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The Good Fire

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

This story appears in the March 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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."

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