How do I fire someone without demoralizing the rest of my team?
December 8, 2007 7:07 PM   Subscribe

How do I fire someone without demoralizing the rest of my team?

Some background: I work in a call center. I was recently promoted as a team leader, and was assigned to take over a six-month-old team whose leader laterally transferred to a different position. I am new to the account and have never had management experience before, and I feel that the team is quite resistant to my leadership. The company we work for is a large multinational corporation with many rules and guidelines. Their former team leader was very lenient about letting them run willy-nilly against them (constant undertime, overbreaks, bringing in food and electronic gadgets even though they're not allowed, leaving messy desks). I've only been with them for 3 weeks, and I'm struggling to tame the... wilderness. I try to do right by the company and my ethics, and apply things I've been trained for. I exercise my own discretion on most things, and I'm not even that strict, but whenever I try to modify aberrant behavior, they kick and scream or rebel passive-aggressively, and think I'm all about the rules, rules, rules - simply because their former leader never implemented them nor shared the rationale behind them. (My explanations fall on deaf ears since being able to get away with murder before I came along must mean the rules are flexible and I'm not.)

The meat of the matter: While monitoring the team's calls, I accidentally pulled up one which was mysteriously dropped, and for all intents and purposes, it is the greatest mortal sin one could ever commit in a call center. By all applicable guidelines in our handbook, this offense leads to termination. Pretty cut and dry, right? Wrong. In our company, we suspend the employee until further notice while upper management and human resources investigates the matter, and depending on the results, the employee will either get reinstated or dismissed.

Here's where it gets tricky: this particular employee is one of the strong social pillars of the team. They value him, he's got clout. Plus he's gradually been able to start meeting the goals, and is rarely ever late or absent. Terminating him is sure to demoralize the team, and will almost certainly paint me as The Evil Villain in their eyes. It's not going to be pretty. Chaos is certain to ensue. But I can't let it slide; the offense is a grave one. There is no middle ground. Yet it would be unethical to share with the rest of the team exactly why we're suspending, and possibly terminating said employee, firstly because while the matter is being investigated it's confidential, and secondly I wouldn't want to subject him to any further humiliation.

So my question is: how do I fire this guy without demoralizing the rest of the team?

Am I being unreasonable? Am I going about handling the team the wrong way? How do I lead them properly?

My own supervisor has been of little help, so I seek your sagely advice, dear fellow MeFites. I'm dying here. This is a delicate matter, and this will not wendell.

(E-mail is
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
If this person is usually good and a leader, I am not following why he is not being given the benefit of a doubt in this situation of a "dropped call". I don't know what that means--do you suspect he hung up on a customer?

As the new manager, don't make the mistake of being a rule enforcer before being an approachable leader. If you want these people to make you look good, don't be firing one of them 3 weeks in to the job. Call center jobs already suck, don't make it suckier for any of them of they will undermine you in a thousand different ways and drive you out before you can fire them all. Rules, rules,...yes, important, but so is the big picture and pissing in the aquarium so early in the game might be doing yourself more harm than you think. Turn it around in your own mind and instead of trying to get these folks to suddenly be on board with rules, figure out which ones are really important and which ones can slide and ask yourself what you would want a leader to do if you were one of the worker bees? Most workers want to be treated with respect and if you offer that and they offer it in return it will go a long way to making that environment bearable for them and for you. Good luck.
posted by 45moore45 at 7:23 PM on December 8, 2007

The only way a firing ever improves team morale is if the person being fired is a universally loathed prick. So you're basically doomed.

On the other hand, it is every bit as traditional for new leaders to conduct a savage purge as it is for new marketing people to Change The Logo. So your doom has plenty of precedent.

If you're smart, you will care less about the rules and more about the people. Rulebooks and guidelines, especially for environments as inherently socially toxic as call centres, are generally there to cover the writers' arses, and don't generally make any kind of social sense to implement. Never, never, never bend a person to fit a guideline when the opposite is an option.

Your job as a team leader is to protect your team from the bullshit that constantly rains down from the upper levels of management. Do that consistently, and they will respect you. If you ask them for their help in doing that, instead of telling them What Must Be Done in a doomed attempt to propitiate the rain gods, you will get the cooperation you need to make your job possible.

If you haven't read Catch 22, do so immediately. If you have, think carefully about the idea of making them all sign loyalty oaths.
posted by flabdablet at 7:42 PM on December 8, 2007 [7 favorites]

It sounds like a difficult situation. My first instinct would be to crack down. Fire the guy you want to fire, and let the rest of them know you're tired of tolerating their BS. And then be on top of them like a fly on crap, making sure to catch and stop any infraction as soon as possible after it incurs. It will be no fun for anyone at first. However, over time, you can work to change the dynamic. Maintain strong interaction with everyone on the team through regular one-on-one and group meetings, being sure to listen and observe so that you can respond to any legitimate grievances. Eventually, a more respectful atmosphere could develop.
As I think about it, however, there's another alternative, which is to try to co-opt the guy. Meet with the guy you want to fire, and tell him you're about to let him go. Explain, however, that you've noticed he has the ability to influence his peers, and you're willing to give him another chance if he can help you out. Basically you want him to feel that you're doing him a favor. Exactly how you do this depends on your style and his likely response -- it's not an easy conversation to pull off successfully. In general, convince him that the behavior of the group is important, and in particular he needs to do X, Y, and Z, (take regular breaks, keep his desk clean, etc.) AND you want him to talk to his friends about doing X, Y, and Z. If you can get him to agree to this, you will have made a start at influencing the rest of the group.
Good luck.
posted by blue mustard at 7:46 PM on December 8, 2007

The first thing I thought of when I read your description is The Caine Mutiny.

Anyway, my personal opinion is that you should spend less time worrying about the rules and more time trying to get your team to add value to the company. If people sneak in food and still do a great job on the calls, why ruin it by taking their food away? As you said, they can fight back at your with passive-aggression, which will mean less efficiency. Try to gain their trust first before trying to force them to play by a different set of rules. If you keep looking at the situation as "me against them" instead of "us as a team" then you aren't being much of a leader.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:51 PM on December 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

Can you pretend you didn't hear the dropped call? If he does a good job and rarely violates the rules you care about, can't you give him the benefit of the doubt this one time? If this is a pattern, then of course you terminate. But it sounds like a solitary incident from an otherwise solid employee.
posted by aburd at 7:59 PM on December 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

I have been in your EXACT SAME job and faced a very similar problem.

Here's what you do -- you do not fire the guy. You do, however, chew him a new one in the team meeting and make a big deal about how you put your ass on the line to keep him from getting canned by big bad management because of *brandishes paperwork* this dropped call. Then you make him a lead. You want him on your side, because you will be canning people in the future.

And you casually mention that you've asked QA to scan a few tapes. *looks around ominously* Note who flinches. Listen to their calls. Weed out the worst offenders.

Call center rules are designed to get people to act like robots. They are soul-crushingly trivial and every agent spends all of every day scheming how to subvert them. I know I did, before I got promoted. There is no way around this.

I have more to say, but have to end here to deal with stuff.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:04 PM on December 8, 2007 [15 favorites]

Your question is confusing. I'm going to try and explain how I read it, to make sure I'm not totally wrong. Let's call the guy who dropped the call Alex.

You have a team that doesn't want to follow company rules on stuff like hours worked, bringing things into work, etc. (You haven't said whether they get their work done well or not). Alex is the team's alpha guy. He does get his work done, is popular, social leader, and is starting to follow your rules which should ihelp nfluence the rest of the team to knuckle under soon. But Alex has done something bad. Here's where I'm not clear.
a) Is it so objectively bad that if his teammates knew, they would understand and accept his firing? So is the problem simply that you're going to have to suspend him without telling the others why, and the investigation process is prohibitively long (say, a month or more?).
If so, then I think you should just follow the process, and wait for your triumphant reveal with gritted teeth.

If not, and if nobody above you is ever going to find out about this dropped call, then I think you should take bluemustard's second method, and tell the guy you're giving him another chance in recognition of his positive influence, and that you expect him to use it (and never drop a call again, blah blah).
posted by jacalata at 8:05 PM on December 8, 2007

Go read "The First 90 Days". You need it.

You are mistaken if you think you're there to make people follow rules. You are a manager/team leader because your job is to help the team contribute to the company. People contribute when they are bought in (i.e., they want to do the job), properly trained (i.e., they can do the work), and have clear goals (i.e., know what the work is).

You may have some sway over the values that define being "bought in", but you need to eat a big piece of humble pie first. These people do not have nor have you earned their respect, and nothing you can SAY will change that yet.

What you should be doing is not firing them, unless you want to purge the entire team. Instead, meet with each of them individually and then with the group, ask questions about what they do, how they do it, and what their concerns are. Take lots and lots of notes. Shut up, listen closely, and begin to formulate a plan for where you want the team to go.

Once you've got a goal, you may find that firing someone is necessary, but you can't justify that firing until you know what you're aiming for and whether they are helping, not helping, or hindering the team in getting there.
posted by ellF at 8:06 PM on December 8, 2007 [9 favorites]

If he's the one guy who's improving, forget the dropped call, but tell him privately it's his ass if it happens again. Wait for a clear opportunity to nail one of your malingerers if you must, but firing might not be the best route.
posted by atchafalaya at 8:11 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Can you present this as "You have forced my hand" somehow? Suggest that there has been a general flaunting of trivial rules (present the pattern of behavior), which seems to have led to a breaking of a major rule (you don't need to specify which rule). Now you (as manager) are forced to suspend and investigate this well liked individual, who was actually one of the better members of the team (present as much data to back this up as possible). Surely if the minor violations continue, the less-disciplined members of the will also find themselves on the wrong side of an exit interview. Now, since you (as manager) don't want this to happen (I love you guys), you will HELP them tighten up the ship so that they can keep their jobs (present rules you are going to begin enforcing strictly). Let's all work on this together, mkay. You're welcome.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:15 PM on December 8, 2007

You recommend to HR that they keep the guy. Basically, yes, you let it slide. For the greater good.
You inherited a mess, and destabilizing the mess further is not going to get any goals met.
posted by desuetude at 8:21 PM on December 8, 2007

Does "mysteriously dropped call" mean that there's absolutely no other possibility than that he dropped the call? Are you double, extra sure?
posted by dws at 8:28 PM on December 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

From what I understand, whether or not to take action against the guy who dropped the call is not your choice. You have to do what you have to do, and you're looking for the best way to handle it, if I'm reading you right. (I definitely do not agree with the folks who suggest ignoring the dropped call -- the call itself is actionable, and if you can review it, certainly it can be reviewed higher up; hiding the mistake in order to circumvent HR and management policy is doubly actionable and is definitely a CLM.)

What you can do is lobby for "Alex" to be suspended, but not terminated. You can tell your supervisor that with the recent lead transition, you think this will have an extraordinarily negative effect on the team, and that while yes it was a grave offense, you think that the overall performance and health of the group will benefit from the lighter touch.

how do I fire this guy without demoralizing the rest of the team?

This is beyond your control. When a well-liked member of a team is laid off, morale will take a hit no matter what. It doesn't matter if the reason for the action is justified; even if people understand why the company did what it did, the sheer absence of the person will cause bad feelings.

So, the suspension / termination and demoralization, you can't help. You can try to convert a bad situation into positive growth for the team.

I don't agree with the suggestions that you should totally flout the company's heavy-handed management style and rules. It's a big multi-national corporation; they do business the way they do for a reason, and whether you like it or not, they care about their policies far more than they care about either you or Alex.

There was a reason that the previous guy was allowed to make a lateral transfer; there was a reason that you were brought in from another account to take over this one cold; there was a reason that the lead wasn't an "internal hire" off the existing team. Just lying down before the team's rampant disregard for the rules isn't what you were brought in to do.

But I agree that you won't get anywhere by coming in with a big stick and fulfilling their perceptions of you as an Evil Villain. ellF's suggestion: "meet with each of them individually and then with the group, ask questions about what they do, how they do it, and what their concerns are. Take lots and lots of notes. Shut up, listen closely, and begin to formulate a plan for where you want the team to go" -- is excellent, very good technique for any manager in transition.

But that doesn't help you deal with Alex's situation. If this were me, I think I'd approach it thusly:

First, make sure that you are able to almost simultaneously notify Alex alongside the team. I'm guessing you and your supervisor and/or an HR rep will take Alex into a private room at the end of the workday, explain the situation, and escort him out.

Before Alex can get in touch with anyone else on the team, you need to have already talked to them. I would schedule a team meeting to take place immediately after the Alex meeting. Tell them in the corporate-speak pre-approved way that Alex will be off the site / leaving the team / whatever the official line is. Make sure someone from HR is present, so they know that this is indeed a big deal -- bigger than the recent internal games they've been playing to punish the new manager. You might not be able to talk directly about the termination, but you can try to send the message that this isn't coming down from you, that it's driven by company policy.

You could reinforce that by having an informal meeting a couple of days later, just you and the team. Play the benevolent friend, with the non-verbal attitude that you don't want to see what happened to Alex happen to anyone else. Tell them that you are gathering to try and find if anyone has any questions or misunderstandings about policy and procedure -- that you don't care about talking over what did or didn't happen before, but that you want to give the team the benefit of the doubt, and make sure they have the tools and info they need to do their jobs well.

Hopefully the whole Alex mess, and your gentle but firm handling of the situation (while helping Alex keep his job if possible, at which point he becomes your ally), will turn the team around from the original chilly reception you were given.

I've worked for the MegaGlobalCorp before, but I've never worked call center, so I don't know the dynamics in that particular role. Whatever you decide, you're in an unenviable position where any decision will surely piss somebody off -- I hope that whatever you do works out for you!
posted by pineapple at 8:32 PM on December 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

What's a "dropped call" in this context, and why is it so bad? All the definitions I could google for seemed to indicate "a call accidentally disconnected by the system".
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:36 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

My first instinct would be to crack down. Fire the guy you want to fire, and let the rest of them know you're tired of tolerating their BS. And then be on top of them like a fly on crap, making sure to catch and stop any infraction as soon as possible after it incurs.

For God's sake, don't do this. I worked in a call center environment for about three years, and seriously, the rules are either reasonable and easy to follow, or ridiculous and annoying. The reason this guy is doing a good job and breaking some of the rules is that it's like high school here -- the people who do well are allowed to slide on the dumbass rules because being good at your job (a job that a lot of people do not, in any way at all, give a shit about) requires some kind of reward for people to keep going. So they are probably not going to get a raise and even the good ones are all not going to be promoted, so part of their reward is being able to ignore the bullshit rules as long as they are getting their jobs done.

Now, as for the "dropped call" - did the guy actually hang up on the customer? I've worked these phones before myself - it's not exactly hard to hang up on someone without meaning to do it. I've also monitored such calls myself. If you do not know, beyond a shadow of an objective doubt, that this guy did something wrong intentionally, you have the opportunity to make him Your Ally. Probably you would have to talk to HR to see what you can do in this hypothetical situation, but if you can, you should talk to this guy and let him know that this case was borderline, you are *sure* it wasn't intentional and that you are sticking your neck out so that he can keep his job. (This assumes that this kind of thing will work with this person, it may not, but I've done this and seen it done before, so.) Once you become His Friend, as someone pointed out above, you have the opportunity to Make Friends with the rest of the team. Once you Make Friends, then you can start getting them to do you the favor of at least appearing to comply with the company rules. In some cases, an appearance is all you are going to get.

FWIW, I know that some people here are well intentioned, but I would take with a huge grain of salt anyone's advice that has not done this type of job before. Call Center is a very, very difficult place to be. It's hard as a worker - I know that it took me a very long time to be able to tolerate the telephone ringing in my own home once I got out of my call center job, and that's just the weird psychological crap that you carry home - it's not the day to day drudgery of the same people with the same questions that to you eventually become so stupid that you can barely stand to hear yourself give the answer anymore. This kind of job is easy, but it's also very hard. Don't forget that your team are not "bandwidth;" they are "people," and managing them is going to be harder than just reading the rules aloud and looking scary. People need leaders. You're either going to wreck this being a rule-reader or win it being a leader.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:02 PM on December 8, 2007 [4 favorites]

Part of the problem here, I'd imagine, is that the "rules" your team are flaunting and that you expected to enforce serve little purpose other than to remind the call centre employees that they are interchangeable, and not permitted to express any element of their personality during work hours (oh, except for personal charm, since that may be exploited by their employer). A good portion of call centre rules are inherently demoralising to the team, but that's intrinsic to how these centres work.

In any other sort of company, I would say to follow ellF's iadvice above; don't sack the guy at all, and start asking your team what they need from you. That's how you lead people. It's how you earn their respect, get them to produce the best results, and end up wth a team of people who feel a sense of satisfaction in their work. But call centres operate on a different plane of existence, where hard rules are everything and creativity is actively discouraged at all levels. I just don't know what will work for you.
posted by hot soup girl at 9:03 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

A lifetime ago I used to work in phone support, and I gotta say I'm a little surprised that a single "dropped call" is being treated like a capital punishment offense. Here's what I'm taking from this:

Your "Alex" CSR is one of your better, more productive team members by your own estimation, yet because of a single dropped call (which was nothing I might add compared to what I would consider "bad apple" incidents in the support dept. I used to work in, btw) you believe that you must fire him because this is the worst thing ever. Realistically, it's not. One thing I can think of that's worse is oh, I dunno, a CSR giving out deliberately incorrect advice to a customer who annoyed them, and then when asked for their name, providing the name of another CSR the first one didn't like, and altering the call notes to match. This was in the early '90s when call tracking tech was not nearly as sophisticated, and that prick caused a bit of a ruckus before we found out who it was and canned his ass.

Anyway, I digress, what I'm saying is a single dropped call is not the end of the world, unless if was dropped, and you have it on tape where "Alex" was dropping the call on purpose with a "And fuck you" verbally to the customer as he did it. Or, if you have evidence that this has happened more than once. You also have to have evidence that he did it deliberately, rather than a system malfunction. If none of this is the case, and it was just the once, with no proof it was intended as malicious, I say warn the guy in private with a "Look, about this dropped call, I don't know what happened, but make sure it never happens again or it's your ass" type conversation, and go on with trying to get your team together. Canning one of your better assets over a single incident shows your team that you don't have any of their backs, and they sure as hell won't have yours, and some of them will probably start looking to go elsewhere, thinking "if one of the better people got turfed, it's only a matter of time for me". I don't know what industry you're doing support for, but I'll tell you we had a hell of a time finding capable replacements when we did have openings on the team. If your support relies on checklists and a lot of flowcharts it may not matter, but if your CSRs need to think at all, it's worth a bit of extra effort to keep one of the better ones around.
posted by barc0001 at 9:11 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Let's say your company bills their client by agent/hour at $100. If your team of 15 averages being 3 minutes late coming back from break twice a day, they've just lost the company $150 that day, or $1050 in billable time a week. Multiply that by a 300-agent call center, and you see why call center managers have a haunted, harried look on their wan, ravaged faces so much of the time. Every time they see an agent in the break room: that's money! Disappearing! GAAAAH! Get these people on their phones!

That's how call center management thinks.

Agents, on the other hand, are usually real people with real lives, often in school, often working two jobs, often with kids. It is insulting to be told you've overstayed your break by TWO FUCKING MINUTES. I'm a grown man, and this ain't kindergarten. I've been rockin' my phone today and besides, I just got off a 20-minute-call with a lady who had an accent so thick I could barely comprehend her and she screamed at me and called me the devil, so I'm just gonna finish this cigarette, m'kay?

That's how call center agents think.

Your job is to carve out a place between those extremes that's fair, that's profitable, and that isn't the kind of "compromise" that leads to alcoholism and suicide. OK, that's a tad melodramatic. But you see what I'm getting at.

Dropping a call, while anathema, is gonna happen now and then. Listen to the tape (funny that now everything is digital QA still called it a "tape" -- do they do the same where you work?) and see if it was an accident (oops I meant to hit hold and transferred them to dialtone), an "accident" (I am going to say that I meant to hit hold if I am being QAed), or a "you, caller, have made me so irate that the next words that come out of my mouth will definitely get me fired so I'll hang up on you instead" situation.

Your job is to make people feel human and to get them to perform like robots. Do not be ingratiating, do not be aloof. Let people know EXACTLY where they stand, and let them know it constructively. "You had great numbers this week, but I noticed a lot of hold time before you transferred calls to collections. Here's the criteria for transferring to that department. Those calls suck, cuz there's always a mess to be cleaned up. Here's what we can do."

Show them that you are fair, open, and not to be fucked with. LISTEN. You'll learn about your agents and your company.

OK, having written all that I just re-read your question and it sounds like you HAVE to fire the guy. That sucks, and you should go to bat for him if possible. Show them his timesheets, praise his leadership skills, get QA to dig up some exemplary calls for them to hear. Whether or not it works, and whether or not you bruit it about, this will get back to your team.

A dirty little secret of call centers is that many of them operate on the assumption that turnover is cheaper than retention. I can't imagine that this is really true, but the one I worked in sure acted that way. Fire 'em right and left, cuz there's a line out the door waiting to warm their seat.

I'd be interested to know what kind of calls you are taking.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:31 PM on December 8, 2007 [9 favorites]

Just jumping in to add "me too!!" to BitterOldPunk's post. I too have worked in a call center where we all had some gripes with management, and it was exactly as he described.

Don't be like that if you can at all avoid it.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 1:46 AM on December 9, 2007

Set an example by following policy. Initiate the investigation. Don't assume that X will be fired; there may be more to the story. Don't game people. Do the right thing, and have your sights set firmly on the real goal of exceptional customer service. People give good service when they are motivated and also when they are having fun. Don't allow a culture of 'customers suck.'

As far as reporting hours not worked, consistently taking long breaks, etc., be clear about ending that, but don't be trivial about it. People will work better & harder if they feel valued.
posted by theora55 at 7:37 AM on December 9, 2007

What is your objective in all of this? Do you want to improve performance or enforce corporate policy? I think you need to pick one, and use it to enforce the other (think carrot and stick). Communicate that if performance benchmarks are being met or exceeded then the rules (constant undertime, overbreaks, bringing in food and electronic gadgets, leaving messy desks) can be quietly ignored. If meeting goals seems impossible then come down hard on the corporate policy side of things (enforce-every-little-rule). The first option will make you look ike a free thinker that gets results, the second option will make you look like a corporate drone, both of which will allow you to go far at MegaCorp.

As for your problem employee, you are seriously thinking about firing someone for dropping a call, at a call center? This person endures countless calls from angry and often stupid customers all day for marginal pay and you want to fire them for loosing their cool periodically? Christ, what an asshole! Your new subordinates will immediately recognize you as a little Napoleon who has gone mad with his new management powers. Find a more constructive and thoughtful way of accomplishing your goals. Wait until all your other options are exhausted until you fire someone.
posted by kscottz at 8:15 AM on December 9, 2007

I worked in call centers for 2 or 3 years..... ellF has it right.

The only thing I would add is this:
"The company we work for is a large multinational corporation with many rules and guidelines."

.....Yep, thats how large multi-national corporations are. Soulless and soul-crushing. If you dont like it, you need to GTFO and work somewhere that values its peoples contributions more than enforcing rule after rule.
posted by jmnugent at 10:49 AM on December 9, 2007

I've worked in, and burnt out in, a call center. Everyone has a their moments and if this guy is generally a good worker, a one-second bad decision to drop a frustrating call seems like a poor reason to get fired, if it's not part of a pattern. I actually think I agree with the team - you are sticking too closely to the rules and not giving your employees any slack. You're not going to get what you want out of them this way - you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, as the saying goes...

Get the guy on your side by telling him that you appreciate the improvements he's been making so you're giving him the benefit of the doubt about the dropped call and that you're on his side against higher management. Hopefully he'll appreciate this and help bring the rest of the team around. Also, you may be trying to fix everything at once by sticking to the rules to closely. Maybe messy desks and bringing food in can wait until you have their respect.
posted by hazyjane at 11:34 AM on December 9, 2007

Canning one of your better assets over a single incident shows your team that you don't have any of their backs, and they sure as hell won't have yours

Yeah, can't you go to bat for this guy? Seems to me that if this happened before you got here, and assuming they want to help you succeed, you should have some wiggle room. What about --
[To Your Management:] Look, we both know that this is a difficult team. But this guy is one of the best. He might've done something wrong, and if he keeps it up, he should be fired. But there was no discipline here before. I'm doing my best to clean all this up. And I think I can get this guy to help me do it." (They say yes? "Great, thanks." They say no? "Some people are already having a tough enough time with me coming on as new boss and trying to shape up the place. My concern is that if I fire him, it's going to undermine everyone's morale, and I'll end up with a team of new hires. That's going to slow down the company a lot more than giving this one guy one more chance. If he screws up again, you'll have no argument from me about firing him."

[To The Guy, and Assuming you KNOW it was his fault:] "Look, guy, this is unacceptable. I was just on the phone with HR for fifteen minutes convincing them not to fire you. You can't do that again. And you're not the only one whose job is on the line. There's a big mess here and we have to get it cleaned up, or else all of us -- you, me, and everyone else -- is going to get canned. We have to Goal #1 [boost our total minutes on the phone] and Goal #2 [boost the call satisfaction scores]. How can we do that? Give it some thought, if you have any ideas, let me know."
posted by salvia at 12:23 PM on December 9, 2007

I've always seen benefit to saying the line delivered by the boss in Fight Club (the last time he interacts with Ed Norton), where he says to the troubled/troublesome employee: "Put yourself in my shoes. Make a managerial decision..."

If your people had your job, what would they do about all of these issues? It seems like by talking around these issues, you'll learn how they think, they'll learn that you are trying to see things from their perspective, and a couple will probably hand you a club to beat them with.
posted by 4ster at 8:13 PM on December 9, 2007

You should fire him, publicly, and let him know, "I am doing this for your own good." Explain to the team that call center jobs suck ass and have a rapid turnover, and that they should all be looking for new jobs all the time to get them out of the bullshit corporate bureaucracy and out from under tin-pot Hitlers. Remind them that while, seriously, it does suck for your leader right now, the only way a human being should have to do a call center job is while they're high out of their goddamned minds, and that corporate policy doesn't allow that. This is, especially under you, likely the worst job that these people will ever have, and every moment they're not on the phone should be about plotting a way to never have to do it again.

That's what the rules are for—to remind everyone how much they want to do something even moderately less shitty for their money.
posted by klangklangston at 8:19 AM on December 11, 2007 [4 favorites]

the only way a human being should have to do a call center job is while they're high out of their goddamned minds, and that corporate policy doesn't allow that

I dunno, klang. The place I was at didn't have mandatory piss tests, so I was pretty much baked every working moment. I know my agents were, too. I could have had a lucrative side job running the Visine concessions at that place.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:41 AM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

So my question is: how do I fire this guy without demoralizing the rest of the team?

He's the morale center of the team, he's actually making progress, and is in a position to lead the rest of the team. But he also f'd up big time.

Here's one of many options, but one I like: pull him aside, explain that he made a mistake that, if you were to stick to the rules, would initiate firing proceedings -- but that you've balanced that against his value to the team for morale and the recent progress he's made, and decided he's too valuable to drop. However, he's got to continue showing positive development and acting as a de facto morale lead, because it's what the team needs.

In short, use this as an opportunity to show a key subordinate that you ARE flexible, and that you DO value him more than the rules.

Then keep an eye on him, and if he does the right things, you're good, and if he does the wrong things, he's out -- but you explain the entire situation to the rest of the team.
posted by davejay at 12:24 PM on December 11, 2007

Do you really think this situation is consistent with your team maintaining morale? It's not really clear whether you have to fire this person (not as in, you feel it is necessary but as in, even if you went to bat for this person they would be fired by the company). As far as team morale goes the two dominating facts are first that you will by your own admission be firing a well-liked individual who's work has been improving, second that as he is a social pillar they will be getting the account of the firing they believe from this individual himself. You don't sound like you're interested in debating whether there is really any "middle ground" on firing this person, so I won't bother. Firing him without demoralizing the rest of the team? In this situation it isn't possible.
posted by nanojath at 12:27 PM on December 11, 2007

Oh, um -- I guess I should have posted that in the thread instead of here. Dammit.
posted by davejay at 12:28 PM on December 11, 2007

Whoops! I did! (sorry, thought I put it in the metatalk thread for a moment there)
posted by davejay at 12:28 PM on December 11, 2007

I don't see a link, this thread is in metatalk
posted by Danila at 2:01 PM on December 11, 2007

Listen to yourself, Lord Vader.
posted by RussHy at 6:04 PM on December 11, 2007

BitterOldPunk, ftw.

I can't believe how many people here have worked in call centers. I'd rather chew off my own arm.

That being said, I'm feeling confused over the dire sin of dropping a call, as well as bringing in food occasionally, etc. Group dynamics are important, though, and this guy would be an invaluable ally in your hellish situation.
posted by misha at 6:44 PM on December 11, 2007

This question has two major structural flaws:
  1. We don't know whether the guy actually committed this call-centre Mortal Sin or not, because of the wording:
    "I accidentally pulled up one which was mysteriously dropped, and for all intents and purposes, it is the greatest mortal sin one could ever commit in a call center."
    It appears to mean "I heard a call get dropped for no apparent reason" but also "The evidence is overwhelming that this guy deserved to be fired" -- they contradict each other.
  2. The question is predicated on the assumption that the guy will have to be fired, which isn't necessarily so, even if he actually committed the Sin. There will be an investigation, the outcome of which is unknown.
It's also not immediately apparent to me whether the OP needs to take any action at all, because he/she only "accidentally" came across the bad call.

Presumably there are a number of other options open, including "do nothing".
posted by AmbroseChapel at 6:55 PM on December 11, 2007

Clarification: When I heard "call center", I was thinking telemarketing, not a help desk, which is what we call them down here. I would not want to be a telemarketer, but I probably wouldn't gnaw my arm off rather than work at a help desk. Probably.
posted by misha at 7:30 PM on December 11, 2007

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