A young woman called me yesterday, devastated. She had been fired from her job. She had nowhere to turn and was seeking advice. What could I tell her ? The same old, tired phrases: "Everything happens for a reason." or "You will see, it will be for the better." I guess I could have berated and belittled, or chastised but that just isn't how I roll. She was hurt, confused, depressed, penitent, sorrowful, and scared. But mostly, she was humble. That was actually the word she used. Humble.

How many of us use that word when describing ourselves or our work? I know that I often feel overwhelmed and under-qualified to pump out the work that is required to stay afloat in business these days, but each day I do, and each day I strive for that evasive perfection - like that white stag in Narnia. Every once in a while, I catch a glimpse of its tail as it runs into the brush. I often feel I will never ride upon its fair back or gaze into its soft brown eyes - the eyes of success.

The young woman had been a supervisor overseeing forty customer service representatives in a call center. She had been recently promoted to this position, having successfully navigated interviews and applications that lined her promotional process. Promoted just two weeks ago, it was her responsibility to take over "escalated calls" and "intense exchanges of communication" both written and over the phone. Her downfall? She accidentally sent an internal email to a customer. That's it.

No foul language was used, no derogatory terms, just a few details about her personal findings in an "escalated incident." When she discovered her mistake, she immediately went to her supervisor and revealed what had happened. She was escorted to her desk where she packed her scant belongings and was removed from the premises. Due to an unbendable rule, she was terminated immediately.

How many of us carelessly hit the send button every day? How many of us have said careless words that derailed someone's work or caused more labor? The mistake can be simple, but its impact can be distressing and life-changing, as in this young woman's case. No, she did not commit an egregious error or threaten a life, she simply broke a strict rule.

Check your verbiage. Adjust your stance. Clear your throat. Kick the dust off your shoes. Pop your knuckles. Whatever you need to do to weigh in and stay humble. True humility is not self-effacing - it is recognizing your small place in a huge world that can easily go on without you, and yet aware that you could not possibly go on without it. "Send" a simple word, a simple action with implications beyond culpability that transcend uncomplicated duty. Really? Really.

by rayannethorn


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Good advice Rayanne.

I guess as long as perfection isn't a human attribute, and companies have inflexible policies, otherwise good people stand to lose everything as a result of a keystroke.

I wonder if the email contained anything critical of the customer..in other words, did the caller have a valid reason for being "escalated" when they contacted the call center, and did the email actually validate the complaint, and was the firing a politically motivated CYA type of deal?
You know, there's so much that we don't know in regards to the content of the reply email, the reason why the customer was escalated to her, that to have an opinion on the circumstances in and around her firing would be ignorant and futile. There's a lot more information, even at the basic level that we don't know! And rules are rules. Policies are policies and if a company is going to stand behind their employee guidelines and handbook, one that works for everyone equally, well then, even when it looks horrid, sometimes people get fired for dumb things, but dumb things that violate policy. That's just how it goes down sometimes.
Hi Rayanne,

I not only can see that happening, but imagine being on the receiving end of that. I was when one of my managers sent subjective commentary that was supposedly intended for "executive eyes only" to the "Company-All" list. Their inept damage control copied the same email with a cover of "As tempted as you may be to look at this, please don't." Not only did I have to respond to the inaccuracies, but I vented my spleen on more than a few people over her lack of competency and professionalism. The next 6 weeks were a dread as my own credibility was irreparably damaged.

It's sometimes unfortunate that you can't fire your bosses.
However unfortunate, I can see the position of the company. Internal communications being released to the outside offer HUGE issues for companies from a liability perspective and therefore are more than a simple mistake. Being in her new role, I am sure she was excited and overwhelmed at the same time. "Arriving" and being recognized in her new position, some times we do not take the time to execute at the level that is required with the new position. Not saying that is the issue here, but it happens. However, as you move up the ladder - the ramifications for errors are far more reaching.

Guess all we can say is learn from her mistake, make sure we pay attention to all the work we do and be careful to proof read everything multiple times over before sending it on.
Many of us have sent emails by mistake, it can happen as result of a distraction, or not checking recipients. I recall sending an email a few years ago and tried to recall it, but it was already opened. Fortunately I was able to explain this situation to the recipient and have it deleted. From this I have learned to put important emails in a draft folder before sending them out.

There are two issues here: The policy of the company, which the individual as supervisor also needs to reinforce. Understanding the broader context here is important, such as the reason and background for this "harsh" policy.

Secondly, as an HR professional it greatly concerns me that in this day and age we still manage the termination process poorly. Could she have been offered the opportunity to resign, or perhaps some other alternative, such as a probationary period.

This is where good companies demonstrate their values! Treating someone with dignity and respect, helps that person moving on, if they have to find a new role. The fact that she was honest about her mistake indicates that she will learn from this process, as she disclosed this openly to Rayanne. With that attitude she can only put this behind her and use this as a learning opportunity to find a role in a company who is a little more tolerant.
I think your main point was overlooked by the others who replied. What you were so "humbly" trying to tell us, I get. Thank you for reminding us that life is fraile & uncertain. Though are best designed plans & preperation get us ready to deal with life; unforced errors, mistakes or lack of judgement can destroy those plans. I will remember that life is a gift in which we have little control, I humbly bow to my Maker & Thank Him. I like to look at it this way, although I can surf, I can't harness the tide, I just do my best & enjoy the ride!

Rayanne said:
Hey everyone...

Thanks for the wise feedback. As you might suspect, this has been a difficult time for my young friend but she has learned a great deal. And she will indeed grow from this experience...
Please feel free to share any other advice you might have. I have shared your replies with her and she has been very appreciative...

Human beings make mistakes-- we are not robots.

Unfortunately, humility aside, you're friend will more than likely learn from this incident to not "humbley turn herself in" next time.

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