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The Good Fire

Want to keep bitter ex-employees from lashing out? Try a kinder, gentler termination.
March 1, 2000

What's behind workplace violence? While there isn't a single cause or solution, J. Damian Birkel, founder and executive director of Professionals in Transition, a Winston-Salem, North Carolina, nonprofit support group for people who have lost their jobs, believes that, generally speaking, callous terminations provoke violent incidents and kinder, more sensitive approaches reduce them. Although there aren't any statistics or studies to back up his belief, he says real-life anecdotal evidence is irrefutable.

"Each of the situations [where workplace violence occurs] is different, but it still comes down to the way people are treated," says Birkel. "Terminations have become more and more impersonal. Employers don't even have to fire employees face to face; they can use e-mail or an outside consultant. If you do the cowardly thing and fire someone through a [third] party, you've dehumanized an already difficult situation."

Indeed, terminating employees remains one of the hardest aspects of management. But firing an employee in an insensitive, unprofessional manner actually makes the experience more painful and humiliating for the employee. The resulting emotions could also trigger anger and increase the potential for retaliation. To reduce the likelihood of a violent reaction to a termination, Birkel offers these suggestions for employers:

Jacquelyn Lynn left the corporate world more than 13 years ago and has been writing about business and management from her home office in Winter Park, Florida, ever since.

Contact Sources

Professionals in Transition, PO Box 11252, Winston-Salem, NC 27116-1252,