• Kali Ah Yuen

How to Fire Employees: A Guide Created from Sephora’s Devastating Conference Call

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

On March 31, hundreds of Sephora employees were notified with a late-notice to hop on a conference call. The call was taking place in less than an hour from when the notifications were sent out. Not too out of the ordinary as many virtual meetings were set up throughout this isolation period to keep employees active and in-the-know. However, this wasn’t a typical conference call. It was a mass call that would leave many individuals unemployed and shocked, to say the least. One of these employees happened to be me. 

As everyone started to fill up on the conference line, I realized that it was sectioned by districts. The call was led by higher-ups in Sephora, while the store directors took roll calling out their team members that were asked to be on the call, and each employee acknowledged their name being called (there were at least 25+ employees on my call particularly). Soon after that, the conversation started. 

It was the typical, “thank you all for making time to be on this call” that led to “unfortunately, we have to let you all go. Effective immediately as April 3rd will be your last day.” Then came the severance pay spiel followed by how everyone could file for unemployment. Keep in mind that at this point, I couldn’t even wrap my head around the fact that this was all happening in such a short and unprofessional fashion. It was hard to stay focused on what was being said. My focus went in and out, hearing little things like “you’ll still have your employee discount till April 3” and “Sephora is doing everything to make sure you’re taken care of during this time.” But all that couldn’t cover up the truth of the matter.

After a few minutes passed of more I-have-to-say-this-legally business talk, the call ended abruptly with what would've felt like a sincere farewell had the tone come from a place of caring versus reading a script.

“Thank you all for the hard work you’ve put in. Goodbye.”

As the phone clicked, you could hear sobs, crying, and multiple employees expressing their shock. I had to hang up as it became overwhelming for an empath to feel everything that was going on. 

Now, keep in mind, these employees, including myself, were told that when Sephora decided to close its doors in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we would all be taken care of. No worries of losing our jobs and it would all go back to normal once the quarantine had passed. For days into this, we were very active in group messages each store director set up via text. It wasn’t until the 10-minute conference call, that anyone had an ounce of fear in them that they would be unemployed. You can imagine the devastation (see image below for the statement they put out in mid-March):

This quickly led to the idea of creating a simple guide that even small business owners can follow when it comes to letting employees go. So, here are some guidelines that will hopefully make the next Billionaire CEO think twice before making a decision:

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

No, we aren’t all making millions from a skyrise office in the middle of the suburbs. However, we are hardworking individuals who have means to meet. Your part-time employees may be at the bottom of the business ‘food chain’, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important to your company. Ask yourself, ‘how would I feel losing my job today in an environment like this?’ ‘In an environment where falling into a negative headspace is so easy and people are so vulnerable, how will this impact them?’

Explore Your Options (that Don’t Include Your Employees)

A business does not simply run off your employees. Think of where you could cut losses, such as technological processes, distribution transportation, marketing expenses, etc. Not publishing that advertisement that probably costs a few thousand dollars, could save numerous employee paychecks. Create a team specifically for this task that can take the time to look at all of your options and decide accordingly. It’s okay to test different waters out first before making a huge splash.

Humanize Your Message

One big conference call may be a great way to handle meetings, but not firing employees. Sephora’s use of this tactic led to a lot of backlash from employees giving months, and even years, to this company just to be treated like none of it mattered. Their argument was that it helped keep the message ‘clear and concise’. But, even a face-to-face video call can humanize the message better than a phone call could. If 'big business' wants to continue handling these situations like everyone’s a robot, it’s only going to lead to negative outcomes. Be sure to think thoroughly about the delivery of your message and the lasting impression it will leave.

Be Empathetic

When it comes to firing employees, you have to understand that you’re dealing with real lives. It’s beyond business at this point (for most business owners, at least). Come from a place of understanding and allow room for feedback. Just as a one-way advertisement on television doesn’t mean each watcher will purchase what you’re selling, a one-way message doesn’t mean each employee will understand the decision you’re making. Mental health is very important right now and every CEO needs to be more aware of this. 

Firing an employee is typically the last conversation you will have with that individual. So, make it count. It’s not about what you’ve done for the person throughout their time working for you, it’s about how you make them feel even when all is said and done. Keep in mind that you still want business and with the prominence of social media and other digital platforms, voices will be heard. One bad decision can lead to a never-ending chain of regrets. 

So, I leave you with this wonderful quote from a CEO working to protect his employees at all costs:

How companies respond to coronavirus will define their 'brand for decades' - Mark Cuban

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