why Mitt Romney likes firing people

The Evil HR Lady, Suzanne Lucas, took the words right out of my mouth with this column:

Why Mitt Romney likes firing people

Update: Since this came up in the comments, I thought I’d address it here. This is not a political attack or endorsement. This is not intended to be political at all. Suzanne was taking something that’s been getting some news coverage recently and using it to talk about a very difficult management topic: firing. It’s not really about Romney at all; it’s about management, using Romney’s remarks as a springboard.

{ 62 comments… read them below }

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m not sure where that’s coming from. Did you read the linked post? It’s explaining why Romney’s remark shouldn’t set off a firestorm. I don’t actually particularly like Romney, but the article in no way attacks him; if anything, it defends him (although it’s really about explaining why the ability to fire is important).

      1. Anon*

        I expected that she would defend him. It was indeed foolish of him to say that, and I’ve been disgusted all day with those who have jumped to defend him. He deserves the reputation that he has for instigating layoffs at companies–that’s just a fact. And anyway, she’s a bit too conservative for my taste (and I do believe that I read somewhere that she’s Mormon, too).

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Hmmm, I’m NOT conservative and I agreed with everything Suzanne wrote (and I doubt her religion plays a role here). The column isn’t defending him — it’s just using a current event as a lead-in to talking about a management topic.

        2. The gold digger*

          What does her being a Mormon have to do with it? Are you implying that Romney has her vote just because she’s a Mormon? Does that mean I have to vote for every Catholic candidate? Or every female one?

          Plus his comment was not about firing or laying off his own employees. It was about being able to buy and not buy from whomever he wants to.

      2. Katya*

        I’m very liberal and I agree that the article had nothing to do with politics or even really with Romney who happened to have said this one phrase. I don’t like Romney very much either but I liked the explication of why the ability to fire is important.

    2. KayDay*

      How is an article discussing (and defending) one conservative’s statements and other conservatives’ reactions “liberal politics”?

      However, I am sort of surprised Evil HR Lady didn’t discuss European (un)employment…if ever there was a good example of why the ability to fire someone is necessary, that is it. (I always find it interesting that my deepest held beliefs about labor law were formed in French class).

  1. AG*

    I get what Romney was trying to say, goodness knows we’d all like the option to fire our cable company. Yet the problem is threefold:

    1. Romney already has a reputation as someone who takes over companies, bankrupts them, and engages in mass layoffs for personal gain.

    2. The context he’s arguing makes absolutely no sense. Most people don’t have a problem with their insurance company’s customer service, they have a problem with the fact that their insurance company tries to deny them coverage when they get sick. If that happens to you would you fire your insurance company? Of course not, because nobody else would cover you since you already have a pre-existing condition.

    3. Sadly, there probably are a sizeable number of Romney supporters who do in fact enjoy firing people. I swear some people just like owning a business specifically so they can lord it over their employees.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I think that Romney was foolish to make the remark, since he had to know it would be taken out of context and since he already has an image problem re: being seen as out of touch, etc.)

      But I don’t think Suzanne was trying to make a political point at all — just using something that’s in the news as a jumping off point for discussing a management issue (in this case, firing).

      1. Liz*

        I can see Suzanne’s point, but I think her overarching theme could have been improved if she had avoided some fuzzy equivocations. Choosing a new fast food restaurant is not like opting into a new health care plan, and firing a non-performing fast food employee is not like presiding over the mass layoffs of employees who haven’t done anything wrong.

        Further, while everyone likes having more options, Romney included, the ability to make a snappy employment decision isn’t exactly like having more flavors of ice cream. Each unemployed person has consequences for the economy and the community, not to mention the employee, that will not be borne directly by the boss who made the decision. Suzanne made some excellent points regarding the length of time it takes to get rid of a non-performing employee, given how that can impact an individual business, but I think there’s a larger picture of community impact from unpredictable employment patters that could be considered, as well.

        The analogies just didn’t make sense to me, and I think that distracted. I actually agree with the point too, I just found myself shrinking from agreeing with the post.

  2. Dawn*

    Plus ten points for her talking about something that’s really important and doing so in a really smart way

    Minus a coupla hundred for the lead-in

      1. Dawn*

        I think it causes a knee-jerk emotional reaction from readers that clouds their ability to process what she’s really saying (which is important).

        So instead of readers being like “Oh yeah that’s a really good point and I should think about that more” they pull out the pitchforks and go “MITT ROMNEY IS THE ANTICHRIST” or “MITT ROMNEY? I LOVE THAT GUY!” It clouds the point of the article.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh, interesting — it didn’t read that way to me at all. I thought she was simply referring to the criticism he’s taken over his remarks in the past few days. (And then she goes on to explain why the remarks make sense, so it’s definitely not an attack.)

      1. fposte*

        I also thought the heading/lead-in was a little wrong-footed, in that it perpetuated the initial misreport when it’s clear from the article that she knew it was a misreport. I’m no particular Mitt fan, and I liked the article otherwise, as I usually do with the Evil One. I’m kind of thinking the new website may just be encouraging flashier titles.

  3. Liz T*

    This isn’t the forum for going any deeper into politics, I just wanted to say: I understand the reactions of some of the commenters, but think AAM reposting this makes total, apolitical sense.

    As a liberal, I had to fight my Romney-related gag reflex, but yeah–Suzanne Lucas’s post is perfectly logical no matter what one thinks of the man in question. I hate it when people on my side twist the other side’s statements; it smacks of insecurity, it clouds the issues, and it sets precedent. Romney’s comment was undeniably tone-deaf, but not face-value evil as some believe. AG makes some good context points, but it just goes to show–there’s plenty of genuine fodder out there, we don’t need to twist each others’ words.

    (And I, for one, am very emphatic about firing from my life that Mexican place that ripped us off on the vegetarian nachos. “Large????” There were literally 12 chips! For $8! Yelp o’clock.)

  4. Suzanne*

    Different Suzanne here!
    I understand what Suzanne L. is saying, but, as with most things, it isn’t that simple. Maybe the kid at hamburger joint had trouble doing his job because no one trained him, or explained to him the finer points of customer service, or gave him the ok to replace a lousy hamburger with another when a customer complained. No one wakes up one morning fully qualified for any job; training is key, but few businesses bother anymore. The employees are just supposed to figure it out and if they don’t or can’t or the rules change on a daily basis, too darn bad! They are out the door and another will replace them who will shortly be in the same boat. When the business goes belly up, the employer will blame the bad employees who didn’t do their jobs, but in reality, they couldn’t because there were no guidelines or directions given.

    1. ThatHRGirl*

      “Firing the Cashier” was not meant to be taken literally… It’s more about “firing” the business that failed to screen for the right employees, train them correctly, give them all the tools they need, etc. I think you’re taking this too literally.

  5. quix*

    I’m going to take issue with her analogy. “Firing” a restaurant by not going there because the cashier was rude, and the restaurant firing the cashier are not on the same scale.

    You are not the only customer the restaurant has. Cashiering is likely the only job the cashier has.

    After a while, you’re likely to give the restaurant another try. The restaurant is unlikely to re-hire a fired cashier.

    I think the pendulum has already swung too far in favor of employers being able to treat employees however they want. It’s hard to get another job. It’s easy to get another employee.

    A majority of companies doing the hiring are much better off financially than the people who work there or are trying to work there. The power discrepancy is real, and it’s to the worker’s disadvantage.

    The way we fix disadvantageous power discrepancies is through government intervention – granting rights to the disadvantaged. As much as I like the HR Lady’s normal posts, these are the rights she wants to stay with businesses with the reinforcements of the right to fire at will.

    1. quix*

      *start of last paragraph should read “The way we fix disadvantageous power discrepancies in the market…”

    2. Anonymous*

      “The way we fix disadvantageous power discrepancies is through government intervention.”

      Says who? That is a big part of the problem – some folks always look to the government to “fix” things. That is a part of Suzanne’s post – by taking away the ability for an employer to fire an underachiever it makes it more, not less, likely that the employer will not hire in the first place; or at best to only hire a “sure” employee.

      This will make it harder for the “disadvantaged” to get work. What employer would (I really want to say should, as the hiring manager doesn’t owe as much to the job seeker as she owes to her company’s stockholders, or donors in the case of non-profits) be willing to “take a chance” on a not-so-great job hunter if firing them will be a huge and costly task?

      I believe that Mitt’s comment was just that – by bringing government intervention into the mix it creates more problems that it solves.

      But, as this is politics, we all see and hear what we want to see and hear and attack nitpickingly. Isn’t political discourse great!? On the bright side at least we don’t literally tar and feather anymore!

      1. quix*

        The government has a role to solve problems. That’s why we have a government.

        If there’s an argument to be made that there’s a better way to solve the power discrepancy, great, make it. But just saying that we shouldn’t use government to solve problems we can’t fix individually is an ideological approach that doesn’t hold water.

        And as for what employer will hire a worker if firing them will be difficult, the answer is employers who want work done.

        1. Anonymous*

          I read once a couple of months ago that any country within the European Union that is not named Germany is not doing so well in these economic downtimes.

          1. quix*

            In general, the countries that are having the most trouble are the one’s whose economies couldn’t handle losing internal control of their currency to the Euro, Greece being the prime example, although now we’re really off-topic.

            1. Anonymous*

              Some countries are still balancing between the euro and their own national currency (one example being the Czech Republic; it is a EU nation but when you go there you get Czech crowns at the currency converter places). Only one EU nation has not transferred yet despite having been in the EU for years – the United Kingdom – because the pound is much stronger than the euro.

              There is much more to Greece than the country not being able to handle the euro. The Greeks have been living well beyond their means for years, and now it has come back to bite them. They might to revert to living standards from the’60s or prior in order to fix the situation they are in.

              Oops, making this into a political post, beyond Mitt Romney. Sorry.

              1. Laura L*

                Just an aside, there is at least one other EU country that doesn’t use the Euro: Sweden. I thought there were a few others, but I’m not sure.

              2. Liz*

                You’re right that the Euro exacerbates the problem but didn’t cause it. I think you’re missing something important, though. Greece hasn’t been able to collect taxes – scofflaws are a huge, spiraling problem. That decreased the amount of revenue collected by the state, which blew up a deficit. Then the problems with the Euro meant they couldn’t follow classic economics and deflate their currency.

                Greece’s spending over budget was a symptom, not the cause of its revenue problem, and austerity measures actually made everything much worse because people held back more in taxes. Then those who were able/wealthier moved to get away from the crumbling infrastructure and dysfunctional government, setting off the downward spiral that further depressed revenue, which created even larger deficits, and so on. Now, again, they can’t deflate their currency to get out of the trap because of the Euro.

      2. Esra*

        As a Canadian, I’m horrified at some of the US’ employment standards. Until I started reading this blog, I had no idea how bad it was, I thought you had a lot of the same basic protections we do.

        Giving employees more rights isn’t all scary-worst-case-union-scenarios.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              They’re basically the same state-to-state, with the exception of sexual orientation, which isn’t addressed at the federal level and thus is left to the states or local jurisdiction.

              1. fposte*

                I’m kind of with Ezra, though–labor law does seem to be maddeningly variable from state to state. There are the other protections such as criminal history, appearance, and smoking, which exist in some places but not others. And then you get into things like the threshold for a law’s applicability (with states that have protections that kick in in smaller offices than federal standards) or amount of leave (California has other pregnancy law, I believe), or rules about breaks, and they’re literally all over the map.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                That’s the nature of our system of government! You’ll find the same thing with lots of other areas of law too: from drug policy to education policy.

              3. fposte*

                No argument there, but I can see why it looks pretty baroque from the outside of the U.S.–it can from the inside, too!

              1. Ask a Manager*

                There are out of control employees too and as a manager responsible for running a business and keeping other people employed, I want the ability to fire when it’s in the business’s best interests.

              2. Esra*

                @Liz T Exactly that. I’m not saying people should never be fired, but what about good employees stuck with one bad manager, or one person higher up who doesn’t like them for whatever reason? It’s not like people don’t get let go or reprimanded etc in places with more employee protections in place.

  6. Anonymous*

    I feel really sheepish in saying this, but I need to research when he said this and in what context. Was it against unions? That’s my first reaction.

    Suzanne Lucas only used that to grab your attention and get you to read her article. Otherwise, it has absolutely nothing to do with politics whatsoever. But the title, while an attention grabber, does sound rather attack-ish.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think she used the title because that quote has been all over the news the last couple of days!

      The full context was that he was talking about which insurance company you choose and was saying that you should be able to fire an insurance company if it isn’t providing you with good service. However, because of some of the things he’s been taking heat for, it made huge headlines.

      1. fposte*

        But it’s not the actual quote, and it doesn’t mean the same as the actual. That’s what bugs this pedant.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I know. And of course it bugged me even more there. Come on, people, let’s stick to denigrating each other based on what we actually do!

        1. Anonymous*

          Yes! I found a soundbite that has the context around it with what he was really saying, and it puts it into more sense with what Suzanne Lucas wrote.

          Granted I haven’t been home when the nightly news is on lately, but even my internet news didn’t pick up on it when I would check my email. And I did catch the debate on Sunday morning on “Meet the Press.”

  7. Suzanne Lucas--Evil HR Lady*

    Ha! I love that people are like, “Oh she’s so liberal!” Oh, wait, “She’s just endorsing Romney!” And my favorite, “It’s because she’s a Mormon!!!!!!”

    Well, geesh. I’m a free market capitalist and a strict Constitutionalist. Hope that clears everything up.

    I’m also thinking of voting for Cthulhu, because why choose the lesser of two evils?

    1. Charles*

      hehe – yea, that “she’s a Mormon” was a LOL wasn’t it?

      Suzanne, I was going to comment over there; but some of those comments were WAY over the top. Ouch! and I wanted no part of that.

      P.S. AAM, 45 comments and most are just about folks spewing forth THEIR political opinion – does that number – 45 – beat the record for your “sex” postings?

        1. jmkenrick*

          Just out of curiosity – are you able to predict which posts become controversial? Or is it at random? I feel like so often an unexpected argument develops in the comments…

          Although I’m hugely entertained by how ‘controversial’ this one has become.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Oh, I could write a whole dissertation on this subject! I generally have a pretty good sense of which posts will be controversial (this one didn’t surprise me) … but I did NOT see that pantyhose situation coming!

  8. GeekChic*

    I have no idea about Mitt Romney (don’t live in the US and so don’t care about US politics) but I disagree with a great deal of the article. I was a manager in the US for almost 10 years and have managed and worked in 2 other countries (Canada and Mexico).

    When I managed in the US I encountered a large number of managers who LOVED to fire people – it was a power trip and they enjoyed it. I also find the concept of “at-will” to be frankly horrifying – perhaps because I’ve seen it used to its fullest extent.

    At-will employment and the fact that health insurance is tied to the work place (when the employer chooses to provide it) are the main reasons I left the US. I definitely don’t find it hard to discipline or fire someone in a unionized environment – but there are unions that are obstructionist to the point of ridiculousness (which harms things for everyone). I also don’t find greater legislative protections for workers to be harmful to my abilities as a manager.

    As for the examples used in the article… they really didn’t make a lot of sense to me. If I find a cashier rude, I wouldn’t “fire” the business, I’d speak to the manager or try another cashier. I also don’t think that “firing” a business as a customer has any equivalence to firing an employee as a manager. That said, I rarely agree with EHRL’s positions on employment legislation so I doubt that I’m her target audience.

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