I remember the first time that I got fired from a job. It was back in high school. I worked as a lifeguard at the town pool in Suffern, New York. Mrs. Bueno was my boss. She and her husband, Mr. Bueno, were physical education teachers during the school year and ran the town pool during the summers.
One day Mrs. Bueno pulled me in her office and told me that she was firing me as a lifeguard. She told me that I talked too much with friends and pool guests when I was sitting on the lifeguard stand. And she then pointed out that lifeguards need to be paying attention to saving lives rather than being a social chairman.
Broke my heart. But Mrs. Bueno was not wrong. I did talk too much while sitting on the lifeguard stand. So, I thanked Mrs. Bueno for her honesty. I admitted to her my shortcomings. And I apologized for letting her down.
I think she was so impressed with how I handled my firing that the following day she called me back into her office and offered me a new job at the pool… as the social chairman… no joke. My job from that day forward was to make sure everyone at the pool was happy, had dry towels, got a lounge chair and an umbrella for shade. And I could talk all I wanted!
When I was CEO of Up with People, I was hired to turn the company around… so I had to fire more people than I would have liked to. I remember I had to let go of someone in our development department. Being naïve, I invited this woman to attend our Monday morning staff meeting to say goodbye to her work colleagues. But instead of saying goodbye she used her sayonara platform to go off on me in front of the entire staff. I mean… really go off on me. Let’s just say she did not get a letter of recommendation!
This past week Jill and I took the kids to Singer Island, Florida for Spring Break. Yesterday, I met a guy named Ed at the pool. Ed could not have been a more genuine and nicer guy. He shared with me that a little over a year ago he got fired from his job. He was an insurance claims adjustor. Been with the same company for twenty-five years. One Tuesday morning… which happened to be Ed’s birthday… he was let go for downsizing reasons. Twenty-five years and all he got was a “you don’t have to work the rest of the week, but we will pay you until Friday.”
Ed was not the only insurance claims adjustor that got let go that day. All that got fired, except Ed, cleared their desk and went home that day. But Ed stayed until the end of the week. He didn’t want to let his clients down. They needed him. And on Friday, he personally called all his clients and told them it was an honor serving them. At 7:00pm, he cleared his desk and went home.
On Monday he filed for unemployment and began searching for a new job. Shortly after he got a phone call from his former company’s biggest competitor. Turns out one of his former clients called this competitor and told them they needed to hire him. Told the competitor that this guy Ed was the only person who stayed until the end of the week to service his clients.
Today Ed is making more money than he has ever made in his career. Got a huge bonus in his first year. And he is loved and valued at his new place of employment. All because of how he left his former employer. And how he took care of his clients to the very end… until 7:00pm on a Friday night!
I ran into the lady I let go at Up with People, many years later. She regretted the way she behaved that day at the Monday morning staff meeting. And she wished she handled her exit differently.
Whether you are a lifeguard, Director of Development or an insurance claims adjustor, it’s not just how we handle ourselves while we have a job, but more importantly, it is how we handle ourselves when we lose a job. And when we handle ourselves with respect and character on the way out, we may be pleasantly surprised with what happens on the other end… perhaps even a social chairman position. Umbrella anyone?