Losing a job can be a really demoralising experience for those at the receiving end. Yet, a founder or CEO’s intent and demeanour while taking such a harsh step will determine whether the ex-employee will end up being your brand ambassador or a smear-monger.

In most cases, pink slips are an outcome of disproportionate hirings compared to the size of the business. It comes as no surprise that job losses are par for the course among startups. Fuelled by VC money, most founders are guilty of hiring aggressively by unabashedly embracing the “Go Big or Go Home” philosophy.

When the going is good no questions are asked, but the moment the business environment gets challenging, the lowest hanging fruit -- employee costs -- gets knocked off the P&L, followed by a squeeze on marketing spend.

In doing so, founders can tell their boards that they are slowing down the “cash burn” even as growth is hard to come by. For investors that would be a happy situation to be in -- the startup can manage its dry powder well without the need for fresh capital.

Agreed that’s how the game is played but the least a leader can do in such a situation is to be more humane. For instance, Chargebee co-founder Krish Subramanian while announcing the layoffs on his Linkedin post stated:

This difficult decision was driven by external market forces as well as our need to address the operational debt we have accumulated in the last few years. We have made every effort to offer severance, equity and job transition support to ease some of the stress caused by these changes.

But the founder demonstrated genuine empathy when he went on to add:

My ask: There are many talented employees impacted today and we want to help them find their next position. If you are looking to hire, please drop a note to outplacement@chargebee.com with your region and hiring needs, and we’ll connect you to the right candidates.

The intent and concern for his employees seems to have worked as Subramanian updated his post by stating:

More than 250 organisations, globally, have reached out with their hiring needs for various positions. Our outplacement team is consolidating everything to share with the people. In parallel, we are getting the opt-in list from individuals to share with together, stronger. Thank you!

It's quite possible that not all employees would get placed but at the least they would appreciate the fact that the organisation tried to help.

If indeed the winter in Startup Inc is going to stretch for long, it’s time founders and CEOs demonstrate genuine empathy as more than the employees who got fired, earning the respect of those who have stayed behind is as paramount.

While there is no playbook or best practices around employee termination, Stanford professor and noted author Bob Sutton mentions in a piece for the Harvard Business Review: …though there are occasions when being an asshole helps people and companies “win,” my view is that if you are a winner and an asshole, you are still an asshole and I don’t want to be around you!”

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