to maintain the morale of remaining staff, and will be invaluable for the individual(s) involved, and their family(ies).

Compiled by Carmen Fielding

For expert advice on work problems, write to Help Desk, City+, Features, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London. E14 5DL: fax 0171-293 2182 or e-mail c.fielding@independent. co.uk