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Episode 031: A Conversation on Layoffs with Dr. Melanie Peacock and T. Maxine Woods-McMillan (Part 1)

A Conversation on Layoffs with Dr. Melanie Peacock and T. Maxine Woods-McMillan Part 2

Join Sarah Noll Wilson and her guests, Dr. Melanie Peacock and T. Maxine Woods-McMillan, Esq., as they discuss layoffs and firings. How can leaders and organizations approach these difficult situations with more humanity and reduce the harm to all involved?

About our guests

Dr. Melanie Peacock, PhD, MBA, FCPHR, SHRM-SCP has over 30 years of experience as a Human Resource Management professional, is an Associate Professor at Mount Royal University, and past president of the Faculty Association. Dr. Peacock was the first woman of color and the first women in over 28 years to hold this position. Dr. Peacock is also the President of Western University’s Alumni Board. She obtained her Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Alberta, her MBA from Western University, and her PhD at the University of Calgary. As a senior manager and consultant, through Double M Training and Consulting, Dr. Peacock has led HR initiatives that create systems, processes, and policies that enable organizations to engage their employees and achieve strong results. Dr. Peacock was presented with HRD’s 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award in the HR Industry at the Canadian HR Awards. Additionally, in 2022, 2021 and 2020 she was named to HRD magazine’s list of the top 100 HR global professionals and was acknowledged in HRD magazine’s 2017 Hotlist as one of the top 30, most influential HR practitioners in Canada. Due to her extensive knowledge, Dr. Peacock is a sought-after media contributor and commentator. She also has authored books regarding HR management concepts, training and development and change management.

Throughout her career, T. Maxine Woods-McMillan has been known as The Great Translator – finding ways to make parties with differing, and at times, competing interests understand the position of the other. And when that has not been successful, her talented advocacy skills make her equally effective at getting the fact finder in a dispute to see the position of her client. Maxine’s practice focuses on employment law, business dispute resolution, and workplace equity and equality. She represents employees when their rights have been violated and is also a trusted advisor and trainer for employers and their staff to help prevent the violation of those rights before it occurs. She is a compassionate yet formidable advocate in the areas of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, pregnancy, religion, national origin, and age, as well as sexual or racial harassment and wrongful/retaliatory termination. She also brings niche understanding to the distinct dynamic created when the workplace intersects with a family relationship or is a part of a faith community, and is particularly equipped to assist with legal advocacy in those areas.

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Episode Transcript

Sarah Noll Wilson
Hello, and welcome to this week’s episode of Conversations on Conversations where each week we explore a topic to help us have more powerful conversations with ourselves and with each other. I’m your host, Sarah Noll Wilson. And joining me today are two very special guests. I, you know, just a little context of what we’ll be exploring today. So first, it has been our dream to start to have multiple people in the space with us in conversation. So I’m so excited to be able to experiment today with our two guests. But more importantly, you know, this this topic came up quickly. And what we’re going to be exploring today is how can we bring humanity into the workplace specifically when we’re having to navigate layoffs and firing? So I’ll give context of where we’re at after I introduce both of our amazing guests. We’ve been having such a great pre conversation that I’m eager to get into it. But so first joining us is Dr. Melanie Peacock, she has a PhD, an MBA, an FC FC PHR. She’s SHRM CSP certified and has over 30 years experience as a human, human resource professional. She’s an associate professor at Mount Royal University, and is also the past President of the faculty association. Welcome, Melanie.

Dr. Melanie Peacock
Thank you, Sarah.

Sarah Noll Wilson
What else would you like people to know about you? Before we jump into introducing our second guest.

Dr. Melanie Peacock
I’d love people to know that I’m extremely passionate about human resource management. And as you’ve said, putting the humanity into the work we do. It’s profound. It’s impactful. I’d also like people to know that I’m just so grateful to be here to learn from my fellow conversationalist and from you. And the whole concept of Conversations on Conversations is so powerful to me. I’ll share with our listeners in a vulnerable and transparent way. I’m still learning and exploring the power of conversations and learning myself about how to use that communication tool effectively and to be open and to be authentic. And it’s a journey.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah, yeah. And it’s and every and every moment in every relationship is different. I think that’s the thing that I’ve learned on this journey of like connection and conversations. So welcome, Melanie. And now I want to take a moment to introduce my new friend, and someone that I’m so excited to introduce you to Maxine Woods-McMillan. She is an employment attorney, and a little bit about her background, she’s a crisis response and prevention strategist in race and gender. She started her career in HR and realized that there was a place where the HR work stopped and the employment law took over and so she took a break from her HR background, her career, so she went back to law school, got her law degree. And now she has a real passion for, you know, helping the workplace work better. We were having a conversation before we were coming on about just the impact work has, and we’ll get to that. But But I have to just like a quick shout out for people who are listening. At 6:37 am this morning, I put out a call on Twitter and said, hey, we’re having all of these conversations and dialogue around the layoffs that are happening at Twitter, as well as other organizations and seeing them done poorly. And I’m just so grateful that Maxine reached out was like, hey, we haven’t met yet. But I’d love to be a part of it and have this conversation. And so I’m so glad that you said yes. Maxine, what else would be helpful for us to know about you?

T. Maxine Woods-McMillan
I think well, no, to know, me is to know that I am unfortunately, depending on the context, all in or all out. And when I say that, I mean, when I am all in like I am about workplace and ensuring that we co-create workplaces that don’t replicate our homes, because homes are not always a safe space. But we’re intentional about the culture. You know, I’m really not a proponent of you know, this is all a big family. That is not a comfort statement for everyone. But intentional about creating workplaces that reflect the culture that we say that we want and thinking about that in advance. So you know, just not kind of reacting to what happens, but really being intentional about culture. So you talked about my HR background, employee relations really is my thing. And also, I also have a background in mediation. Because I think if we don’t prepare for conflict, we prepare it if we don’t prepare to handle conflict, we prepare to have bad conflict. There is such a thing as good conflict. But if you don’t prepare for it, you’re gonna have bad conflict, and bad conflict usually buries the initial issue and creates an entirely different issue. Like, how do you terminate someone’s employment. So I’m really passionate about those those areas. And it comes across in my consulting and when I’m advising and counseling employers and executives on how they work in their workplace, how they are planning for separation. And I try to use that term more so I’m really also very intentional about language around the workplace relationships. So, you know, for example, we might get into this, but I never use the term terminating someone, we’re not terminating someone, your personhood is separate from your employment. We’re terminating the employment relationship, maybe. We’re separating from the employment relationship, but you’re not terminating a person. Right. So that’s me, all in all out and workplace is big.

Sarah Noll Wilson
I love that. And, you know, and it’s, it’s interesting, you know, because similarly, we try to be really thoughtful about language in our world, because, right, our words create our reality. And, and I appreciate the language of separating, because even as I’ve been thinking about this, and even as I have conversations, I’ve struggled with all the language we use, staff reduction, right? Termination, you know, firing and layoffs, and I and I appreciate the language of separation that you’re offering up. You know, we’re one of the things that I want to just sort of start with is, this isn’t, this isn’t an easy — this is never an easy situation for a company to go through. For the leaders who are having to make the decision. For the team members who may be experiencing it, you know. I can, I can think I can vividly remember the first time I ever had to separate from a team member. And it was, it was horrible. It was horrible. Because it wasn’t some obvious, like, egregious illegal, it was just we had coached for so long, it wasn’t there was quality that had to happen. And so there just became a point where there, there was like, we weren’t a fit for them. And I you know, and they weren’t a fit for the work that needed to be done. And, and it was so difficult. And one of the things that I’ve been reflecting on that I’m curious, just to get your both of your perspectives on is, in times of having to make difficult moments like this, there may be things that we can’t do to make it totally better, or perfect, right, like losing your job is hard. Having to have these conversations is tough, but there’s definitely things we can do to make it not worse. And so I’m curious just to you know, when we talk about this idea of kind of bringing humanity back, I’d love to hear from both of you. What does that mean to you, right to have humanity in the workplace sort of generically? And then what does that look like when we talk about these moments of having to do layoffs or separation from team members? Melanie looks like you are, were ready to jump in. So I’ll turn it over to you first.

Dr. Melanie Peacock
Thanks, Sarah, there’s a lot to unpack and really acknowledged some key points. I’m going to start by saying, really pleased that you’ve acknowledged the difficulty around separating someone’s employment, separating them from their employment. And I’d like to highlight that it should never be easy. That’s the first point. I remember and I’ve taken part in numerous employee separations, numerous. And I remember once coming into the office in the morning, and my boss looking at me, and he and I both knew that that day I would be meeting with a handful of employees and informing them that they were no longer be working for the company. And he looked at me and said, “Did you sleep well last night?” And I said, no, actually, I didn’t. And he said, “Good.” He said, “Because you never should, this should never be something that’s easy for you. As soon as you are looking at it as so process oriented and you don’t understand that you’re dealing with people and their employment, which is much more than just a paycheck. It’s part of their identity. It’s part of their purpose. It’s part of how they fit in into society and other relationships.” So first point, it should never be easy, check. How do we make it easier though, recognizing that it shouldn’t be something that is an easy process, and that’s very rote or procedural? One, I think we need to start with finding support amongst ourselves and for ourselves. And by that I specifically mean those that are actually involved in the termination processes. We spend a lot of time as we should, and we will, I hope in this conversation talk about how to deal effectively and humanely with those whose employment is being terminated. But I always encourage people to step back. We need to think about those that are involved in delivering the news, whether it be the managers, the supervisors, the leaders, and often with the help of human resource professionals. Those people need to have check in. They need to have coaching and counseling. They need to be able to support one another. They need to be able to share ideas. They also need to be able to step back from it, remove themselves from it and say, okay, I did my job, but I’m hurting. Acknowledge that and be able to talk to other people in a safe place. Last but not least, we also need to acknowledge the people that remain. And we talk about survivor syndrome in human resource management, we often don’t spend enough time acknowledging, speaking with, thinking about the employees that are left behind. They’re often traumatized by watching their colleagues disappear. I have worked with so many organizations and consulted with clients who will say, “Oh, we’re not going to say anything.” What do you mean, people are not going to notice that 10 people are not here tomorrow, like, there has to be a strategic thought behind and a humane approach into, again, while respecting confidentiality and I understand all of that, and privacy and the logistics. But to just ignore it, and to not deal with those that are remaining or left behind is to organizations cultural detriment. And just to the detriment of treating people humanely.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah, I mean, you know, my, my, my experience has been that when, when there’s lack of information, doubt creeps in. And what I lovingly say is doubt doesn’t like to party alone, it brings in distrust with them with, you know, at the same time, like when we’re missing information when we’re not clarifying. And you know, and I appreciate you bringing up that idea of like, how do we support ourselves and those are some things we can explore more explicitly, because we’ve seen some examples just in the recent past of because these conversations are now happening on Zoom, and people are recording them, and now we’re seeing them. And sometimes there can be, there’s a difference. We’ve seen, we’ve seen situations where leaders take ownership. And then we’ve seen conversations where leaders have made it about them and their pain, instead of focusing on, and so that idea of having that safe space to say, I’m a human who also needs to process this. The person I need to process with how difficult it is, is not the person that I’m letting go. Like, that’s not the conversation to do it. Maxine, I’m curious to hear your thoughts, either, you know, what’s coming up for you, as Melanie is talking or going back to the initial conversation of what is humanity in these moments look like?

Maxine Woods-McMillan
So everything Melanie said, absolute cosign on on those ideas, to extrapolate a little bit further, and also to kind of play off what I talked about earlier about language. I think it’s really important in having these conversations that we’re intentional about the language that we use. And one of the things I would always say, when I was back in HR, and I tell people now in advising them is very rarely, there are very rare situations where a separation should be a shock. Now, we’re not always rational, you know, in the emotive moment of the separation, right. But you should be able to refer back to, once you’ve calmed down, however long that takes you, you should be able to the the employee, the person who’s being separated from the organization, they should be able to refer back to previous conversations. If you do not, if you are not preparing for the possibility of separation, you are preparing for separation, even if you haven’t had the conversation. So you know, there’s this concept that people are talking about now about quiet quitting, right? Where people are still sitting in your organization, and there hasn’t been a separation conversation, they’re still on the payroll. But for all intents and purposes, they have checked out, they are no longer there. They are not your advocate or the advocate of your organization. And to some degree, they’re actually working against the organization. That’s the kind of thing that happens when we act like separation is the the boogeyman and we just know it’s uncomfortable. So we never talk about it. So I’m not saying that we should be walking – around saying, you know, you can get fired tomorrow right now, that’s creepy. That is creepy. And that creates an environment where, you know, no one really feels comfortable to to be their best self and to to to do the vulnerable work of giving their best to the organization, because this might be the day I get fired. That’s not what I mean. What I mean is, for example, if you’re separating from an employee, you need to be able to refer back to somewhere in your values, somewhere in your mission statement, something about your organization that that employee has done or is doing that does not connect with that. That’s gonna ring very hollow if you don’t talk about your values on a regular basis. If you’re not, if you’re not connecting your work consistently and constantly, to your mission, to why we do this thing. So that when there’s a breach of that continuously communicated contract, and I don’t mean contract in the legal sense, I mean it in the interpersonal contract of how and why, when I don’t quite feel like doing it on this rainy Wednesday morning, I drag myself out of the bed anyway to do this, because I have a connection to this gig, other than it being a gig, right? If you’re not constantly communicating that, living that, exploring that, connecting that, if you’re not making those connectors, then when you try to pull that out, you know, and blow the dust off of it and say, hey, you didn’t connect with our mission statement. You know, I’m already thinking in the back of my head, oh, wait, you know, my kid was supposed to get braces, and I was gonna go on vacation in two and a half months. And now I gotta figure this out and figure that out? And how am I going to pay for childcare? And I’m already thinking all of that, on top of it, you have the audacity to insult me with some mission statement that you dragged out that was like, maybe in the lobby somewhere, or in my onboarding paperwork with the 957 other pages that I signed, that I haven’t heard for the last entirety of my tenure here. You have now prepared yourself to foster resentment. And then it looks like, you know, putting on my lawyer hat here. It looks like there is a another reason, right? So you know, I recognize that everyone’s not in the same state in the US or in the same country. But generally, you can, you can terminate someone’s employment, you can separate employment for any reason, if you’re in an at will state in the US, that is not discriminatory. But if you give a reason that sounds you know, purely BS, excuse my French, it sounds purely BS, you’re creating an environment where you’re making me think, okay, there’s, there’s got to be something else, because that’s not logical. And so what I tell people all the time is to constantly and consistently communicate, why we’re here, what we’re doing, what the expectations are, aside from the HR, performance metrics, and all of that. But generally, those should be connected to the mission and vision. So that when they’re not, when there’s no longer that connection, then it’s you liberating that person to go somewhere where they are connected to a mission and vision.

Sarah Noll Wilson
I love all of that. Yeah, there’s, there’s a couple of things that you mentioned, Maxine, that I want to highlight and for us to explore further. You know, that one of the things that I know I’ve observed during my time in HR now working with so many HR professionals, is the, the avoidance of not having the conversations. The avoidance of not, and one of the things that I’ve learned is that the comfort we gain in the short term almost never outweighs the damage in the long term. And I think as you know, leaders, we see this or managers that it’s, you know, or they think they think they’re being direct, they think they’re being clear enough. And that’s something too that I’ve that I’ve paid attention to is sometimes we confuse discomfort with clarity. Right? I’m uncomfortable, therefore, I had the tough conversation as the manager when in fact, I want probably wasn’t clear at all. So that was something that was coming up for me. And, and I’m curious to, to hear from both of you, like, you know, you’re talking about how do we, how do we just embrace that, probably more likely than not on both ends of the spectrum, this relationship is going to be temporary. I mean, you didn’t say it exactly like that. But that’s what was coming up for me of like, that’s part of this, you know, it’s we aren’t in the world of you stay at a company your entire life. Like, you know, my dad, that was, that was the world I grew up in, right. Like he was a union truck driver. And he it was they that. And so I think that’s a really interesting perspective of not from a fear base, like you were saying, It’s not about being afraid, like, oh, at any moment, but to recognize –

Maxine Woods-McMillan
Liberation.

Sarah Noll Wilson
And one of the things that I’ve, that I’m, it’s yeah, and and because I think sometimes we can be so afraid, or I see people be so afraid to get close to their team members that they serve. To, to care about them, because they’re like, “What if I have to fire them someday?” So they withhold care and concern and I mean, so I have I have a lot of thoughts. So I’m just going to turn it over the two of you to see like, what what’s coming up for you or Melanie, what’s coming up for you as we talk about that? That idea of liberation, I think is really powerful.

Dr. Melanie Peacock
Yeah, I’m gonna answer Sarah in a very weird slant, but Maxine, thank you so much. That’s a powerful word, liberation. And when you address those questions, I think of an article I read recently that said, until we admit and fully face our own mortality. In other words, we understand that one day we will pass away, it is only then that we could truly live. So think about taking that philosophy and applying it to work. Nothing’s permanent. Right? It’s not permanent. But can you imagine approaching every work situation, every day, every project, every interaction by thinking, oh, no, I don’t want to give my all because I might not be part of this going forward. Oh, no, I don’t want to connect with Maxine and share a meal with you. And by the way, Maxine, yes, I do. Because I have another saying which is we are truly not friends until we –

Maxine Woods-McMillan
Until we have broken bread together.

Dr. Melanie Peacock
Everything that and a beverage too my friend, I can see this in our future. But can you imagine it’s fear based?

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah.

Dr. Melanie Peacock
And that’s what leads to quiet quitting is fear. Once we acknowledge and face our fears, and then say, okay, a little bit of pardon the expression, let’s find some ways to move through it, let’s get over it. Let’s get beyond it, then we truly live. Then we truly give in our organizations. And we can’t always begin with the end in mind. Because when it comes to a career, when it comes to an employment relationship, we don’t know the end. We don’t know what the end will be. It could be something that’s imposed upon us, by the organization itself. It could be something imposed upon us by the higher power, something happens in our lives, that means we have to end our employment relationship. It could be a choice. Imagine that, we could ultimately choose to and we don’t know that that’s going to happen yet. So there’s so much possibility. Acknowledge it. Understand its temporary nature. As Maxine has said, that’s liberating. Because then we can truly be in the moment. We’ve kind of gone on a tangent here. I think it’s –

Sarah Noll Wilson
I mean, I wasn’t expecting us to –

T. Maxine Woods-McMillan
It’s relevent.

Sarah Noll Wilson
talk about like larger life questions of, you know, mortality. But but but we’re humans, that’s, I mean, that’s, that’s part of the humanity of like, thinking about the workplace. And, and, you know, and, and in thinking about this idea of, like, a mission together or this like relationship, I — When, when, when you are on the receiving end it’s, it’s hard, and it’s tough, even if even if you know, it’s temporary, right? So we don’t certainly don’t want to minimize that lived experience, especially when it’s like, my stability. I’m the breadwinner, I’m, right. Like, I’m, I’m pregnant, and I just got let go. And so like there is that. And, you know, and going back to the whole kind of like, start of this is like, there’s so much suffering already in that moment. How do we, you know, to the words you both have been using be more intentional about it, how do we be more thoughtful about it? How do we be more supportive with it, so that it doesn’t feel like such a whiplash? I, I want to well, let me pause and Maxine, I’m curious to hear what like you’ve been chewing on. And then I want to share with you both somebody sent me a direct message while we were on and I want to share their experience and hear from both of you your reaction.

Maxine Woods-McMillan
Okay, so I want to say two things. One, I want to acknowledge the privilege that I’m standing in, when I talk about, you know, how liberating this can be. It does not feel very liberating when your job is your connection to sustenance, and it barely was doing that. Right.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Right.

Maxine Woods-McMillan
I think that’s incredibly important to acknowledge that the conversations around these, these, how do we do it lend themselves to larger conversations internally about how we advocate to create the workplaces that need to be created, and need to be sustained, such that people are not tied to a job to survive, and there’s no net whatsoever. Right. And that happens when we don’t have you know, fair compensation. When we don’t have laws and statutes and regulations that regulate how a person could communicate about another person such that reputational harm impacts how that person can move forward in their professional life. So I acknowledged that there was some privilege there in that conversation. Okay, I want to make that really clear. I’m not blind to that reality. The second thing that I want to that I want to say is, and I think it really came out of something Dr. Melanie was saying, I think it’s important to recognize that there has been a shift when we talk about the lack of permanence in our employment relationship. That with, that with the choices, we are able to make that lack of purpose, lack of permanence, excuse me, can be really liberating when we understand that our entire identity is not defined by an employer. That someone giving you a job and giving you a title is not the only title that brings value to your personhood. And so it’s incumbent upon us as humans, to define ourselves in the entirety of our personhood, such that our validation is not external and solely acquired by the workplace. And then we have to create environments and societal norms that perpetuate that and celebrate that. So that you know, –

Dr. Melanie Peacock
Brava!

Sarah Noll Wilson
I know. I’m like we’re at the Church of Maxine right now. And I’m like, keep going. Keep going. Sign me up

Maxine Woods-McMillan
I mean, it’s so important – Think about it, think about how important it would be, if, like, I just saw, I’ll talk about Maxine. There are people, not you lovely people, but I have been this person, the person that’s talking to you right now, I would say for about the last decade or so. I haven’t been an attorney that long. But there are people who go out of their way to talk to me now, because I have the title attorney, but seven, eight years ago, literally would disregard what I was saying, which is no different than what I’m saying now. Because at the time, I had SPHR, behind my name, you know what I mean? And SPHR did not have the same societal, you know, sheen on it, shall we say, As ESQ and so we have to be really intentional about defining ourselves and how we respect people, and how our personhood is not fully put into the, the place that we work at. There is a difference between the place you work and the and the work that you do. Right? I am always no matter where I work, I am always going to be connected to workplace equity over workplace equality. Race, and gender not being definers of opportunity, but definers of contribution. Those are things that are important to me. And I had to do that work, to define what met what’s important to Maxine’s work, so that it wasn’t always connected to where Maxine works, so that if that relationship shifts, it doesn’t shift the totality of the foundation and predicate of my personhood.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Take my my money. I love everything that you’re saying. And this is I mean, these are some conversations that I’ve been engaging with, with having with some, you know, friends and colleagues and have been reflecting on. Oh gosh, Nick and I, we talk about this of, you know, I mean, part of it, and speaking from an American culture perspective, you know, just just yesterday, I mean, there’s so there’s so much to, like, unpack in what you you’ve put forward, you know, I was talking with my colleague, Stephanie Chin, and, you know, we were talking about, it didn’t always used to be that we were defined by work, that wasn’t a forever thing. That’s a relatively new thing, kind of sense of the boomer generation, if you will. And that was a perspective she brought, and we were reflecting on, you know, like, go down, you know, part of that is how work has shifted, though too, right? Like, you know, manufacturing and agriculture and all of that was, you know, very different. And, and, you know, and I mean, like, now we’re getting into, now I’m, like, I just want us to talk about what’s the world that like, Future of Work need to look like? Because, you know, part of the challenge I see is, you know, part of the reason it becomes so much of our identity is because we spend so much of our life at it, right?

T. Maxine Woods-McMillan
Exactly.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Like most of our life is spent at that and I think that that’s like the bigger question of, should it? I know, I don’t want it to be and I would love to see a world where that’s not the case. And so, I mean, I have lots of opinions about, like, how do we decentralize work from our lives, like, it’s one piece of it. And you know, and I really love that, that was a, that was a journey for me too of realizing that, like, I’m not this role. The impact I want to make in the work world is with me always, regardless of where I’m at. And like, and, you know, because that loss of I, you know, when I think of the the Twitter layoff, when you work for an iconic company, and you’re working for a culture that feels great, and you love it, it’s easy for that to become even more I mean, they’re tweeps, right? Like, that’s what that’s like, lovingly refer to themselves as like tweeps and then becomes this identity, which then makes the loss even greater when that separation happens. And so I love that, like, how do we create some reframing a little bit like it’s great to, and I’m just I’m literally thinking out loud and chewing so I’m meandering a bit in my thought, but I there was a lot that was coming up for me, Melanie, I can see — Dr. Melanie, –

Dr. Melanie Peacock
I need to jump in because you’re not meandering, you’re hitting some critical critical points. So, a bazillion years ago, okay, not a bazillion. I’ve told you 100,000 times not to exaggerate. Years ago, when I had to separate from a key relationship in my life, I read a phenomenal book and I read other articles about the subject matter called decoupling. And what we’re talking about is uncoupling or decoupling. It’s separating who you are, from what you do, or separating who you are, from, who you’re with, right? Your value, and all that you can contribute and give is not tied to that one relationship, or that one title, or that one organization. But as you and Maxine have astutely noted, we’re doing a sorry, can I use this expression, you can beat me up, piss poor. We are doing a piss poor job in society –

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah, you can swear on our show.

Dr. Melanie Peacock
A piss poor job in society of understanding that and being willing to acknowledge that and talk about that. You know, we began the conversation about separating someone’s employment. So this is a form of uncoupling or decoupling. And we need to have those difficult conversations, we need to be willing to reach out to those we know that are going through this process, if we have friends, or colleagues, you know, and saying, what you do and where you do, it is not who you are. And we need to reinforce that and help them decouple. And that has to be part of the process.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah. And there might and there might be some real grief there for some folks, too. I mean, like, as we think about, how do we show up for people? Like, let’s say, you know, somebody with whom has been who has been impacted and you know, and again, there’s layers, right, like, let’s talk about privilege, like if I’m the main person, and now I’m don’t have any income, I’m not thinking about purpose, I’m thinking about food on the table and a roof over my head and being able to, like, have gas in my car and all of that. And even for workers who will probably be okay. Right? When we look at like the the Twitter folk, for example. There’s high demand for their work. There’s companies, hopefully, many of them will find their way forward. Hopefully, right? I mean, who knows, in the world that we’re in? I think we’re just seeing the start. It feels like we’re just seeing the start of what’s going to be more of these types of announcements. But when we talk about the decoupling, right, and as we’re talking about how do we create the for ourselves and supporting others to help us see that our identity isn’t our job, right, there’s also going to be loss. And you know, what I was starting to share is that even when I left a company that I loved to do something that I knew I was going to love even more, there was grief. Right? There was a loss there. And that’s something that I’ve had to learn. And I think, I think that’s part of what makes this feel when especially when we look at how do we have these conversations in the virtual world, in the hybrid world and even before that, so I had precursored this, but I want to share with you something that somebody shared. And let me bring it up a second. This person on Twitter shared the only time I got fired, they invited me to a meeting, walked in, they had the director of HR on Zoom, said we could see you on computer, they told me I was fired, asked for the keys to my card, and I was left stranded in a hotel. And, you know, when we and the reality is, is those are those moments are, I think, are probably more than norm than not. And there’s this you know, with the abrupt shutting off, right, like what we’ve seen with Twitter is literally people are just logging in to see do I have access, don’t I? And if they don’t have access, then they know, they’ve they’ve been let go. Right? And, and how we as employers show up in that moment, on multiple levels says a lot about what’s the value, like what’s our values? Because if we’re treating those moments, so transactionally, my perspective is we’re retreating that, those hard conversations so transactionally it’s transactionally to protect ourselves, not necessarily to take care of the other person.

Dr. Melanie Peacock
Well, Maxine and I were both like, our eyes were like, open like saucers. Wow. Like, wow. And you will hear stories right about people being let go ha, ironically through a tweet, as we’re talking about the massive Twitter layoffs, you know, through a sit in your desk in your office, if you hear a knock on your door, it means you’re being called to a meeting. If you don’t have a knock on your door by 11 am on such and such date, you’re safe. Logistics about when you’re doing mass layoffs, and there are operational issues to attend to, but there are still humane ways to do it. You know, who are we protecting? Sarah, you’ve raised a good point, are we protecting the people that have to deliver the message? And because of their discomfort? And the issue becomes then what does that say about the company, and we can talk a lot about employment brand, we can talk about consumer brand. You know, it’s short sighted thinking, you know, short term gain, Oh, I feel good in the moment, because I’m doing this in a way that I don’t feel discomfort. But what does that mean for people that will not work for me in the future? What does that mean for the people that remain? How are they really working for me? Or is there are they just throwing up and like thinking this is really I’m just sticking around for the paycheck, we’ve killed their lack of purpose and connection, and anything else? Why would people want to buy from our company, service products, anything if they know that this is how we treat people? So these are strategic choices? Now? I’ll close my comment on this, which might seem like a contradiction. All this said, one thing I’ve learned with the numerous terminations I’ve been a part of and consulted on is it should be a quick process. The termination process itself is not the time to be having those important discussions that need to have occurred. I know in the pre-conversation, Maxine and said, you know, this shouldn’t be surprising a person, this shouldn’t be the first time barring unforeseen circumstances, this shouldn’t be news to them. So amazing how it is, sometimes they still are surprised. But regardless, the process needs to be quick. And it’s not the time to be having the deep discussions. So because it is a quick process as in not a lengthy conversation, there are should be some supports available to the person, boom, boom, boom, very procedural. Even with mass layoffs, there is a way to do it humanely, because we’re not talking hours and hours and hours for each person. So quick, is humane. But quick, doesn’t mean surprise, and I’m leaving you in a hotel room? That’s a new definition of leaving someone in the lurch?

Sarah Noll Wilson
Right? Yeah, I mean, you you can, it can be quick and thoughtful. And you can offer support on the back end. And you can do it in a way that honors like the person and takes ownership. Right. From your perspective. Maxine, I want to know what you’re chewing on.

Maxine Woods-McMillan
So I’m thinking of some of the practical things. You know, there was a time when I was an HR consultant, and I worked specifically with small business owners in the market where they were interacting with family relationships, because we understand that there when there’s a family dynamic, incorporated in the workplace relationship, there’s some things shift a little bit there. And so if you’re if you’re a person that is in charge of this process, and it really should be a process, we have to make sure that we’re clear that separating an employee from the organization, separating the employee’s employment relationship is distinct from the process. The conversation, as Dr. Melanie said, should be quick. The process is pretty extensive. If you’re doing this, right. It’s kind of so the way I think about it is it’s kind of like a wedding. Right? You get married, when you say I do I do I now pronounce you, right. But if you’ve ever done a wedding, you know, I just I mean, I remember at one point, I was just like, you know, screw it, we’re married, like, I was just so tired of trying to make decisions about cups and glasses. And there’s this entire process. And all of it has culminated with a couple of words, that, you know, the whole ceremony itself, depending on, you know, you know, religious backgrounds and all of that the whole ceremony is is incomparable, compared to the planning process of the wedding. And the same thing should be happening. In your discussion, the discussion itself should be relatively quick. But have you done the background work? And have you thought ahead to how this is going to impact the employee, but also, we live in a capitalist world, and you have a business to run? But so have you thought ahead on how this is going to impact your organization and the other employees. So you’ve had the termination conversation, now’s not the time to figure out what this employee was working on. Right? And who you’re going to reassign them to, and who has what passwords and who has what keys like all of that should be done way in advance. So that when you’re having this conversation, you have answers both for that employee and also for the people who are left who now have to deal with the emotional, you know, the survivor’s guilt, if they have any, or hopefully not, but or the relief that this person has gone but also how they are going to make new normative procedures for how they handled the work, right? Even if someone else is coming into that space, you’re gonna have to, you know, figure out all of think through all of your logistics beforehand. So way back in another life, I used to also be a realtor. And when people were decorating and stuff, you know, I’m not anybody’s interior designer, by any stretch of the imagination. But when they’d be talking about guest rooms, I would say the way to know how to have a really great, great guest room is to live in the guest room yourself for a weekend. Literally pack your bags, and go stay in your own guest room for a weekend. Because there are certain things that you see that you feel when you are in the space yourself. So when I was training, when I would come in as an HR consultant, or when I was in that space myself, and I knew people had to have HR had to be HR to have those conversations when they were separating people from employment, it’s a little traumatizing, but I would make them go through it themselves, I would do it. And so one of the first things, the one of the first things we did was we stopped having these daggone conversations at four o’clock in the afternoon. Because if you’re having this conversation at four o’clock on a Friday, it’s really for you, you put it off all week, you no longer have to have the conversation. But now that person has no time to call and find out what their insurance options are, and what you know what they’re going to change to. And, you know, so now they have the whole weekend to just sit there and stew with all the what ifs and how can and how do I and blah, blah, blah, you know. Those are the kinds of things that until you’ve lived it yourself, you don’t really think through the rationale of okay, wait a minute, if I do this now, and I’m saying, here’s your final check, you know, here are all the things that they’re going to have to change. Those are the kinds of things that happen when you go through it yourself. So I would make them walk through that process themselves. We changed things, different different things as a consultant, I’ve seen people change after I’ve kind of walked in the door and made some suggestions. The time of day you have it. What day you have it. What’s happening immediately after. You cannot make people fake the reality. It’s kind of like grandma dying and then you’re like, okay, well, let’s go on a family vacation. Well, even if it was planned, guess what, we’re gonna reschedule some stuff because grandma died, okay. When someone leaves an organization, this is not the time to immediately go into, like, you know, great team building exercises. You know, let’s acknowledge the reality of like Dr. Melanie said, this person just left, like they sat next to me for two and a half years. I went to their daggone baby shower, can we acknowledge that the desk is now empty, like, and who’s gonna bring the doughnuts? It’s stuff that, you know, you’re not going to really recognize if you’re not having those conversations. The other thing is, you know, I know that there’s this new workplace thrust towards, you know, transparency, and we have translated that to our physical buildings. But how about we not have the separation conversation in the fishbowl conference room? In the middle of the daggone floor?

Dr. Melanie Peacock
Exactly. We have to think and be humane, right? Like, why in the middle? Why zooming into somebody in a hotel room? You know, I would even have conversations, and I love what you’ve said, Maxine about the planning, it’s plan, plan, plan, plan, plan, plan, plan, implement. We’d have conversations, should it be in their office, or someone else’s office with a closed door that nobody else is looking in? Because it’s often easier for someone to leave? Do we need to have someone leave with them? Do we have cabs or Ubers, or lifts available to take people home, I’ve done that, because they’re so shocked, we want to make sure they get home safely. And so then we arrange at our own expense to have their car if they had a car on site, dropped off at their home the next day or later that day. You know, thinking about understanding what supports are available to people. You know, you mentioned not doing something on a Friday, often that’s, you know, not prudent, especially if you know that someone lives alone and has little access to other people on the weekend. You’ve got to think through those things. Something as simple as looking in their employment file. If it doesn’t have to be done on a certain date. Don’t terminate someone’s employment on their birthday. You don’t like it’s silly things like that. But it’s the thoughtful, I have seen it all. –

T. Maxine Woods-McMillan
Been there.

Dr. Melanie Peacock
You know, people will ask, what’s the best day to sever someone’s employment? There is no good day, you know, you could almost answer facetiously on any day ending in a y. But that said, it’s all that thought process into those days. Timing. What kind of information. What kind of supports. I’ve been involved in termination meetings where we understood and knew someone had health conditions.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah.

Dr. Melanie Peacock
And we were worried, even though they should know that it’s coming, they’re, we know that they’re the kind of people that would still be shocked. We had medical staff on site in case there was a health issue, not purely just to protect us from liability, but to show that we actually genuinely cared about the person’s health and well being. You know, so there are some strategic thoughts behind it. It’s it really is a process and I love Maxine, your analogy to a wedding? Yeah, it’s plan, plan, plan plan. And it’s even the planning after the fact too, you know, doing to make sure that the hall gets cleaned up after the wedding. That after the bride and groom have left, the guests are still there, you know, and what are they? You know, it’s woowoo. It’s all about thought. It’s very logistical. But that’s what actually makes it more humane.

Sarah Noll Wilson
And planning for all different groups. I mean, you know, so people who are listening to this, right, like, you’re right, I think sometimes it’s like, we just stop at that conversation. And we aren’t thinking about either the reality for that person past the conversation. We’re not thinking about the reali — I mean, as you just like, so beautifully illustrated. We’re not thinking about the people who are left behind post that conversation. We might not even be thinking about us post that conversation. And yeah, that that analogy of the wedding was like, yeah, that is, that is that is such an apt analogy. And that wraps up the first half of our conversation with Maxine Woods-McMillan and Dr. Melanie Peacock, and I know that I’ve taken pages of notes, and we want to hear from you. You can reach out to us at Podcast at Sarah Noll Wilson dot com. You can find me on social media, send me a DM, and let us know what resonated or maybe what questions came up for you. And if you’d like to find out more about our work and how we can help you have conversations that matter. Check us out at Sarah Noll Wilson dot com. You can also pick up a copy of my latest book, Don’t Feed the Elephants! wherever books are sold. And if you’d like to support the show, please consider becoming a patron. You can visit us at patreon dot com slash conversations on conversations. We’re not only your financial support sustains this podcast and the incredible team that makes it possible. You’ll also get access to some pretty great and unique swag and benefits. Also, if you haven’t already done so please be sure to rate, review, and subscribe to the show. You can do this on Apple’s podcast, Spotify, just open this up as an option. This helps us increase our exposure so that we can bring on incredible guests like Maxine and Melanie today. Thanks to our incredible team who makes this podcast possible to our producer Nick Wilson, sound editor Drew Noll, transcriptionist Becky Reinert and our marketing consultant Kaitlyn Summitt-Nelson and the rest of the SNoWco crew. And finally, a wholehearted thank you to Maxine Woods-McMillan and Dr. Melanie Peacock for saying yes last minute to having this conversation and really bringing their whole selves, their insights and their wisdom. I cannot wait for you to listen to part two next week. This has been Conversations on Conversations. Thank you for listening. And remember when we can change the conversations we have with ourselves and others we can change the world. So be sure to take care, rest, rehydrate and we will see you again next week.

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