"You're fired" is no longer the line of choice for human resources personnel when dealing with dismissing employees. Mohammad, a seasoned expert in human resources currently working with a major corporation in Kuwait, said that multiple levels and structure have been introduced in the dismissal process, removing much of the drama and spontaneity of firing people. Lacking in dramatic value but of a much more diplomatic nature, the 'levels' leading to termination start with the humble word.
The first step will be a verbal warning to inform the employee of the issue. If it persists, a written letter will follow, which tends to formalize everything more. Another written letter will follow after that, and if the employee still hasn't remedied the issue it will usually be suspension followed by termination," said Mohammad.
The levels lead underperforming employees down a slow but steady road to eventual termination, with the process spanning a three to six month period. If, during this time, the employee improves their behavior then they can escape from the path. Should they misbehave again, however, they'll start back at square one, with a verbal warning. The sudden rollercoaster, which termination used to be, has seemingly been replaced by a comfortable, air-conditioned tram ride in which passengers can choose to alight a
t any time.
However, scriptwriters and tension enthusiasts need not mourn the loss of infamously abrupt "you're fired" moments; there are still some misdemeanors that can see employees scooted out of their ex-office immediately. "Of course some actions do get people terminated immediately. Theft, sexual harassment, insubordination, absenteeism and intoxication are sure-fire ways to get fired on the spot," said Mohammad, although he added, "Sexual harassment must be proven, either by video footage or witnesses, otherwi
se there's really no way of knowing what really happened.
One recently dismissed employee, Hanan, felt, however, that her termination was wholly unjustified: "A few months after signing my contract, my boss took a sudden dislike toward me," she said. "We're the same age, same gender, and have very similar qualifications, so I think it was a matter of feeling threatened. She hunted for any flaw, and where she found none, she created them. Competition is very harsh between women in the Middle East sometimes; they all want to prove they're as good as their male coun
terparts, but in doing so they often sabotage each other.
Sabotage can cut a career short, but the probationary period which new employees go through also leaves them vulnerable to immediate termination since they don't fit into the overall structure yet: "You can get fired for anything, for nothing, during your probationary period. It's where competitive issues, prejudices and office politics have the chance to shine without repercussions," warns Mohammad. If you're training, however, there are some buffers: "Poor trainees usually get referred back to recruitmen
t for transfer to another section. If that's unsuccessful, the case will be referred to employee relations who will decide what to do.
As with many aspects of business, culture and context can play a considerable role in how issues are approached and handled. Respect and reverence for those older than you is a common courtesy in the Middle East. But what if you have to fire someone older than you? Can cultural norms surpass business objectives? "No. In this example they can't," said Mohammad. He added "When it comes to business you don't discriminate over age, gender or nationality. Termination is the same regardless.
Although age isn't an influential factor, the infamous issue of 'wasta' (connections) continues to wield considerable power. Mohammad recalls: "In my experience with past employers, wasta played a key role in how people were treated. Generally speaking, wasta can let you get away with quite a bit. But it depends on the size of the company and the formality of the structures. But if your wasta is a partner, director, or, ironically, in the HR department, you're more protected. Sometimes all consequences c
an be avoided, sometimes people have been transferred instead of fired due to their wasta.
Ziad happily admits that his job was both obtained and maintained because of wasta: "I'm majorly under-qualified for my job, yes. I got it because of who my uncle is. I'll also keep it, because of who my uncle is. I do go to work, which is more than many with wasta usually bother doing, but there are other people who could do my job much better than I do. No one got fired so I could take their place, but of course more deserving applicants lost out because I'd been given the position.
If wasta hasn't worked and termination is imminent, is there really an ideal way to deliver such devastating news? "Usually it's an emotional reaction [from those being dismissed]; they tend to be more upset than anything. We always try and console them and make it easy for them. Privacy is vital as well so terminations are always carried out in a private room away from other colleagues. If their reaction is extreme or violent, calling security would be the first step to take.