how do we handle firing an employee in an open plan office?

A reader writes:

I’m an HR administrator at a company with about 150 people across a few offices. I’m the only on-site HR person at my location, which has about 25 employees. Our office is entirely open plan, with the exception of a few fish-bowl style, glass-walled conference rooms. There aren’t even dividers between desks, just one big room, so everyone can see everything that’s happening.

Unfortunately, we have had to terminate a few people over the course of my time here, typically for not meeting performance goals (as opposed to gross misconduct or misbehavior). Typically, the terminated employee gets the news in a conference room and is escorted out by their manager, which has had varying levels of success. There was one mishap where the manager allowed the terminated employee to return to his desk to collect some things, which ended in an awkward conversation with some of the folks at the desks surrounding his.

Obviously, people may immediately need to collect items at their desks (coats, wallets, etc.), but that can be mitigated by someone else taking those items. My question is then, what is the best way to handle employee termination in an open office, where it can become obvious what’s happening?

Honestly, you need at least one private space, preferably more than one.

Not just for firings, but for all sorts of things — for example, nursing mothers who need to pump, or sensitive or upsetting conversations where people don’t want be in a highly visible fishbowl, or someone who just got devastating personal news and needs a private place to fall apart.

People need the ability to get privacy, even at work. At a minimum, you should have blinds installed that can be pulled down when necessary.

If that’s just not an option, then yeah, your terminations are going to be extra crappy! That means that it’s extra important to ensure that people aren’t ever blindsided by being fired — ensure that they’re given clear warnings, chances to improve, and clear statements about the timeline they have for doing so. (Really clear — like, “We’ll meet at the end of the month to review your progress against these goals. If you’ve made the changes we’ve discussed, we’ll just move forward. If you haven’t improved, though, we would have to let you go.”) You should always do this! But it’s especially important here so that at least when people are being fired in full view of their coworkers, it’s the final step in a conversation that has already been ongoing — not a complete surprise that leaves them having to process their shock in front of an audience.

You can also try being thoughtful about the time of day you do these meetings. If everyone in your office usually goes to lunch at a certain time, that can be a compassionate time to do it, since the person will be able to collect their things and leave without having to run a gauntlet of curious coworkers along the way. Doing it at the end of the day can sometimes work similarly.

Or, for the same purpose, sometimes there’s a way to call everyone else into a different meeting so that they’re not at their desks and the fired person has some privacy.

One other thing to consider — however you decide to handle firings, try to avoid establishing a pattern of signals that make it really obvious to everyone what’s happening. Like if you only ever pull down the blinds in those glass-walled conference rooms when someone is about to be fired, that’s going to suck for everyone — your employee who sees they’re walking into the Blinds of Doom, their coworkers who have to sit there uncomfortably, and the poor person who gets called in there for something else one time where the blinds are actually down for a different reason and assumes they’re getting fired when you just wanted to ask about their sick dog.

But really, create a truly private space. There are so many moments in work life that shouldn’t be in a fishbowl.

{ 472 comments… read them below }

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          I’m imagining a Redwall style novella in which a squirrel with delusions of grandeur (hence the Jedi part) gets trapped inside someone’s home and keeps getting tangled in the blinds every time she tries to escape through the back door. (Assuming in this story that the back door is largely glass and has blinds for privacy, like mine at home!)

          1. Leslie Knope*

            There was a recent news article about a couple that went away for a weekend and came home to find a squirrel had made its way down the chimney and got trapped in the house. All the blinds were destroyed and the window sills were chewed up from the squirrel trying to escape. They had a hard time explaining that one to their insurance…

            1. Deloris Van Cartier*

              This is why I can’t have plastic blinds because my dog always destroys them as he gets excited and tries to fit through them. He’s a 16 pound pug but they stand no chance when another dog or motorcycle goes by my house. I’ve just given up replacing them at this point and just use curtains or keep them pulled above the holes in the blinds. After almost 9 years, I’ve gotten use to it.

            2. humans are weird*

              A squirrel got into our apartment one time, via the vent above the stove. Luckily we were home (albeit in another room with the door closed) and heard the odd noises and came to check. Squirrel chewed through the metal filter-thing in the vent hood, ran around the kitchen, chewed into a large baggie containing all our freshly-made Christmas cookies, ran around the living room and up the Christmas tree, and generally made a mess. Maintenance eventually got there, pried a screen off one of the windows, and shooed the squirrel out. Then we had to throw away our Christmas cookies and vacuum up squirrel pellets… :(

            3. Quill*

              Lol, that would have been my problem when a squirrel came down the chimmeny in our childhood home, if my mom hadn’t slammed the grate doors shut. (while my pre-k brother tried to open them up because “his tail is burnening.” Yes it was, hence why my mom had visions of a panicked squirrel with an ember on his tail burning the house down if she opened the grate.)

            4. Vemasi*

              This happened to me. I was home from my first semester of college, alone in the house, and came downstairs to find a squirrel frantically climbing my mom’s sheer curtains and throwing itself against the window over and over again. I went around the other way and chased it out the front door, but it had come in through the chimney! It would have been there all day if I wasn’t home.

              1. Quill*

                We named the squirrel Singe, and Mom very loudly instructed the animal control person to “take it VERY FAR AWAY and release it into the NICE WOODS where it can LIVE A HAPPY LIFE AWAY FROM PEOPLE,” because, you know, small kids. Animal control guy was… very bad on the uptake of this instruction.

                When my brother was old enough to know better and we had a bird fall down the chimmney he took care of it himself by opening the door and herding the bird towards it with a huge, spread out tarp.

    1. Momma Bear*

      My former manager apparently had a habit of taking people “out for coffee” to deliver bad news, to the point where no one wanted to go out for coffee anymore.

      Find some privacy in the office or create some. How in the world does HR function if there’s no ability to keep confidential information…confidential?

      1. londonedit*

        I like this. Boss: ‘OK, let’s set up a time to go out for coffee. Tomorrow at 10am?’ Employee: ‘No! I’m not going out for coffee with you! You can’t fire me if I don’t go out for coffee!’

      2. wittyrepartee*

        I got to hear a fascinating but totally embarrassing conversation at a cafe once about “yes, I understand that you think these are all exceptions to the rule, but ultimately I’m seeing a pattern and need you to come up with ways to address these issues.”

        It sounded like they were from a really small office, so I guess it was “in front of everyone” or “at the smallest cafe I can find”

    2. PW*

      I once worked at an secondary office with no HR presence. HR was only at headquarters. The HR person would only show up when someone was getting fired. It got to the point where everyone was terrified when they saw the HR person in the office.

  1. SJ*

    I currently work in an all-open-plan office with fishbowl conference rooms. We have no private spaces. HR works from a desk in the open space as well and those of us seated nearby constantly overhear or see on the monitors things that should be confidential information. Both firings and people quitting are very awkward and uncomfortable and we all just kind of have to pretend we don’t see.

    The consequences of open plans are pretty bad. Nobody thought these things through. (Or if they did, they didn’t care, I guess.)

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Argh, despite having private offices available, the one job that was awful, had their HR desk tucked away within the cubical section. So I got to hear after I left about how much was really heard of from the HR desk [I wasn’t doing HR at that spot or I would have quickly demanded the office or left.]. Or at least spread out the calling/meeting stuff,even the mundane new hire stuff, in the back office. Hell I used to use one of them for collection calls because nothing is better than having to demand payment from people in the wide open, no thanks.

      It’s like they’re so thirsty to make open concept work that they forget that there are very much confidential and critical things that happen daily that should not be done in the open. Bad bad bad bad bad stuff. Private rooms for private things, *rawwwwwr*

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        We had a terrible time with this at OldJob. They decided having a dedicated HR person sitting with the team would be an asset – he/she would be the one in charge of hiring and department conflict so sitting with the group would be helpful. And in some ways it was – the candidates that made it to the in person interviews were a better fit, we felt more comfortable with this person so we were more likely to have a quick chat with them early on as a “heads up” so things didn’t have to get to official mediation or whatever. But our guy could NOT figure out the secure print function on the printers. I can’t tell you how many times I went to grab something and saw that Newt was getting a promotion or Lena was resigning. We ended up just getting him a small desktop printer.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I have great access to everyone in my position.

          My door is open. I greet everyone, I hangout in the common areas and am readily available. Nobody is scared to talk to me and I know them very well. So hiring is super easy, I know what we’re looking for in each department. I go to people and chat with them if it’s a heads up, instead of doing the “Come to the HR office, Charlie.” message.

          I wish others would understand that you don’t need to tuck HR away into the very corner office in the deep back where you have to climb over dusty skeletons to get here to set the tone ;) There’s a middle ground!

          I’ve always had my personal printer though, I also have to print checks, so that’s never been an issue. But damn, I know it’s a thing when you have access to multiple printers even! People spit things out of my printer randomly because it’s there for access in case theirs dies or something, you know *face palm*

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            I totally want that office where you have to climb over dusty skeletons to get there! But that is mostly because I am an introvert.

          2. Glitsy Gus*

            Even with HR having their own printer, folks in my office CANNOT figure out secure print. I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve picked up what I thought was my printout only to get back to my desk and see it’s something really private, like, all of Fergus’s mortgage application paperwork, including his and his wife’s Social Security cards and several bank statements private.

            Dang it, people, if you’re going to print that stuff at work either secure print it or hit print, then immediately walk over to the printer! But, congrats on the house, Fergus!

            1. Gatomon*

              People can’t print, period. Just the other day I sent a job to the color printer, only to find it had stalled partway through a large job. And the same user (a programmer no less) had resent the job 6 other times. And then they must’ve fallen into a blackhole and died because the time stamps were several hours old and it was still lingering and I guess they just decided someone else would deal with it? Or maybe they used the black and white printer and just left their mess behind. And of course I don’t have the ability to manage other’s print jobs, so I can’t cancel any of this nonsense. (Being the printer overlord in my former office has really spoiled me. Not having the power anymore is so frustrating.)

              So I had to go down to the printer and reboot it to clear the stuck job, which thankfully worked. And on top of the printer is a 300 page stack of a printed email chain that has been abandoned, I kid not. Such a waste.

              1. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

                The only change I liked in our open office set up was the printing function- we send a print job into the network, then scan our ID card on whatever printer/copier we choose and it prints out. So now we have secure printing as well as being able to bypass the close-by printer that someone is using for a gigantic job that would stand in the way of my one-pager.

    2. Never*

      My last employer had the HR person in a cube in the corner. I had to try not to hear near damn everythign and delibrately had to avoid noticing movement going in and out of that cubicle. It was horrid.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        They really do the open plan BS for 2 reasons: #1) To save money on office space, and #2) Because some trendy architect sold it as ‘collaborative, like Facebook and Google’, and they are cargo-culting it. Usually it’s both.

        When they move people out of offices and cubicles they always, always, always put out lots of propaganda about how it’s new (not really), modern (not really), collaborative (less so, actually), and “open” (like an open wound). Then they gaslight the naysayers by saying “but no one else has a problem with it” or “but no one else has complained”.

        As you can tell, I’m not a fan.

        1. Doc in a Box*

          I always thought it was a 60’s “panopticon” thing. There’s a great shot in The Apartment of Jack Lemmon’s character working late in an open-plan office with hundreds of empty desks — he can’t go home because his boss is using his apartment to seduce the secretary.

          1. Glitsy Gus*

            It’s one of those things that keeps going in and out of fashion. You’ll see the same sort of think in Industrial Revolution offices, a room full of desks butted up against each other face-to-face in long rows for all the clerks and things like that. Typing pools have often worked the same way.

          2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            I thought of that scene in The Apartment as soon as I read the post about selling “open plan offices” above. Also the floor in Nine to Five where it was rows of desks like in elementary school.

            1. Vemasi*

              This is exactly what I thought of. I also just watched Working Girl the other day, where she starts out in an open plan with two guys right across her desk, and then moves to an office where the executive has a door looking out on a sea of desks.

        2. Ego Chamber*

          Rearranging office furniture is easier than doing the hard work of hiring, managing, and retaining the level of employees a lot of companies want but it doesn’t turn burnt out, underpaid employees into unicorns.

          “Google has beanbag chairs and gaming consoles in their break rooms and they have more money than god, so we put beanbag chairs and gaming consoles in our break room but our employees still suck. I don’t understand what the problem is!”

          1. wittyrepartee*

            Google also has their beanbag chairs replaced on a regular basis, and still has people arguing about how someone’s always monopolizing the beanbags. There’s also a number of people who live in little foam caves that they built around their desk because they didn’t like the open office.

    3. Eleanor's face in a jar by the door*

      The company should put frosted vinyl cling on one of the glass ‘fishbowl’ conference rooms.
      And every office should have a lactation room, or room that can be used as such, which means privacy and a lock.

      1. maddierose2999*

        This is what I was thinking.
        Stick-on frosting for 2 fishbowls would be so cheap, quick and solve the problem. (2 so 1 isn’t the fishbowl of doom!)
        And less dramatic than blinds.

        1. pugsnbourbon*

          I’m contracting a company that provides privacy frosting and similar treatments. I imagine the rush to open floorplans and the ensuing chaos has been lucrative for them (I’m certainly paying them $$$).

        2. Glitsy Gus*

          Exactly. We needed something like that when we had a short-notice client audit in an office that doesn’t usually host audits. I was able to get one of our conference rooms frosted in 24-hours and I think it was a total of $150 bucks, and that included paying the guy to install it all fancy with straight lines and no bubbles.

          1. Quill*

            Jealous of you, I had to frost the sliding doors at a previous job with my boss berating me for the bubbles.

            I’m 5’4″. It was a huge stretch.

        3. Quill*

          Not to mention that the conference fishbowls are often the only source of exterior light for the cube farm or open office, so sticker frosting is the best of both worlds.

        4. wittyrepartee*

          Our office has frosting that only happens at torso level. So you can see people’s shoes and still get light into the room. It works ok. We also have a lot of private spaces for people to use.

      2. Pilcrow*

        My workplace (finally) did that for the conference rooms. About 1 foot from the top and bottom are clear and the rest is frosted: enough to see if the room is occupied but not to see who’s in there. It’s also nice when you’re in the conference room to not be distracted by people walking by.

        Now the upper management offices, are another story…

    4. Wonky Policy Wonk*

      There is one AWESOME aspect of open plan offices with glass offices/boardrooms – rage quitting is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more fun when you can see the fall out afterwards.

      I know this from personal experience, and let me tell you, watching the ensuing melt down of my boss was so incredibly satisfying. 10/10, would recommend this for everyone in a similar situation

        1. Wonky Policy Wonk*

          It was me, and it is the only good memory I have of that job.

          To be fair, I came that day prepared to have a discussion with my bosses about how if my work load didn’t ease up I would be quitting. Instead the operations manager, a power tripping douche who did the management’s dirty work, called me in to his office as I was leaving to get lunch and told me I had to take over yet another role even though I was already doing two jobs. I stopped the OM mid sentence, told him he would need to get someone else to do it because I was quitting, walked over to my boss and grandboss’s offices and left them each a resignation letter I had been keeping in desk for weeks (the job was that bad).

          I came back late from lunch assuming that boss and grandboss had seen the letters, would call me in to talk to them, and then I would be escorted out. Turns out the management team had taken a super long lunch together and I actually came back as both were reading my notice letter. Rather than talk to me, boss and grandboss got together in a boardroom (every room had glass walls and faced the open plan desk pit) and argued loudly/made crazy hand gestures/paced like mad for an hour.

          They finally called me in after and made a pathetic offer to not leave… and HOUR of discussing it and the best they could come up with was “you have a future here, why throw it away when a raise and promotion is ~just~ around the corner?”. I told them no and we agreed that I would stay for 2 weeks to complete a training manual for the next sucker in that role (they wanted me to stay for two months to train my replacement, that was a hard pass from me). I was 25 at the time and had developed chronic heart burn, insomnia and teeth grinding from the stress. I wish it had been a less hostile exit but I’m happy I didn’t sacrifice anymore of my health to make a peaceful transition happen.

    5. ampersand*

      I think the people who make these decisions have offices. Like with walls, ceilings, and doors. Maybe even blinds that close. If they had to experience the awfulness that is an open office space they’d likely rethink the decision.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Yeah, it’s funny how all the directors and above suddenly had office in the great open plan move, after they spent months propagandizing the glories of being out in the open…

        1. Filosofickle*

          Opposite story! I was touring a famous design studio in San Francisco, and they told the story of their remodel. It was a collaborative effort across their small, long-tenured team, and they chose an open plan. (Creative studios are often open, and for good reasons. They all wore headphones so there wasn’t much crowd noise.)

          The head honcho owner/Creative Director wanted to be out on the floor with everyone, no private office. They collectively rebelled and told him he HAD to have an office. Apparently he was a yeller, so they walled him off. It was still a fishbowl, because he wanted to see, but they couldn’t hear him as much. I love that this team felt empowered enough to tell the boss we respect you but you’re too f-ing loud so you can’t sit with us.

    6. prismo*

      Totally. Even minor things like needing to call your bank or doctor’s office, which are only open during business hours, become so complicated in these setups. I once worked in a giant open floor plan office where all the conference rooms had glass walls and doors. The only truly private space was the nursing mothers’ room, since the bathrooms had multiple stalls. They had a lot of problems with people using the mothers’ room for all kinds of things because there was nowhere else to go.

      I had the misfortune of being laid off in this office and it was exceedingly uncomfortable. I started tearing up in one of those glass-walled rooms and then had to go get my stuff and leave in front of everyone. One of the more humiliating experiences of my life.

      LW, find a way to put some private, general use spaces in your office!!

      1. LW*

        As I’ve mentioned in other comments, we have two single-occupancy, soundproof booths available for use for phone calls or private video chats, and we have another single-occupancy, locking, wholly private space that can be used for a lactation room if need exists, but is not appropriate for use for meetings or anything else (and is generally kept locked until need arises).

  2. aunttora*

    Oh, the hilarious fake meeting that everyone is invited to except one individual! Many of these I have been invited to. The first one I was super annoyed at because I was very busy with work, and the vitally important all hands (except one, well — two) meeting was a colossal waste of time. I didn’t know it was fake! Now I know when this happens to look around and see who isn’t there, waiting for the Stasi to finishing “disappearing” the person.
    I’m so glad I’m almost done working.

    1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      That happened at my first job. I was the one who wasn’t invited. HR took everything on my desk and handed it in a trashbag, then escorted me to the exit (most akward elevator ride ever). Nothing in the bag was mine.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Oh lord, that’s terrible. At my OldJob, at least, the Angel of Death* came to your desk with a box and stood there while you were packing it. (Didn’t happen to me, but I did witness it happen to someone else who sat close by). I remember the office being mostly empty, so there must’ve been a meeting that I couldn’t attend.

        *The HR person who handled the firings, was actually a really nice woman who hated her office nickname, The Angel of Death.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
          And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
          And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
          When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

          Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
          That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
          Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
          That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

          For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
          And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
          And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
          And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

      2. CupcakeCounter*

        My team was called into a meeting when layoffs were going around. Our meeting was scheduled to start when the laid off person’s meeting ended. The meeting was to inform us of what was going on (so no BS meeting subject matter at least) and get us away from the area so they could pack up their desk in private and not have to deal with any questions while they were still reeling. They were given the choice though – the meeting was put on our calendar for a room slightly outside our area and would be cancelled if they wanted to say goodbye to the team and get help with their packing. I always thought is was well thought out since our immediate area was open but we had some good private spaces.

        1. HR Mgr*

          I like this.

          We have a half open space plan. Low cubicles for most – and offices still for managers and HR. But we never walk people out when they are let go. We think it is demeaning and acts like they will act out. Of course, someone could. But people are upset and want to have dignity. They are allowed to go back to their desk and have what conversations they feel they need do while they get themselves together. We have never had someone become unprofessional during this time. I’m sure some negative things get said … but that is par for the course. We will ship personal stuff if it is too much to carry.

          I would find it very intrusive to have HR (which I am the head of) gather up someone’s personal stuff.

      3. Another Millenial*

        Oh, they collected my stuff on my behalf once. Many, many things were missing that had been on my desk (and I had to wait for postal mail to get my stuff back). Had to call more than once, still don’t have all my stuff. Mostly they were books; HR claimed that they “thought they belonged to the company.” There was only ever one company-provided book (The Advantage, of course), so I don’t know why they thought that excuse would work. I KNOW they didn’t think the works of Carl Jung was something they would supply their employees.

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I had to fire someone once and for whatever reason the fake meeting ended before we were finished and the person who was leading the fake meeting (who knew about the firing) walked past our large-windowed meeting room, saw what was still going down, and immediately made up some reason why everyone had to go outside and do outdoor training (not weird in our line of work). If you’re going to have a fake meeting, make sure it lasts at least an hour!

      1. Decima Dewey*

        Or have the person doing the firing text the person running the fake meeting when things are wrapped up.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        Work has to stop in the entire office for an entire hour?!? That would royally piss me off, if I therefore had to stay an hour later than normal to get my work done.

    3. RabbitRabbit*

      We had one when the Big Boss of my department was fired. There was a big meeting that we were called off to and there were delays because the Big Boss could not be located. And one of the bosses who was working from home that day had been called in to be there. With the delay, we got to the point where we were looking around at the meeting and trying to figure out who was and wasn’t there, and drawing conclusions from that.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        Adding that once the soon-to-be-ex boss was located and taken aside, the team was told what was up and some plans for succession/proceeding without them in place.

    4. eshrai*

      We had a fake meeting for this reason once and it was so confusing. Firings don’t often happen in my line of work (government), so I had never experienced it before. It was at lunch, in the lunch room and the manager just kept making up reasons for us to stay. we were all so antsy about getting back to work, but we couldn’t leave. She just started asking us for ideas for her annual Christmas party. In the end I was glad they did it this way though, for the sake of the employee who had been there for years and deserved their dignity.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      I was fired in an office but had to go to my cube to collect my personal things. They followed me and said they’d box up my belongings, but I made them wait while I got all my stuff together. The same exact thing happened when I was laid off at another job. If they’re going to let me go in an office or department while everyone is within earshot, then they can suffer while they wait for me to pack up.

      To be fair*, on the first one, I figured I wouldn’t be staying — either I was going to get fired or I would quit, so I’d already taken down my posters. The awkward was on them during the layoff, as I wasn’t the only person who left that day.

      *To be faihhhhhh…

      1. wittyrepartee*

        Oh, I was in a tiny office that fired a lot of people (3 people in my… 5 months there?). They’d have someone else box your things for you, and have everything except (in my case) your coffee cup waiting for you. But since there was 20 people in this office, everyone would see the person leave, the box come out, and the gathering of things begin. It was REALLY stressful, and unsurprisingly a TERRIBLE place to work.

    6. wittyrepartee*

      One of my ex’s was in charge of creating and running these meetings. They really stressed him out.

  3. Jedi Squirrel*

    try to avoid establishing a pattern of signals that make it really obvious to everyone what’s happening

    This cannot be emphasized enough. I’ve worked places where it was pretty clear to everyone who had been there for a while what was going to happen and it was not pleasant, especially when the person being let go was newish and had no idea.

    I really wish there was another category for letting people go that isn’t “laid off due to company issues” and “fired for doing a really crappy job.” Something like a mutual agreement to no longer continue the working relationship when it isn’t working out or isn’t a good fit, that would allow all parties involved to save face.

    1. Campfire Raccoon*

      I have once been let go/quit under the guise of, “A mutual agreement to go eff ourselves”.

      But yes, the pattern of signals is terrible. I had one place that would lock the employee out of their computer BEFORE they got called into the manager’s office – so there was always a few minutes of confused cubicle prairie-dogging where the person would stand up and ask, “Is your computer frozen too?”

      1. Carrie Oakie*

        I was at a company where a person would be called in to a meet with a higher up they worked sorta with (like the head of a dept, but not someone you’d go sit and talk to on a regular basis at all) and once they’d turn the corner/get to the office and shut the door, IT would run in, lock you out of the computer and turn it off. We’d start joking, whenever someone get a “Could you come down here?” call in the afternoon we’d say “TAKE YOUR KEYBOARD!” (We still make this joke – and I’ve been in two different companies since!)

        Another company locked you out of the computer and also would pack a box for you and meet you at the door, ask you to make sure you had everything and then escort you out through the back warehouse.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            See, we do it by remote, by disabling their login. (I work with authentication services)

          2. Atlantian*

            That takes days where I work. We lock them out by intentionally trying to unlock their computer with the wrong password several times until you get the pop-up saying it’s locked.

        1. Anonymous Coward*

          I resigned from my first long-term job with about 6 weeks’ notice (I was the only person doing what I did, and I figured we’d need time to transfer knowledge and get started on hiring) and all of their offboarding protocol was unknown to me. HR set a meeting for like 3PM on my last day, to give me my last paycheck and have me sign NDAs and so forth. I also had to turn over any company property, which basically meant my laptop. I didn’t bring that with me into the HR meeting; it was in my desk drawer per usual when not in use (I rarely took it home, and used the desktop at the office). I’d already cleaned out my desk except for that. When the meeting was done and the VP of HR walked me out, I went right to my desk to take care of that last detail. I opened the drawer and gaped like a fish… my laptop was NOT there. I looked up at HR with the beginning of panic in my eyes, wondering how it could have walked off and when. Apparently IT had already picked it up while I was in the meeting and no one’d told me.

      2. Quill*

        I got laid off HALFWAY THROUGH AN EXPERIMENT once.

        It was a “we need you to wrap this up by friday” but it was still a really, really tense week while I tried to keep ahead of the lab stuff and make sure everyone could access my data.

        Even worse: I’d been pinch-hitting for three adjacent work groups while the project I was assigned to was stalled in directoral approval and every one of them needed more hands for their current projects. But nobody considered just giving me to a new supervisor who had just been approved for a new contractor despite this – much better to have lab chaos for two months while they searched for someone, apparently. (Lab management was pissed, finance management was like “this is totally a good idea.”)

      3. wittyrepartee*

        The computer thing happened to a friend of mine. It got shut off at midnight before her firing and she got there early that day…

    2. writerbecc*

      I was once asked to resign from a position that in honesty wasn’t working out for me. It saved me from having to say I was fired on my resume and the company didn’t fight my unemployment claim. They basically told me my choices were to walk away with some severance or wait and just get terminated without anything, and I opted to save a little face and walk away.

    3. A reader*

      I worked somewhere that fired people on Fridays. Not every Friday, of course, but it was frequent enough that I would get so nervous on Fridays. There was one Friday that my boss asked for a quick meeting with me (that ended up being completely benign and forgettable) and I was almost sick from nervousness.

    4. PeanutButter*

      I’ve seen a few transitions like that and they worked out, but the common theme was the boss basically recommended they apply for a job with one of the boss’ professional connections that would be a better fit. In both cases the employee’s job scope/responsibilities had changed drastically and they were no longer happy doing the job, and had been open about it so their managers/supervisors looked out for new roles for them while prepping to hire/promote someone else while they were looking.

  4. kiwidg1*

    OK, this is the part that I don’t understand: “Obviously, people may immediately need to collect items at their desks (coats, wallets, etc.), but that can be mitigated by someone else taking those items.”

    Why? If escorted back to my desk, why can’t I get my own personal things? I don’t think someone else has to get my purse, my personal iPad, my computer glasses, my tea makings and chocolate, and gym clothes. I wouldn’t even be able to get into my car until I went back to my desk for my personal items. Do I have to wait outside the building for an hour for someone hunt up a box and go through my desk?

    I think the better solution would just be to take the person back to their desk and awkwardly hang out while they collect their things. Short of escorting an embezzler out, this sounds overly harsh. What am I missing here?

    1. Not Me*

      Depending on why the person is being fired sometimes a quick exit from the building is necessary, to limit their behavior from bothering others. Terminating people isn’t fun. Terminating someone who is going to start yelling and throwing paper and trying to grab things to steal is waaaay less fun, for everyone within earshot and throwing distance.

      1. Not Me*

        And, I should add, anyone who has more than 10 minutes notice before terminating someone should already have a box(es) ready in the event the person wants to pack up their own things.

        1. Allison*

          Yes, I remember when they did the massive round of layoffs, they had a ton of boxes set aside for people to grab after their meetings. But there was also no rush for anyone to GTFO after those meetings. At least, they told me “your layoff is effective Friday, take all the time you need to wrap things up and pack up your things, but there’s expectation that you work through the end of the week.” I was able to transfer important documents, pack everything I could carry on public transit, and come back for the rest later in the week.

      2. Threeve*

        But it sounds like the worst thing that’s happened was an “awkward conversation.” And that’s not a good enough reason to perp-walk people out if they can be trusted to collect their own stuff.

        A kind office will tell you before lunch and pay you through the end of the day, and let you know that you can gather your things and say goodbyes at whatever pace you choose.

        1. Not Me*

          Maybe that’s the most awkward thing that’s happened to the LW, I was referring to terminations in general. I have terminated a lot of people in my career, I’ve had to call building security, once I even had to call the police. It’s the type of situation you want to go smoothly and be respectful to the person being terminated, but it can go very bad very fast. Privacy can be incredibly helpful in mitigating that risk.

          Being “kind” means being kind to everyone involved, and that includes co-workers who might not want to be witness to someone being terminated or throwing a temper tantrum.

          1. Goldenrod*

            Sorry, I meant, I totally agree with Threeve about being kind and not doing the perp walk.

            Although it is also a good point to be kind to all involved.

        2. What’s with Today, today?*

          An industry friend of mine just got fired in a massive nationwide RIF. After 29 years on air at the same major medium-market radio station, and they let him grab his backpack before they walked him out. 29 freakin’ years and the company had someone else pack up his office and they shipped him 20 boxes of his stuff. Jerks.

          1. Iris Eyes*

            That was a dark week in radio. My deep condolences to your friend and all the listeners for whom he was a constant companion.

        3. Ann O'Nemity*

          You never know how someone is going to react after a firing. I’ve seen (previously) calm, rational people totally lose their shit. I’ve seen (previously) trustworthy employees try to steal contacts, delete records, and damage company property on their way out.

        4. So much anon for this*

          We had the laid-off people walked out when we had the layoffs recently. No goodbye, no nothing. I was not in the office that day, but the people that were, told me about coworkers being rapidly escorted out the door, box in hands.

          This didn’t used to be the practice, iirc. I somehow remember people getting advance notice in the past about being laid off.

      3. LW*

        LW here – we don’t have a lot of personal items at our desks, and we’re in a big city where commuting via public transit is the norm, so we typically ask folks if we can collect the items they immediately need for them (so they don’t have to see other people if they don’t want), and we offer to get them a taxi home and ship any other things they don’t want to schlep home. (Side note: it’s also standard to give them information about our EAP!) It’s mostly on a case-by-case basis what they want to do, depending how the individual is feeling.

        1. Sternoblaze*

          Wait until an opportune time of day to fire someone, unless they’re some sort of security risk. Don’t fire them at 2 p.m. and then tell them you’ll get their stuff. Fire them at a decent time and let them get their own stuff.

          I was fired once and basically could only take home what I could fit in my small purse. I waited two months to receive the rest of my stuff in the mail, and they kept some office supplies that I’d actually bought myself. If you’re getting them a taxi, they can put everything in a box and take it.

          1. Morticia*

            I worked for one place where you were intercepted going into the office in the morning. Aside from everything else, it didn’t look like they were trying to squeeze a few last hours out of you. And you had your wallet with you.

          2. Not Me*

            The thing is, an “opportune time” means something different to everyone. People are upset they had to come into work at all to be terminated, but some people think being told over the phone is offensive and rude. Doing it just before lunch could mean the person has to wait hours for their transportation home, but doing it at the end of the day and people are pissed they worked all day, do it in the morning and they’re mad they had to commute into work. Etc., etc., etc. There is no perfect time that will suit everyone and is easy to determine.

            1. Another Millenial*

              They would have to come in to get their stuff anyway, though. (I don’t like the idea of a third party collecting the belongings. Too many opportunities for things to go missing/claims of things gone missing.)

              1. Not Me*

                Personally, I wouldn’t let someone who was terminated come back into the office to get their things. We carefully photograph, itemize, pack, and send personal items via messenger at a time that works for the employee. Of course, if they aren’t being disruptive they can pack their own things when they are terminated (I always have boxes ready), I wouldn’t let them linger for long though, and I do have to look through any documents before they can pack them.

              2. Curmudgeon in California*

                Yeah, I would be uncomfortable with people packing up my stuff. I’ve had it done before, and they really screwed up badly, including keeping things I’d paid for because the place was so cheap and dysfunctional.

            2. Stormy Weather*

              There is no perfect time that will suit everyone and is easy to determine

              That’s true, but I can definitely say there are better days than others. Fridays are better. Mondays are the worst.

              1. Giant Squid*

                I’m the opposite. I was laid off on a Tuesday, and was able to help my anxiety by immediately updating my resume, LinkedIn, etc. and calling my recruiter.

                A weekend to wallow in my own misery? No thank you.

                1. Vemasi*

                  The guy who wrote The Gift of Fear recommends Friday, especially for people you’re worried about, because it’s less disruptive to their routine (they have a normal weekend, instead of being home while everyone else goes to work), they have that time to sit and work through their feelings instead of feeling the need to immediately do something (which is different for some people–like you, I would prefer to be doing something about the problem, although I might appreciate the two days to plan instead of frantically act), and in the case of people who might want to go to the office and do something disruptive or violent, there’s no one there to give them the opportunity. It also gives the buffer to your other employees, so they don’t notice until Monday.

              2. Not Me*

                Friday’s are the worst because then if the employee has any questions it’s hard to get a hold of people over the weekend. Monday’s or Tuesday’s are my preference, time for the employee to take it in and call us if they have questions. Of course being able to file for benefits isn’t as big of a deal these days with everything being online, but in some places UI isn’t available online so a Friday would suck. Beginning of the month is better if they have benefits with the employer. There are days that are easy to decide on, it’s time of day that’s different for everyone.

            3. Gazebo Slayer*

              Definitely don’t do it in the middle of an overnight shift in a remote industrial park with no public transit. Happened to me.

        2. kiwidg1*

          Thanks for the context. I happen to work in an office where we all have a fair amount of personal stuff at our desks. I actually “downsized” the amount of personal gear a few years ago, but I still pity the person who might have to pack up my desk. :)

      4. WinStark*

        When my old job had layoffs, they scheduled the meetings for those being let go at the end of the day. As soon as those people went into their meetings, someone came around and said we could all go home early, aggressively. ha. 2 of the people who were laid off that day were already shouting as we were filing out. It was horrid.

      5. Yorick*

        But if nothing indicates the person will behave that way, they should be allowed to gather their stuff.

        1. Mallory*

          You can’t tell. Really, you can’t. Both times I’ve had firings end in arrests, they were people I’d happily have bet would leave quietly without any fuss. Both ended up in handcuffs for violent behavior. I was stunned.

          We don’t take any chances now.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Wow. I’ve been laid off so many times that I often handle it better than the first time managers who have to do the deed. Sometimes it’s a relief that the rumored ax finally dropped.

            1. wittyrepartee*

              From what I’m seeing here, I’ve begun to wonder if the correct thing to do would be to fire the person early, and give them the choice of how they want to pack up their desk (diy or get things shipped). I also wonder if it would be helpful to give some people time alone in the room (maybe with someone outside the door in case things go nuts) to collect themselves before they have to do anything. Maybe even offer them the option of packing up their desk in a day or two.

      6. RabbitRabbit*

        And it’s not necessarily the ones you think will be problems. I know of a couple where we were told that if we saw them on the premises, we should call Security. Another who was escorted out by Security due to a screaming fit he had at an underling? A few weeks later he was allowed back after hours to pack his office.

      7. Elizabeth West*

        There was one at Exjob where they had to call the cops because apparently, the person being fired in the other building said something threatening. They did not tell us what it was. Two police units came and hung out in the parking lot while they left and for a little while after, in case they came back. Allegedly, the fired person had a reputation for being a jerk, but wow. We all pressed up against the windows to watch but thankfully, nothing happened.

    2. Hedgehug*

      Not to mention, if a person feels blindsided by just being fired, they might be too flustered and upset to even remember all the personal things at their desk that need to be collected. Employees accumulate stuff over time, no way will they be able to rhyme off 50 things that need to be collected.

      1. Hallowflame*

        This was me! It was all I could do to keep from crying in front of the HR rep escorting me, and since I had things stored in a couple of places in a shared work space I know I would have forgotten some things if I hadn’t been allowed to go back to my desk and pack my own box.

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          When I was laid off I got the choice to go back to my desk and pack up, while supervised or have them do it for me. I wanted to pack up my own stuff because there was a ton of it. The super socially awkward person next to me spent the whole time I was packing up my desk asking when we would get time to go over the lama project and she was gonna send me x and we should review Y tomorrow. With my boss standing right there and me packing up everything in my desk. It made it so much more awkward, because I didn’t want to just yell out “dude I was laid off – read the room!”.

          1. Drew*

            That’s awful. I am casting some side-eye at your former boss, however, who didn’t put a stop to that or send your co-worker to the break room for 10 minutes.

      2. Spreadsheets and Books*

        Yes, this. When I was in this situation, the company president (small company) and office manager gave me the option of packing up my desk and saying my goodbyes or just leaving. I left without saying a word to anyone. I didn’t have a lot of personal stuff there, but the things I did have arrived by mail a week or two later. The idea of packing up my own stuff makes me want to die.

        1. Spreadsheets and Books*

          I think I misinterpreted your comment, but my response still works, I think – I would never have been able to remember everything in my desk for someone to grab for me in a few minutes, but I wanted to GTFO and it was nice to be able to do that without being forced to go back to my desk. A coworker took time to thoughtfully go through everything and pack up whatever obviously wasn’t company-issued, so I got all of my stuff and I didn’t have to make a panicked checklist or embarrass myself at my desk.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          I prefer to pack my own stuff. I have breakable ceramics, and stuff I would just throw out. I don’t want someone stranger from HR going through my drawers seeing if there’s anything they’d like.

    3. Hallowflame*

      I’m assuming this is a combination of a hold-over from before much of our work was done on computers and an effort to avoid “A Scene”.
      Keeping a terminated employee from returning to their work space is a way to make sure they don’t walk away with anything that they shouldn’t. If the boss has to be the one to collect personal belongings, it gives them the chance to make sure it is ONLY personal belongings, and not proprietary information or company property.
      When I was let go from my last job, my co-workers were shoo-ed away from their desks while I was escorted over by the HR rep to pack my things into a box while she watched. As upset as I was, I fell back on muscle memory to pack some of my things and almost wound up taking a couple of things that belonged to the company (laptop charger, USB drives).
      I’m actually glad my co-workers were sent away, because I don’t think I would have made it out of the building before I started crying if they had been there watching me or talking to me.

      1. Mad Harry Crewe*

        Yep. Nobody was allowed back to their desk for several years at my old job, because one woman went, got her coffee, and threw it all over the director who had just let her go. Luckily it was cold. We would ask if they wanted all their stuff right away or if they wanted to come back and pick it up – in that case, someone would go grab jacket/wallet/phone/any other essentials they asked for, and then box the desk up that evening when the office was closed.

    4. Matilda Jefferies*

      When I was fired, I was given the option of packing up my own desk right then (with HR supervising, and all my colleagues in a “fake meeting”), coming back another time or on a weekend, or leaving right away and HR would send my stuff by courier. I like that they gave me the choice – firing is uncomfortable no matter what, but they did what they could to make it respectful for me.

      1. KMK*

        HR was pretty civilized when I was fired (I knew it was coming, but I didn’t know when). I was called up to HR at lunchtime, given the news, then escorted back to my desk so they could collect my company phone and my time sheet. They offered to pack up my things, but I wanted to do that myself. I didn’t really have time to say goodbyes as I’d worked with people all over the building and I had to go back to HR and sign things.

        I did have time to call my former boss something rather vulgar as she walked by. Long story there.

      2. writerbecc*

        When I was fired they gave me my backpack and my purse, and offered to let me come back in after hours to pack up my desk or they’d pack it up and send me my things. I never wanted to see that place again so I opted to have my stuff couriered over. (I was glad to be fired. I had nightmares about that job for literal years.)

    5. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      In my case HR took everything on my desk and handed it in a trashbag, then escorted me to the exit (most akward elevator ride ever). Nothing in the bag was mine.

    6. Goldenrod*

      I totally agree! If someone is being fired for reasons NOT having to do with criminal and/or unethical behavior, why can’t they be allowed to pack up their own things??

      1. ThatGirl*

        Mostly, I think, to avoid awkwardness/a scene – I don’t necessarily agree with it, but that’s how I’ve seen it.

      2. Ktelzbeth*

        Based on a comment by OP, in this case it sounds like an effort to keep the fired employee from having to pack up their own desk in the middle of an open workspace full of coworkers. I would find that horrifyingly embarrassing. Is it the best solution to that problem? I don’t know, but I can see myself taking advantage of it even as possessive as I usually am about my own stuff.

      3. Mallory*

        Because you never know who will freak out and punch their manager, the CEO, the janitor who steps in to try to help, and the cop who comes to arrest them.

        It’s not the ones you expect.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          But if you march people out, they can still come back and retaliate with violence later. In fact, humiliating people makes it more likely they’ll resort to violence.

      4. ...*

        Because they can still become violent or disruptive. The only time I’ve been aware of something like this the person was filed for simple performance problems but knocked over chairs and attempted to break company property.

    7. EPLawyer*

      If you are terminating, do not also take it upon yourself to TOUCH MY STUFF. You can lock out the computer, you can remove company items. But you touch my stuff under the guise of making it less awkward for the freaking company that just fired me — well, expect trouble. You don’t want a scene? Then be gracious and let the person gather their own things.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, I am having difficulty understanding how I would allow a cohort to bring me my purse or tote bag.
        I would be soooo very tempted to say, “Wait, while I check to make sure no one has taken anything from my purse and wallet.” And I would very methodically check each compartment to make sure I had everything.

        To me if they suddenly start thinking that I am going to do something to their computer or their things, I’d start believing they are projecting their values or their ways onto ME. They think I will steal from them because they ARE stealing from me. Trust is a two way street.

      2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        I once worked in a place where the you’re-about-to-be-canned signals were so obvious I knew days in advance I was going to get it on Friday. The stupidest thing is, they thought they were so smart about the way the went about it. I said nothing until they gave me that “We wish you the best” crap. And it was crap; these were slimy people in expensive clothes. I gave them a minor earful to the effect of Shut the eff up. They had a history of letting people go when the backlog was caught up, the extra project was finished, whatever. No one in that place had been there more than 2 years.

        Anyway–Forewarned was forearmed. They got what they paid for, but they didn’t get as much out of me as they expected.

    8. Xarcady*

      I was temping at a company when they did a round of layoffs because they had lost a couple of contracts that didn’t renew. They called people in to managers’s offices one by one all morning, then sent the laid off employees back to their desks with a bunch of boxes to pack their stuff up. No one was escorted or watched closely, but it was extremely awkward sitting in a cubicle listening to people crying as they packed their stuff up. As well as hearing their coworkers try to say good bye and/or try to cheer them up. And the one guy who started raiding cubicles for a better chair and laptop stand *before* the occupants of those cubicles had left really sent a couple of people over the edge.

      People were frantically trying to contact friends in other departments and very little work got done, because people were waiting to see if they would be the next to get laid off. In the end, 30 people out of 350 were laid off, but the emotional toll on the remaining employees was pretty high.

      There had to have been a better way.

    9. TootsNYC*

      I think what she means is that other people can collect those things for you.
      And that person would be gathering those things while you are in that meeting getting let go.

        1. Stella*

          I know having people go back to their desks after being fired is not ideal but if a person (who knew I was getting fired before I did) was going through my desk while I was getting fired I would be even more upset.

          My wallet? My purse? My tampons? My (dirty?) gym clothes?

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Not to mention other personal supplies, plus if you have a locker with gym clothes. I’m an adult, let me pack my own stuff. Sheesh.

          2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            My anything! You’re sacking me? Keep your mitts off my stuff! For one thing, don’t bet that I trust you to return it all to me.

        2. Blueberry*

          How do you keep whomever is doing the packing from treating it as an opportunity to loot? When I was fired I definitely didn’t have the presence of mind to look through the bag of my things that they gave me. When I gave notice at my previous job (wasn’t even fired, just gave notice) my radio disappeared two days later and ‘no one’ knew where it was. And I have quite a few friends who were never given back various items when their desks were packed up, but asking for their stuff back was useless when it was their word against their former workplace.

          1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            I once had a months-long temp job end suddenly (after I was repeatedly told I was on track for permanent hire) when I got an after-hours call from the agency saying “Don’t go back there.” I had left behind a small radio and some desk organizers, and I had to push and push to get it back. The agency was no help, and I finally went to Legal Aid. I didn’t want to make a stink, I just wanted my things back. The lawyer said they couldn’t simply keep my property so I took a friend as a witness, went to the workplace, and calmly told the security guard what I’d left behind. I waited at the entrance until he brought it all down to me. Ridiculous it took all that.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        I would be more upset if someone else was touching my personal stuff while I was in a room being fired. It’s going to be awkward no matter how it’s handled. Let the person gather their own stuff and let it be awkward.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Same. I do not like people touching my personal stuff. The gut punch of being fired combined with someone rifling through my things sets my teeth on edge.

          I have had to fire probably a dozen people over the years, and, while some have reacted in ways I did not expect, no one became violent, thankfully. We have always let people collect their own things and choose to box their own desk or have us do it and ship it to them overnight or courier it. (They are locked out of their computer, and there is someone from HR on hand – occasionally, someone tries to put a company laptop in their box.)

        2. Avasarala*

          Couldn’t agree more. If you’re going to fire someone, let them have the dignity of collecting their own things. If you have an issue with people becoming violent when they get fired, you need to reexamine who you hire and how you fire them. Perp-walking out decent people is how you burn a bridge with former employees.

    10. MissDisplaced*

      I think the idea with open office is that you don’t HAVE any personal things.
      We have to hotdesk. You can’t really leave anything overnight, though we do have lockers to put that stuff in. Still, you do have your purse, coffee cup, tote and jacket and such that you have to collect.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          Yes, not at all. I used to be in an open office environment for over a decade (cubicle), and I still had a full box to take with me after the layoff.

          1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            Years ago, after a cycle of crappy jobs (any port in a storm) where they let people go at the drop of a hat, I learned not to have more personal items at work than I can carry out in a grocery bag, and nothing that’s truly personal, like photos or anything I wouldn’t want to lose.

        2. SimplyTheBest*

          Yeah, everywhere I’ve ever worked has been in some semblance of an open office place, but I’ve always had my own space.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        No, open office and hot desking are not the same.

        Most hot desking situations are open office (though conceivably they need not be – you could “hot office”). And certainly many many open offices are not hot desk set-ups.

    11. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree, they describe a “mishap” where the worst thing that happened was “awkward conversations.” Unless someone is being openly belligerent I think a little awkwardness is a small price to pay to allow them the small dignity of collecting their own things.

    12. Anna O Mus*

      Usually its to prevent embarrassment, the person freaking out, or sometimes the person stealing company info. I was laid off (not fired), they wouldn’t let me go back to my desk. My boss, went and grabbed my coat and purse. The rest of my effects were mailed to me. Some people including myself would be mortified if I had to face my co-workers after I was let go (whether it be fired or laid off). My co-workers would have asked, why I was packing up at 1pm on a Tuesday.

    13. Snuck*

      I think some places do it this way because it avoids the conflict for the manager/HR, not the recently fired employee… Everyone wants to do a good old Victorian sanitisation and sensibility, with no risk of anything untoward happening (untoward being large emotions!). I always see this ‘escorted walk’ as a failing of the culture and management of a business to handle things well unless it’s for a person who is truly horrific.

      It’s dehumanising, it’s assuming people are going to act out instead of well, and reduces people’s ability to collectively share what is a community moment – these people have worked together eight hours a day for a long time sometimes, to suddenly get the march of death (no matter the reason) and be forced to wait in an elevator well (trust me, as soon as the cardboard box appears SOMEONE will find you holding back tears in the stair well!) yeah, it’s never an effective way.

      Entirely different if the person being fired doesn’t want to do a walk through the office, that’s completely different. I’ve always given people the chance to decide, treat them as adult humans and most will be adult humans. A couple of people could not be trusted to be adult humans (they really were that problematic), so they were exited at 4pm on a Friday without notice when no one was around to watch it happen and they had plenty of time to pack up in peace. One walked out without her stuff and as she was a temp I just got the agency in to collect it all a week later, but the other one spent three hours painfully going through his desk, making several managers wait back on a Friday night, muttering dark evil thoughts just under his breath, but…e eventually… he left (and we had his swipe fob etc, and IT had locked him out while he was in the notice meeting by prior arrangement – this was the kind of guy that would rage delete everything…). And we were done.

      Mind you, in that environment we also did fortnightly or monthly checkin and meetings with each staff individually, and everyone knew exactly where they were at in the ‘we want you here’ stakes.

    14. Quill*

      Yeah, like… I’ve been laid off in ways that would mean I can’t get my CAR KEYS if someone hadn’t tipped me off to the need to bring my purse to a last minute ‘meeting.’ Meaning that I might have had to hang out outside the building for a longish time while someone grabbed my purse and probably assumed that my personal pens / snacks / hair ties weren’t personal property.

      I’ve also been laid off overnight and had to argue with security to go back and retrieve my coat the monday after, when I’ve already been locked out of the building.

    1. The IT Plebe*

      Either one of two things:
      1. They want the employee to be able to save face and avoid the awkward Q&A that’s inevitably going to happen when people see you packing up all your stuff in the middle of the day.
      2. They don’t want the employee to possibly spin an unfair narrative against the company to the rest of the team while packing their stuff.
      I was fired from a place with an open office plan (though thankfully they did have a mother’s room so no fishbowl firing there!) and they had to get my coat and bag for me and packed up/shipped the rest of my stuff to me. I honestly preferred it to doing it myself; I was pretty emotional about the whole thing and just wanted to get out of there.

      1. puzzled*

        Don’t other people throw party to that person later in the evening over beer that was arranged primary to say by and secondary to get out the story? Also, if management sees it important for me to not met that person, I dont think I would fully believe what management says after, definitely not much. Just the way it is all done suggests that one should be cautious.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I’ve never been somewhere that people got together later that same evening after a layoff or a firing.

          Think about it–that person doesn’t want to go jovially hang out with the people who still have jobs! They’re probably home, still reeling.

          Only if someone has resigned under their own steam and given 2 weeks notice has there been a gathering.

          1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

            Back when I was at ToxicJob, I was praying, literally, for a layoff during one of the company’s periodic re-orgs. I would have gotten pretty good severance, so I was quite disappointed when I didn’t get laid off (I ended up resigning a few months later – no severance but at least I was free on my own terms). You can bet I’d have thrown a party if I’d gotten laid off then, but I realized I was a special case.

            1. TootsNYC*

              I can see the party–but it’s never that night.
              If only because it’s too short of notice, and because the news is still so fresh and upsetting (upsetting even to the survivors)

        2. SimplyTheBest*

          Are you kidding? No way I would ever go to this kind of party if I was just laid off/fired. No desire to suffer through that mortification.

      2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        I think managers also want to save their own face and save themselves the awkwardness when Fergus asks, “Hey, what’s going on?” and Jane says, “I just got the ax so I getting my stuff and leaving.” That happened to me once, and it really was just like that, telling a coworker I’d been let go. I wasn’t happy about it and I let it show, but I didn’t raise my voice, get profane, throw things, nothin’ like that. But when I touched base with another coworker a few days later, the story management was putting out was that I’d “thrown a tantrum” in the office. Clearly they wanted to be the ones to control the news. I had some accrued leave and severance coming, and my lawyer found an error in their calculation when he reviewed my paperwork. I called the HR guy who sacked me and told him. He arrogantly told me they weren’t doing anymore paperwork for me (like I’d asked for a favor or something) and I had to sign it as is. I was very young and he clearly wasn’t expecting me to say I wasn’t signing it until the error was fixed.

    2. katelyn*

      Not that this is everyone, but at one place I worked my boss was let go and was allowed to go back to his desk to get his things, but no one watched to be sure that was all he did, so before anyone noticed he was making rounds of the other departments chatting with everyone and saying goodbye as if he hadn’t just been fired for incompetence! So weird! I’m kinda sad I wasn’t there to see it, but my grandboss had given me a $20 and told me to leave for an hour and “grab coffee or icecream or something” since I was the only direct report.

      1. andy*

        What is weird about that? That is how you are supposed to leave. That is normal way of leaving the company. Or are you being ironic in saying that the threat is that fired person will go around to say by to other people?

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        So he was just saying goodbye? He wasn’t saying anything outrageous or anything? Or spouting off about how unjust the company is and all that jazz?

        I don’t find that weird at all…?

        The last person had to terminate was here for quite a few years, he was close to most of us. It was one of things things that even on the HR level, it wasn’t told to me before hand because of the circumstances that I already saw the writing on the wall anyways. I just process paperwork in the end, I don’t actually have to give authorization to fire or anything like that.

        So imagine my moment when our guy showed up to say goodbye with his hands full of his belongings he had gathered up. “So they fired me! I’ll miss you!”

        I’ve seen so many random terminations over the years that nothing shakes me so I just swallowed my gasp and hugged the guy goodbye, wishing him the best and all that stuff. It wasn’t weird though, even though I knew he was on thin ice. We all did really. It boiled down to “fit” in the end. He wasn’t bad at his job at all but he had a lazy streak that was well known.

      3. Snuck*

        I think it’s a fabulous way to exit!

        A lot of people aren’t fired for being evil overlords and their minions… they are fired because their work fit isn’t right.

        For some people there’s a lot of great stuff going on, but not enough of the right stuff, and a firing then might be more an agreed exit than a ‘you suck be gone’ dismiss.

        Also if this guy was in a people interaction role (sales, marketing, customer service, client management etc) then he probably has a lot of relationships in the building he wants to salvage still, because he’s going to find similar work in a similar industry. After several years of working with people this is perfectly normal.

        Maybe he was saving face. Maybe he had a job somewhere else and this was a forced firing rather than a leave taking. I dunno… but I think that’s a much nicer idea than a rage quit!

      4. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        The fired person’s behavior does not seem weird to me at all. That’s a common behavior when leaving a company, and he wanted to work on his reputation.

    3. LW*

      LW here – both of the replies are pretty much what we’re trying to avoid in a nutshell. We had one termination where the individual was pretty upset and had really awkward conversations with some of the folks near his desk while he gathered some of his things, so we started offering to gather people’s things for them. People here don’t typically have a lot of personal items like desk decorations or stored personal items because there just isn’t a whole lot of room or storage, so usually, it’s just the coat and bag.

      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        “just the coat and bag”
        Which your co-HRer will presumably have collected as you are walking the former employee out, because if you’re firing me in February, I’m damn well going to want my coat before I leave the lobby! And my house keys are in my purse, so I’m going nowhere without my bag either.
        So I’d assume you have the timing of this down to a co-ordinated few minutes?

        1. TootsNYC*

          because if you’re firing me in February, I’m damn well going to want my coat before I leave the lobby! And my house keys are in my purse, so I’m going nowhere without my bag either.

          This so confuses me.
          Of course they will make sure you have your coat with you before you leave the building, and your bag! In fact, they just said so.

          1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

            From the original letter: “Obviously, people may immediately need to collect items at their desks (coats, wallets, etc.), but that can be mitigated by someone else taking those items
            I’m referring to the someone else.
            It got mentioned in a few other comments (not necessarily LW) that fired employees are immediately walked off site – at least one person said they had to call the police to escort said terminated employee because they kicked off immediately.
            I’ve witnessed a firing where they went straight from the meeting room to the lobby where they were awkwardly supervised by security for nearly an hour while someone tried to find their coat (we had shared coat stands with up to six coats on at a time) and certain items (medication from the fridge for example) so they could go home. They were considered potentially volatile, hence not allowed back into the main open office area after they were fired.
            I just wonder how these situtations are considered.

            1. Not Me*

              Well, if you’re referring to my comment about calling the police, you’ll see I didn’t say I called them to have the person escorted off the property. But, if someone became so volatile that I needed to call building security even then yes, they would need to wait outside while we found their coat. That’s the consequence of acting like a security threat, especially in todays climate.

              If someone is being polite and reasonable, I have zero problem with them taking a few minutes to grab what they can, or what they want to, and the rest can be carefully packaged, inventoried, and messengered to them at a time that works for them. I will stand by and watch what people pack for themselves though, and I will need to look through any documents being removed to ensure they are personal and don’t contain any work/client/company business.

            2. SimplyTheBest*

              I’m with TootsNYC, I still find your comment kind of confusing. Why the need for some kind of perfectly coordinated timing? Presumably, the other person can go grab the person’s stuff and just bring it back to the conference room before the fired person leaves.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        A terminated employee having an awkward conversation, or even complaining about being fired, is hardly a big deal compared to what being fired is for them. Give them some dignity and let them choose whether to have their coat and bag fetch for them or walk them back to their desk to let them do it themselves unless they’re making threats and may harm someone.

        Gah, this is strike #412 for open office plans, and I can 100% say I would not take a job someplace that felt this was a productive and humane environment in which to have people work.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Seriously. Have some compassion and respect for people who are going through an absolutely devastating event. All of this tiptoeing around smacks of “firing you hurts me more than it hurts you.” Perp walking people out is kicking them when they’re down, and values avoiding momentary awkwardness for management over avoiding humiliation for people in a really emotionally vulnerable place.

          1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            Thank you. Getting fired is a personal loss, a financial hit, possibly loss of medical coverage or professional setback, even when it’s justified. And we all know sometimes it’s arbitrary, capricious, unfair, unjustified…there are a lot of bad managers out there. Some people truly don’t see it coming. Some lousy managers genuinely enjoy firing people; it gives them a power surge.

            I’ve said for years, if you have to let someone go, then let them go, but don’t kick them in the teeth on their way out.

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              Yeah, really the only people who deserve being perp walked are violent, are vicious bullies/bigots/harassers, or are stealing from the company.

            2. TootsNYC*

              and, the more decently you treat them (even at the expense of an awkward half-hour or so), the less of a negative impact it will have on your remaining employees.

              Even when we know the person deserves to be fired, most of us feel bad for them, wish them well, and want to see that they’re treated with respect.

              It’s sort of “how would you treat ME?”

        2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          “A terminated employee having an awkward conversation, or even complaining about being fired, is hardly a big deal compared to what being fired is for them.”

          Well said.

      3. Parenthesis Dude*

        Would it be crazy to do the terminations offsite at like a nearby coffee shop or something? It’s still sort of public, but better than being in the office.

      4. Quill*

        Still… nothing worse than waiting in the lobby for your coat and bag and discovering that somehow your scarf and gloves have been lost on the way, then having to go through everything there in the lobby to make sure nothing else fell out while someone looks for “it’s a grey scarf, I leave it on the hook” or “yes, I routinely lock my purse in my tiny cabinet, what do you mean you can’t get that unlocked, you just took my key for that five minutes ago, I can’t leave without my car keys and drivers’ license.”

    4. Oh No She Di'int*

      In addition to the other answers, in some cases depending on the position and the type of company, there can be security or vandalism concerns. People have been known to take being fired very badly and decided on the way out to take the company down with them to the extent they can.

      1. Silicon Valley Girl*

        Security can be a big issue. Think healthcare, finance, & any industry or job with personal data access. Terminations where employees are escorted out by building security personnel are not uncommon. Handling that in an open workspace would be extra awkward.

    5. Picard*

      When I was laid off oh 20 or so years ago, its was done in a PRIVATE HR office. Because of my position, it was not unheard of for HR folks to meet with me so all of my staff was taken into another conference room and kept there while I was able to go to my desk and gather up my things. I was allowed to sit at my desk and get some of my personal files/emails. I suppose if I were wired differently, I could have done A LOT of damage in those 5-10 minutes but all I did was delete my personal stuff and email my personal email some things I wanted to keep.

    6. Champagne Cocktail*

      I never understood that either. If it were me getting fired, I’d be seriously concerned about getting all my belongings back (and in a reasonable time) if the company said they were going to pack it up for me.

    7. Juli G.*

      I don’t think it is. I’m HR and this is always my first goal with performance exits. We say “Would you like to collect your things now? Or we can box them for you and ship them to you.” I also just keep a general awareness of when someone exits the building the final time.

      Obviously, the approach changes if there’s a volatile reaction to the firing but my motto is always if we trusted you to work for us all this time, I can trust you for the 20 minutes it takes you to leave.

      1. Sarah H*

        “Obviously, the approach changes if there’s a volatile reaction to the firing but my motto is always if we trusted you to work for us all this time, I can trust you for the 20 minutes it takes you to leave.”

        See, I disagree with this. Firing someone very drastically changes the relationship, people definitely do things after being fired they wouldn’t do in their day to day coming to work.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          I’ve been fired.

          I still would never have done anything criminal – because that’s my reputation, even if my employer is being a dick. I can cry and swear in my car.

          I don’t assume someone is going to be a violent freak unless they are being fired for, you know, violence.

        2. Quill*

          They’re far more likely to sabotage you on the way out or badmouth you on glassdoor if you’re not reasonable about letting them empty their snack cubby and fetch their own office plant.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            The one place that insisted on packing my stuff neglected to give me my strawberry plant. They either trashed it or someone swiped it.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yeah, I always give people options. It’s out of respect to them and to give them that minor level of control over the situation.

        Granted nobody here works with that much access, I’m not sure what would happen if it was someone in a high ranking position. That’s a different kettle of fish.

        But really, lots of places can pull access to servers during termination, so that would save a lot of the fears some people have about them sabotaging things while at their desk collecting their keys.

        We are also in the era of LinkedIn and Facebook, they’re all attached to each other. I can just go ahead and text everyone instead of talking to them while at my desk getting my coat!

    8. Jennifer Thneed*

      I was fired once, and they tried to tell me that someone had packed up my desk and would hand me the box of stuff. I wasn’t having any. I insisted that they allow me to see what had been packed up, and surprise! they had missed some things. It wasn’t malicious, but it happened.

      (And that’s the job where I learned that if the person who hires you is promoted away before your start day, don’t count on that job because your new manager was NOT the one who interviewed or hired you.)

  5. Fiona*

    Thank you!!!! I worked in a great place many years ago but it was completely open and the only private space was a tiny glass-walled room. It wasn’t even fully sound-proof. If I had any personal phone calls, I had to take them in an echoey stairwell, which was used by others. It wasn’t great.

    Similarly, I also worked in a different office which had a large room containing a bunch of producers and the head of our department. They had a sliding door that they only closed when they were having dramatic, important conversations. It was definitely a Sliding Door of Doom.

    1. Fiona*

      Also, just want to add that I’m in the minority who thinks that open offices are actually really good. People work more collaboratively in open offices and it generally lends itself to a healthier environment (obviously this is industry-dependent). That said, it absolutely won’t work if you don’t have a number of private spaces where people can meet, regroup, etc.

      1. LadyofLasers*

        It may vary by industry, but the research I’ve seen has shown that collaboration tends to go down in open offices. Is this something you’ve experienced yourself, and if so, how do you feel the open office fostered collaboration without distracting people?

        1. Fiona*

          I only know from personal experience and haven’t done any research on it, but here’s my anecdotal experience:
          – From the get-go, I was a bit biased because my dad started a small company in the early 1980s and had an open office, which was highly unusual at the time. He and the other president of the company sat out in the room with everyone and he always said there were endless amounts of problems that were solved by just overhearing an issue and talking through it together. (He works in computer programming). Again, he was the head of the company so take it with a grain of salt and maybe everyone hated it, but they had super low turnover and many of his employees worked there for the duration of the company’s existence (25+ years).
          – My first “real” job was in a small office doing non-profit arts administration. The head of the organization had her own “area” but no door or divider. The head of one of our major departments was in my row (he had a bigger desk but it was all open). As someone entering the workforce, overhearing the conversations of my superiors was actually really helpful. I could hear what it was like for established people in our field to discuss issues and I was privy to some, but not all, conversations about the workings of the organization. I came in terrified of the phone, but the job required making tons of phone calls and I had to get very comfortable making those calls in front of my boss and colleagues, which was ultimately really healthy. Again, lots of issues were resolved 50% quicker by just chatting with the person near you than going and knocking on an office door, etc.
          – My last job I moved from a large room that housed 4 of us to a private office. I loved the privacy of being able to close the door and make phone calls and yes, to focus, but issues and questions were so much easier to work through by just leaning over and asking someone. (Creative industry)
          – My current job is also creative and requires listening to material so we all use headphones, but we’re in cubicles in a giant open office. The company had moved to this new space from an old office with more private rooms and offices and so most people do NOT like the change, but I appreciate it. Many of the senior level folks lost their offices and are now in cubicles like me. I’m not anti-hierarchy (in fact, I’m a fan when it’s utilized well!) but sometimes the private offices seem more about status than usefulness. I like that I can go over to my boss and ask him a question without the pomp of knocking on a closed door. We have many private conference rooms and private shared creative spaces if you need to have a closed-door conversation, as well as some private rooms you can work in if you really need to buckle down and focus.

          I fully acknowledge that this kind of set up is good for my personality. The hum of other people working is motivating to me and not distracting. People here are generally quiet and respectful. And most importantly, we have a few quiet rooms for people to work who are under deadline and really can’t be interrupted. So that’s my 2 cents!

          1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

            If it’s a single department in an open office and/or there are *decent* dividers between departments, then I can see (industry specific) arguments in favour of open offices. I too sit next to my boss and only a few desks away from my grandboss, so I have no issues with the lack of doors.
            However, I’m in finance & analytics – I need to concentrate – and we share the open plan office area with *no* dividers with the Sales & Retentions Department who have a Power Hour every day, ring a bell every time a sale over a certain value is made, and have *a pool table* in the space near their desks.
            It’s NOT collaborative. It’s NOT motivating. It’s VERY disruptive and distracting. It’s like trying to do calculations in a night club (only with decent lighting). The rest of the building is full, so there’s no chance of a desk move.

            (When they all disappear at 3pm on a Friday and we’re down to a general hum – not silence, something akin to the volume in a small coffee shop – it’s the most productive we’re able to be. My boss regularly works from home and encourages me to do the same, but paradoxically, I find the quiet of my home office stifling)

            1. Fiona*

              Well, that sounds positively dreadful!!!! I would hate that environment and it’s definitely not conducive to working…

              1. Jennifer Thneed*

                And what Wondering said, that’s been my experience as well. Most places that do open-plan also have large rooms with WAY too many people in them, and the sound levels can get out of hand. Also, the desks tend to be put much closer together than is comfortable. That’s not at all necessary to open-plan, but it does keep real-estate spending low, which is why it happens.

          2. Allonge*

            I like actually hearing from someone who enjoys this setup – everyone in my circles either hates it a lot or likes it in principle but would expect to have a private office in any case (!). My unfavorite was a trainer (one of these travelling people) who self-admittedly never worked in an office in the last 20 years, but was vehemently pro-open office.

            I just want to say that the door thing you are describing sounds like some huge barrier whereas in my experience a lot of doors are open in general and knocking is not this big ceremony. But hey, good that someone likes open office!

            More on the topic though, well, not every conversation should be overheard. I find it incredible that office designers don’t think of this.

            1. Spencer Hastings*

              Yeah, knocking is not a huge thing where I am either. The managers have doors that they can close for private conversation, but they’re open at least 90% of the time. I tend to knock on the open doors when I need to talk to them, but that’s not universal either. (They all sit facing their doors, so they’re likely to see you anyway when you walk up…)

          3. Oxford Comma*

            I am not in an open plan situation (yet), but what your experience seems like it was dependent on having respectful coworkers. All of this falls down when you’re sitting next to the guy who insists on playing politically oriented talk radio all day long or the person who insists on cutting their toenails or whatever. We’ve only to go back a few posts in this blog to find plenty of examples of all of this.

            As someone with a door that I can close, it’s not that it’s closed because of hierarchy. It’s closed so that I can focus. It’s closed so that I can get work done and not have to hear every single conversation that’s happening in the area outside my office. In an open office plan, I lose all of that.

            From everything I am reading, headphones only do so much. I would need to be in a conference room every single day to focus and it doesn’t sound like that’s a possibility for most places.

            You are the very first person I have seen that was in favor of an open office plan who wasn’t an interior designer working on one of these or who wasn’t a manager who had their own office. I am happy it works for you, but I think you are in the minority.

        2. andy*

          Of course collaboration goes down. Open office means that all disagreements and exchanges of opinions are fully public. Any time anything like criticism or just annoyance or case for change of process (which typically has elements of criticism) is said, it is overheard by too many people – not just involved team.

          So of course most avoid saying any of these, but then of course they avoid collaborating too closely. There is no close peer collaboration without these, unless one is super dominant and other people are super submissive. And none of these is comfortable if too many unrelated people are listening.

      2. Observer*

        Actually, most studies indicate that open plan offices REDUCE collaborative work. Same for “healthiness” of the environment.

        1. Threeve*

          Also, literal healthiness. I sit packed in a low-walled cube with four other people, and I take way more sick days than I would in a normal workspace. Partially because I probably get sick a little more often, but mostly because while I can work fine sneezing my head off but otherwise feeling okay, it’s gross and distracting to people around me, so I’m going to spare them.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            I got pneumonia from one open plan office that had everyone squished together on a “bench” arrangement, and most were contractors with no sick time. My sick time goes up in an open plan.

        2. Carrie Oakie*

          I work in an open office and it does help with collaboration…if everyone else is in the mood to collaborate. We often brainstorm outloud with each other, but sometimes half the room is busy in their tasks so they don’t chime in. When you’re trying to focus on a project and someone else is on a Skype call, another person is randomly talking outloud to anyone who’ll listen and the office music is on (though low) it can be a real test in patience. That’s when I put my headphones on with no sound to help muffle the sounds. There’s a definite pro/con situation.

          1. Allonge*

            And, I mean, sometimes I want to run a plan by two of my colleagues before I pitch it to the whole team, and sometimes I want to admit I effed something up to just the one person who can fix it, and sometimes people need to vent a bit about a stupid project before we go and do it anyway and… I never actually want to hear anyone being fired.

            And if doors stop collaboration in a company, it was never going to happen anyway.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              This. One place I worked everyone had offices, but we collaborated fine. We had “hallway meetings”, and people not involved just closed their doors.

              Open plans don’t cause collaboration, and can actually stifle it.

          2. InsufficentlySubordinate*

            At the moment, someone down the row from me in our open office is listening to a training session with no headphones. This is the second day in a row.

          3. Spencer Hastings*

            Office music! That would be my nightmare scenario. I have a little iPod that I listen to when the office gets too loud, or too quiet, or too…anything, really. I want to pick what I listen to, dang it! (Other music is one of the hardest things to drown out with headphones, IME.)

      3. Never*

        So lets take the last place I had an open office:

        – I actually had the health and safety guy come up out of my eyesight and lean down and squeeze my foot to ask if I was wearing steel toe caps. If he’d asked he’d have been told I had the required shoes for visiting the factory under my desk, as had been arranged correctly before he was employed in the role, he has no reason to even ask me. He barely got away without something broken by my sheer reflex jump with his face inches from my foot.

        – I had someone watching an offensive, outdated and cringey comedy on his lunch break several desks away. The customers I was chasing for payment at the time kept pausing at his laughter. I was not on lunch break as several others were working through break.

        – I had a factory manager holding a “boys club” jokes club barely 3ft from my desk. My contact in a very conservate country paused at the time he made the worst of the sexist remarks and could clearly hear every word. I nearly lost a negotiation over payment of bills worth several hundred thousand which needed to be dealt with in a time crunch because she nearly hung up.

        – It encouraged non work related chat to the point that I could have told you every detail of A’s yoga class, b’s fashion choices, c’s house rebuild, d’s nights out and E whining about what he was going to eat for lunch every day. Special mention to the person who just had to talk to my married boss about their suntanning over the weekend and nearly caused a HR incident “proving” it by pulling down her top in the middle of the office.

        -Any actual work related items that needed more than an email then the people came to and stood at each others desks. something that would have been just the same with a non open office in the first place.

        A proper office with a wall behind me and limited number of people in the room would have made that job so much easier.

        1. Fiona*

          While that sounds incredibly frustrating and endlessly rude of your colleagues, to play devil’s advocate, I don’t think you had an open office problem — it sounds like you had an office culture problem.

          When you write “I had a factory manager holding a “boys club” jokes club barely 3ft from my desk” – like, would it be better if he was holding a sexist joke club in a private office? The fact that he felt comfortable having it out in the open speaks more to the culture of your office than the physical layout…

          1. Never*

            Whilst I agree with you there was a culture issue (as there is in a lot of manufacturing here), the open office contributed to it a lot. And allowed a lot of situations to occur that was completely unnecessary. And everything we needed to do or discuss didn’t need to be communicated across desks constantly either. It needed quiet one to ones which were virtually impossible in an open office layout.

            And honestly, having people walk behind me/my desk the entire day due to the layout was mega disturbing. Especially after the health and safety guy issues.

            I can see it would be great for you in a creative field but it truly sucked for us. And I’ve never had an open office that justified why it was open with that supposed collaboration, beyond the sheer cost difference involved in offices over just desks and dividers. Each of them were infuriatingly unefficient and distracting for no reason.

            1. Never*

              Interestingly later on, when I went back to discuss health and disability issues with them they’d actually moved floors, to a set up that was shared offices instead. My boss said it was working a lot better for them.

            2. Fiona*

              I hear you and it definitely sounds like it was NOT a good idea for your industry. If the only reason to do it is just to cut costs and with no thinking behind it, it’s really going to aggravate people. I’m glad you’re out of there!

          2. TootsNYC*

            the fact that he felt comfortable making that much NOISE in an open office is an indicator of a problem.

            That’s one of my problems with an open office; I think people hesitate to discuss stuff because they know they’re disturbing other people.

            1. Observer*

              This is actually well documented as one of the reasons that serendipity and collaboration tend to go down in open offices.

      4. Fikly*

        Generalizations like this that are only based on your anecdotal experiences really should not be stated as generalizations.

        It should be, “in my experience, I have found that people work more collaboratively in open offices.” Unless your job is conducting studies into this (and the studies contradict your statement here) all you can know about is the companies you have worked at in your industry.

        1. Fiona*

          Point taken, I should have been more clear. It’s just from my own experience. And it’s 100% industry-dependent.

      5. alienor*

        Yes, but not all jobs are highly collaborative. Some people do need to collaborate, and some people enter data or process invoices or edit copy all day long and need to be left alone to get on with it. I’ve worked in one “mixed” office layout that had an open area for the collaborators and private cubicles for the non-collaborators, and that was fine, but in my current office we’re all thrown into the same mosh pit, and I have to take my laptop somewhere and hide to get anything done.

        1. Pennalynn Lott*

          Yep. My last job was in an open-office space. There were four or five different departments. Two or three of which consisted of coders/developers who definitely needed to talk their stuff out. My department needed privacy and hardly any background noise because we were on video conference calls all day. So one of the coding teams would start collaborating and then one of the other coding teams would need to hash things out verbally too, and the two teams would start talking louder and louder to be heard over all the collaborating. Meanwhile, I couldn’t hear a d*mn thing on my video conference call. Plus the people on the other end of the call could see all the commotion in the room around me and it was visually distracting for them. What a mess. So glad I’m out of there and in a proper high-walled cube now.

      6. Curmudgeon in California*

        Empirical studies show that they actually aren’t more collaborative. See my link farther down.

      7. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        We recently moved to a wide-open office and it’s a nightmare. The producers talk constantly, play loud rock videos on their damn iPhones, and proclaim “We work better with music!” Those of us who are researching, synthesizing data into reports, talking to clients on the phone, and just want to be able to hear ourselves think are just tough out of luck.

      8. Avasarala*

        I don’t hate open offices either. I do with my bosses had an office so I could go talk to them privately sometimes, but there have been so many times where they’ve casually looked up and had a quick conversation with me, or noticed something they wouldn’t have if they were in an office and it led to a fruitful conversation or informative experience for me.

      9. Dream Jobbed*

        I’m ADD. Your desirable open floor plans would literally lead to mental illness for me. I would be completely unable to tune out anything going on around me 90% of the time.

  6. littlelizard*

    This is my nightmare. Also, the idea that meetings that leave out one person might be to fire that person. Shivers all around.

  7. Lily in NYC*

    We have an open floor plan with no offices but tons of glass-walled conference rooms lining the perimeter. The conference rooms near our HR Dept all have frosted glass so you can’t see in well. That seems like a cost-effective option that isn’t as obvious as blinds (unless you always keep the blinds down).

    1. Roy G. Biv*

      My company also has this on the glass fish bowl – frosted windows from floor to about 60ish inches up. There is still some clear glass above that if you need to peek in or out from a standing position, but there is the illusion of privacy for anyone sitting down for the meeting.

    2. zora*

      We are also a mostly open-plan office, but small, about 40 desks.

      And we have frosted panels on all of our conference rooms on the bottom half of the glass wall. That way we get the light, but it’s not quite as awkward to actually have people watching you through the glass any time you are in a meeting.

      Also, the larger storage room has been converted to a nursing/quiet room. It has full walls and a solid door, and has been soundproofed with paneling. It’s big enough to pump in comfort, even big enough for one person to do a yoga routine (I know from personal experience). I feel like it’s a super cost-effective way to have that one totally private space for pumping, or for taking personal calls/dealing with personal news. I make phone calls to the doctors office, etc.

      Yes, we have less storage space, but we just maximize the remaining storage closet with shelving, and honestly, we just don’t need a lot of physical stuff in the office these days. We barely print anything these days, and keep our branded swag stores to a minimum, and place small orders more often.

      It’s totally possible to do these things in an open office plan, just takes a little thinking.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        We have these tacky, uncomfortable “phone booths” with lousy chairs and maybe frosted glass, but half of them have tall “bar stool” seating. Ugh.

        1. Quill*

          I hate those barstool seatings!

          I mean, if you’re unusually tall and they’re more comfortable I have sympathy but I have to climb them like some sort of tourist to the himalayas, then I have to jump down and it’s a tossup if my bad ankle will take that… plus they’re always sprung on me as a surprise at restaurants so I have to choose between telling the server “this is a huge pain in my arthritis, give us a normal table please” and delaying when we can sit down, or trying to figure out how to sit on top of mount barstool everest.

          Plus, so few of them have back support… or any place to put your feet.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            I have hemiparesis. I walk with a cane, and I have a huge difficulty sitting on those things. When I complained to the disability office, they said “Oh, half of the conference and phone rooms have regular height chairs, so it’s fine. Let us know if people start scheduling you into meetings with the high stools.” I’m not the only person who can’t sit in them. We have some very short people who would look like a child in a high chair trying to get onto one of those.

    3. pamplemousse*

      If replacing the walls and doors of conference rooms isn’t in the budget, you could hack this today by putting up some posters, or plain paper with the company logo, or those giant post-it notes that you can write on during meetings on the inside of the wall — anything that offers some privacy. But Alison is right, this is a real issue. You need at least one private space pronto.

      1. Natalie*

        You wouldn’t even need to replace the glass to frost it – there are all kinds of vinyl options you can install or have a contractor install onto existing glass.

    4. Damn it, Hardison!*

      A few days before the company I worked at laid of 10% of the employees, they applied frosting to the glass walls of all of the huddle rooms. They aren’t fully frosted, but wide bands that obscure who is in the room when they are sitting down. That was a tip off that something was going on (rumors had been flying, but that’s when we knew).

      1. TootsNYC*

        This is normally a simple layer of self-adhesive contact paper. Maybe a pro grade, but that’s what they used on the doors in our building.

  8. Justin*

    They did ours at a separate office (we have a different one uptown, but it can be rented) when we let someone go.

    We similarly have an open plan but we have fishbowls and conference rooms and an area that would be used for nursing (no one applicable since I’ve worked there).

    It sucks overall though lol

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      One time in my old job, a team meeting was moved offsite, which we were told was because we needed a bigger meeting room than previously thought. Someone who had been taken to another office to be laid off in the past immediately jumped to the conclusion that we were being taken offsite to be laid off and started circulating it. Cue mass panic and tales of Layoffs I Have Known – turned out we really had just moved because we needed a bigger room.

  9. designbot*

    As a designer who frequently hears “but we want to show how transparent we are as a company!” when designing office spaces, I’m loving this description of what it takes to achieve actual transparency—a lot more work on managers’ and HR’s side about communicating performance expectations and feedback so that nobody is ever blindsided by this news. Next time I hear this I’m gong to try bringing up what actual corporate transparency is necessary for this sort of office environment to make sense.

    1. Decima Dewey*

      A bit OT, but it makes me think of an exchange in Flanders and Swann’s “Design for Living:”

      SWANN: Our boudoir on the open plan has been a huge success!

      FLANDERS: Now every’s so open, there’s nowhere safe to dress!

  10. Fibchopkin*

    Are you in a building that has conference or meeting rooms that can be booked by any organization in the building? A lot of the buildings I’ve worked in in larger cities have spaces that are not rented to anyone in particular and are available to be reserved through building management. That’s an option I would look into if there’s no way your office can build, create, or rent at least one private office and/or conference room.
    As an aside, your work place setup is the nightmare of the overwhelming majority of polled employees in at least 6 credible, recent studies that I can happily link you to in the subcomments. Not sure if you have any power to change this, but if you do, you should consider it. APA’s I/O Psych Division (14, I believe) has about a trillion articles on this topic as well.
    Anecdotally, I can tell you that there was a great paying job, with seemingly custom-tailored work for me, located just a 10 minute commute away, with the best benefits I have ever been offered, that I turned down solely because it had a set up similar to the one you’re describing. Even with 2 days per working from home, I couldn’t take a job with that level of distraction and lack of privacy. You may be missing out on really great candidates because of this setup.

    1. LW*

      LW here – it helps that we’re really small (never had more than 25 employees onsite in this office), have total WFH flexibility, full amenable to headphones and other distraction combatants, and are more than half sales and customer support/product onboarding staff, so at any given time, a large chunk of our population may be traveling. We also do have two single-occupancy booths for calls/quiet space. It’s certainly not ideal, but there we try to make a lot of accommodations for those kinds of needs.

      1. Fibchopkin*

        That’s good, and maybe this suits the type of employees you want to employ. If so, great! It’s just that there’s a LOT of evidence and credible research out there suggesting that this type of setup is not actually as conducive to collaboration as organizations actually intend and also negatively effects productivity and employee emotional and psychological well-being. It seems you may already being experiencing evidence of that yourself- case-in-point is the very issue you wrote in about re: employee termination.

        1. LW*

          I’m aware of that research, but I didn’t select this office, and I don’t have any power to change it, so I’m endeavoring to work with what what exists and make improvements where I can. We didn’t have the booths when I started, and when I identified that additional quiet space was a need, I proposed it and pretty swiftly had those booths installed. I’m also finding a way to have window clings installed on all of our conference rooms (again, improvement on what exists!). Moving to a different space isn’t really an option, nor is putting up a bunch of walls, hence my seeking advice on how best to work with what I’ve got.

    2. Picard*

      ^ this.

      I will not ever work in a cube farm/desk farm again. I would rather waitress or work retail. Period the end.

    3. Curmudgeon in California*

      This. I’ve noped out of a number of open plans at the interview stage. I hate them, they are unhealthy, and I can’t spend the day in headphones – I will get ear infections if it’s more than 4 hours a day, and if it’s 4 hours every day, it’s really likely to be miserable.

      1. Allonge*

        Plus, it’s quite absurd that we are supposed to be Close to Each Other! and Communicating Freely! and then we are told we can work from home or use headphones and sometimes use a pod for actual discussions, and a lot of people travel a lot etc. – what was the point again?

        I know LW cannot just up and change the workplace set-up, but I really do wish companies thought this through.

  11. Cinnamon*

    When I was 18-21 and breaking into the creative industry I always said I didn’t want to work in a boring cubicle. Now with the prevalence of open plan offices and shared offices (I currently share one big closes office with 5 other people), I can’t wait to get my own damn cubicle.

    1. IT Department Relationship Manager*

      lol I think the “I never want to work in a cubicle” attitude comes from the idea that people want to be free and spontaneous but it just turns out that most people actually enjoy being able to go into their own hidey hole to get away from people lol.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        If I’m going to spend the majority of my waking hours somewhere, I want to be able to mildly decorate and bring in a small plant.

        1. Quill*

          I never want to share a cube again, or have to sit in one with my back to the door, because not having a wall at my back sets off my hypervigilance something fierce.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        After spending most of my career in open plan offices I sincerely miss the old IT department at one firm that was a lockable room in the basement. So quiet…

        1. Pennalynn Lott*

          Oooh… I once had a job where I was the Keeper of IT Things, and my office was a large, *locked*, storage room. It was lovely.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I now this feeling. Only it wasn’t “I don’t want a cube”, it was “I can’t work alone in my office all day long, I like some kind of social interaction, booooo being locked away in seclusion.”

      Then I got the taste of a shared office and I noped right back into my office the first chance I got.

      I like being accessible but not so accessible you can just holler at me. Then I don’t get any much needed peace to do my things that require an attention span. So yes, you must at least walk a few feet and poke your head in my door. At least I can close the door for phone calls or if I’m reading some kind of deadly long contract that requires my trustly highlighters of doom to follow along.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      Here’s the thing. When I started out in the 90’s in creative, even as a lowly graphic designer I HAD my own office! Or, at the very least, shared an office with another designer or art director.

      Now, I’m a director in marketing with many more responsibilities and degrees and I have to sit out in the open and hot-desk. You work so hard for so many years to move ahead, and having an office to oneself was a big part of that. IT SUCKS! Employees are being systematically being pushed backwards not forward. And it feels the same way with wages too!

      1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        I’m with ya. I was hired as an office manager and wound up stamping mail because companies don’t hire sufficient support staff anymore. They want my editorial expertise (and I don’t mean admin-level fixing the typos) even though there is no actual editor position at my office. Back when I was hired as an actual editor, I had an office or other private workspace in a quiet zone.

    4. Curmudgeon in California*

      Yep. Open plans make me nostalgic for cubicles. I need my own space and a wall to my back. I need to not see everyone moving around me and peeping at my monitor over my shoulder (I often deal with private data.)

  12. Homemade Bread*

    Let’s add sound proofing to that! My sister was leaving a doctor’s appointment yesterday and had a woman approach her in the parking lot to wish her a speedy recovery, listing A), B), and C) symptoms she overheard my sister discussing with her doctor in a private examination room at the clinic. The woman had listened to the entire visit through the wall of the neighboring room while waiting with her child. My sister was mortified. HIPAA violation much?

      1. Observer*

        It’s actually both.

        The person is rude and a nosy parker. But the doctor’s office has an obligation to insure that information is not exposed to nosy parkers. They clearly failed abysmally.

        1. Fikly*

          This. Accidentally overhearing is not a HIPAA violation, but facilities are obliged to do everything they can to prevent it. Having walls so thin and not soundproof that you can not only hear tone, but details of symptoms is a HIPAA violation.

          1. Oxford Comma*

            I have been to a lot of doctors lately. Almost all of them have very little soundproofing in their suites. I have heard people’s entire case histories. I have heard doctors and nurses talking about patients. I have heard doctors dictating notes of cases. And it’s not like I have my ear pressed up against a wall.

            There’s a lot to be said for thoughtful design and maybe picking better options instead of the cheapest ones.

            Bringing this back to the OP, you need to find some way to make this private.

      2. pentamom*

        It wasn’t a HIPAA violation on the part of intrusive woman, since private individuals acting privately are not bound by HIPAA. But the office was violating HIPAA by allowing the situation to exist where the woman could hear all the information she repeated.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Ugh. This reminds me of an old job where I shared a wall with the HR office. Our insulation wasn’t bad, but her voice CARRIED. Our shared wall had full filing cabinets and I could still hear almost everything she said. Top it off, she often didn’t shut her door when she should have, so got the pleasure of hearing people getting fired, crying, etc. despite my telling her that I could hear everything. I finally ended up shutting the door myself if it was a conversation I shouldn’t hear. Do not miss that office at all.

      1. Homemade Bread*

        This is good, or at least enough occupancy for a few people if an interpersonal conflict needs to be mediated.

  13. andy*

    > . There was one mishap where the manager allowed the terminated employee to return to his desk to collect some things, which ended in an awkward conversation with some of the folks at the desks surrounding his.

    Why is fired person exchanging few words with other people such a big problem? Seriously. You seriously dont allow fired people to even say “hello see you later” to others? I get fear of retaliation in IT system in some setups, but this whole “escort immediately dont even allow them to pack stuff by themselves” sounds quite alienating and hostile to everyone – including people who stay.

    At the risk of sounding rude, management (or anybody else) should not avoid “awkward conversation” so much, that they cease to treat employees with human basic respect.

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      Seriously, fired employees don’t just become Unperson when they’re let go. Let them collect their stuff and say goodbye or fire them at the very end of the workday (and still let them collect their own dang things!)

    2. Jean*

      Thank you. Is the possibility of an “awkward conversation” really that dire that it necessitates a perp walk? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I will not be leaving without my personal things. I do not trust anyone to go through/pack my stuff without losing or missing something. Hell no.

    3. Reality Check*

      Oh, agree. I was perp-walked out of an office once. There were budget cuts and they let a few of us go, so I didn’t take it personally. But still. Treated us like criminals, didn’t allow us to collect our things, etc. It was humiliating and the only thing missing were the handcuffs.

    4. Ask Me About My Cats*

      I think it really and truly depends on the situation. I had a coworker with extreme emotional problems who was also a habitual liar. I found out that she had been making public posts online (under her real name, with her workplace listed!!) about me, our president, VP, IT person, HR person, accountant, and even her own assistant. Some were threatening and she openly talked about want to slap and choke coworkers. She was let go, but was allowed to go unescorted by herself to collect her things (!!!). On the way she managed to tell multiple people she was fired because I had a personal vendetta against her and not to trust me. It became a whole thing and made my working life more difficult for a while after she left. She also stole a bunch of proprietary material and we had to get a lawyer involved. Our boss thought he was being kind, even though she lied, mocked, and threatened him and other coworkers online. His “kindness” towards her cost me my professional reputation with several coworkers for months.

      1. Pennalynn Lott*

        Sure, there will always be outliers and exceptions to any situation. But that doesn’t mean every single employee should be treated as though they are your crazy, vindictive, criminal, ex-coworker. The vast majority of people just want to get their things, say a few quick goodbyes, and get out with their dignity still intact.

    5. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Yeah, this is what bothered me the most.

      Who cares about an awkward conversation or two? And the conversation is going to happen eventually, via phone or social media if not in the office. I think the managers are embarrassed and ashamed that they had to fire someone, so this is about protecting their feelings not the feelings of the person being let go.

      Unless you’ve got reason to think that the person being let go could get violent or destructive, then there’s no reason to take this “Leper, unclean!” approach.

      1. LW*

        I mean, think about how it would feel to be fired, then have your coworker say “hey, can we put a meeting on the calendar to discuss that project” and you have to respond “no sorry, I was just fired.” That’s what happened in the aforementioned conversation, and it was very upsetting to the terminated person, who was then subjected to a bunch of questions.

        We’re mostly trying to be kind to people who are embarrassed or emotional and wouldn’t want to have to answer questions about what happened.

        1. Antilles*

          Of course, the flip argument of that is there are plenty of people who would prefer the opportunity to give a polite goodbye to the co-workers who they’ve spent hundreds or thousands of hours of life with.

        2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

          OK, understood. But if that’s the motivation, I think you could do that better by sending out a notice to everyone else while the termination is going on.

          1. Not Me*

            Imagine being fired and then walking out to a bullpen full of people who were given the privilege of hearing CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION about you at the same time you heard it, but behind your back. What a horrible idea.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          So why didn’t the person escorting the fired person put a stop to the questions?

          Or the fired person could be told to say, “You will have to check with the boss” as an answer to any question that might come up regarding the work itself.

          OR just put out a general email regarding a new standard operating procedure that if employees happened to see/know a person is being fired it is an act of kindness not to ask the fired person questions while they gather their things. You can go more strongly stated, “Do not ask the fired person any questions. It’s awkward, not productive and prolongs their process of leaving the building when all they really want to do is just leave.”

          1. LW*

            Long story short, the manager who had done the termination was VERY BAD at the whole process (and actually ended up being terminated for a myriad of reasons later on). This major fumble was what got my mental wheels turning on how to improve the process to minimize the trauma of an already unfortunate experience for everyone involved.

            1. PlainJane*

              It sounds like you have a lot of terminations in your workplace. All other issues aside, there might be a serious workplace culture problem here.

    6. TootsNYC*

      and if your company is known for being really fair and clear during PIPs, etc., it’s going to be easier for everyone to get past that awkward conversation.

  14. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

    What struck me as really crappy was the escorting out immediately without even a chance to get their personal items! Especially as these are mostly for performance issues, not something like theft or violence, where a case might be made for perp-walking them out. But if you’ve never had a reason to question their honesty, ethics, ability to control themselves and behave professionally, then your approach seems overly punitive. As for having someone else collect the items: are they going to remember the framed photo on the desk? The favorite pen? Personal correspondence? What about lawsuits when the fired employee says she had a valuable ring in her purse, or he had his month’s rent in cash in his wallet? And now it’s missing?

    1. veryanon*

      Veteran of many, many terminations here. I get what you’re saying, but unfortunately you can never trust that someone will remain professional enough to hold it together to pack up their own items. Or they may have so much stuff that it would be totally awkward to stand there and wait for them to pack up everything.

      What I do is have another manager on standby to get whatever they need immediately and bring it to where we we are meeting with the employee, and then ask the employee to give me a list of everything they have at their desks so we can pack it up later, when no one is around. You would not believe the amount of crap that some people keep at their desks. I had one employee who pretty much had an entire grocery store’s worth of snacks, a full manicure set, two (!) sets of hot rollers, and various other things. It took 4 large boxes to collect everything. Another guy had a full collection of Star Wars and other action figures, which again took about 4 large boxes to pack up.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I’ve seen companies send people back to their desks accompanied by someone–HR, security, manager…

        That seems preferrable. If there is way too much stuff, then the manager can say, “Let’s have you grab the most important things, and then you point out to me what’s left, and we’ll mail it to you.”

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        I was at one company for several years. When I was laid off, I packed up four boxes. Half of it was company schwag and my own spare clothes. Another guy I know had some awesome posters and a collection of legos.

        I actually have a bit of distrust of people who don’t have personal stuff at their desks. It’s creepy.

        1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

          The only personal thing I have at work is an old sweater that I don’t mind losing. I’ve seen too many people called into the manager’s office and then 10 minutes later they’re walking out the door with just their coat and purse. He took pleasure in firing people mid-shift even if it meant we were short-staffed for the rest of the day. Surprise, he has a very high turnover and no loyalty from his employees. Very happy not to be there anymore because 5 years later it’ still the same.

        2. 1234*

          I just checked. At my desk, I have:
          – 2 bags of nuts that have been opened
          – A bag of photo chips that are almost empty
          – 2 small bottles of hot sauce

          No framed photos, posters, etc.

          In the office kitchen, I have:
          – Collagen powder
          – One Keurig K-cup, just one
          – Some type of Mexican wrap thing, unopened
          – A half eaten bag of mini bread
          – A package of sandwich wraps with 2 remaining in the package

          I wouldn’t care deeply if I lost any of this stuff. Maybe the collagen powder and that’s because it was expensive.

    2. TootsNYC*

      Back int he Olden Days, my experience was that everyone who got laid off (not just fired for performance issues) was immediately escorted out of the building–security walked them back to their desk; their computer was locked while they were in the meeting; security checked what they put in their box; and they were walked out without any conversation being encouraged.

      Then I worked at a place that flipped that around, and it was SO NICE.
      Everyone knew the downsizing was coming. They laid people off in waves during the week. They called them in and said, “We are so sorry to have to lay you off. You know that we have money problems, and your position is one that we think we can do without. It’s not you, it’s your role.
      “We are really bummed about this–not as bummed as you, obviously, but we truly wish we didn’t have to do this. We are sad to lose you. We think you’re great, we’d hire you back in a flash if we ever had the money.
      “Your official last day is Friday. Today is Monday, and you can decide what you want to do between now and then. If you’re mad, you are free to leave now.
      “But if you’re willing, we’d be so grateful if you’d use the next few days to wrap up any projects you need to hand off, pass over any documents or whatever to your colleagues who are staying, and take some time to email your personal stuff, and pack up any extras you took from the employee auction or giveaway shelf.”

      The funny thing was, it was the most pleasant layoff I’ve ever seen. Probably 90% of the people stayed for at least a day, most of them 2 days, some of them almost the whole week.
      Those of us left behind were relieved to see our valued colleagues treated with respect.

      Even in the case of when someone is fired for not doing a good enough job, I think a similar tone could be struck.

      I also find it frustrating when nothing is said to the people who remain. I think there would be great value in people being told, while the firee is being told, “We’re going to be letting Fergus go; this has not been a good fit for him or us, and we’re going to part ways. We wish him well, and hope that he can find a place he can thrive. He’ll be coming back to get his stuff, and I want you all to help him with the awkwardness. Please take your cues from him about whether he would welcome any conversation.”
      Then just plan on there being an unproductive and awkward period when Fergus comes to pack his stuff.

      I mean, i guess Fergus might feel self-conscious, but

      1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

        My MegaCorp does layoffs that give people 60 days minimum. That gives them enough time to tie things off in the current role. They also get priority in hiring if there’s a suitable internal role.

  15. Nini*

    Honestly you need to let people go get their own things. Or someone needs to be boxing those up during the firing and have them ready to go as soon as you’re done with the meeting so there’s no delay. I was fired once (for having a disability but that’s a different story) and they wouldn’t let me go back to my desk for my purse, so I was forced to wait outside for someone to retrieve it before I could even get in my car, and then told to come back after the work day ended when someone would allow me back to my desk to retrieve my other things. I was pretty young, so I didn’t know to protest that treatment, but my mother came with me for that trip back and ripped into them for it.

    Letting people collect their things might make for awkward conversations in the short term as coworkers realize what’s going on, but it will end the relationship sooner and resolve things quicker.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I have this image in my head of Melanie Griffith in Working Girl with her file box in the elevator calling out the Signory Weaver character about her lying and her ‘bony ass’ HaHaHa!

  16. Archaeopteryx*

    This panopticon sounds like a nightmare… and keep in mind, nursing mothers’ designated lactation space cannot be a bathroom. But seriously, if I saw this office setup I would run for the hills. How do people focus?

    1. LW*

      LW here – we have a highly flexible WFH policy, three bookable conference rooms, and two soundproof, single-occupancy booths. Our onsite staff is also mostly sales and customer support/product onboarding, so people are very frequently traveling. For example, today, of our 22 current employees, 11 of us are in the office today. People also wear headphones with no objections from anyone else.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        That still doesn’t sound like a great set up for someone who needs to pump breast milk, unless those cubes are pretty roomy. Or if they can WFH every day for the number of months that they are pumping

        1. LW*

          I’ve mentioned to everyone who is really concerned about a lactation room that we do have a private (legally compliant) space available; it’s just single-occupancy and not at all appropriate for a meeting.

  17. Observer*

    Do your employers realize that they are almost certainly opening themselves to legal problems by creating an environment where it’s basically impossible to have ANY reasonable level of privacy.

    Also, if your staff includes non-exempt people you need to think about the possible need for some place for a woman to pump. It doesn’t have to be a space dedicated to that, but it DOES need to have a door that can be properly shut and is NOT a bathroom.

    1. LW*

      LW here – we don’t have any non-exempt employees. We do have two single-occupancy, soundproof booths. We haven’t have need for a lactation room, but we have a space that can be used, but is not suitable for meetings because it’s single occupancy.

      1. Observer*

        “We haven’t have need for a lactation room,” is not a really useful response to the issue, though. It’s good that you do have a suitable space, for sure. But this sounds like it’s never occurred to you that might actually need one because you’ve never needed it before. If I’m reading too much into it, I apologize.

        In any case, you still have a problem. Not having any place where you can have confidential meetings and where HR can have conversations while having access to their computers is just asking for trouble.

        1. LW*

          It has 100% occurred to me, especially because it is required by law, which is why we have a space. It’s just single occupancy, so inappropriate for a termination conversation.

          Our conference rooms can be used for confidential conversations, it’s just that people can see who is in them meetings. And we work on laptops, so we always have access to our computers.

          1. Observer*

            If people can see it, it’s not confidential. And standard (even tempered) glass walls does almost nothing to cut down on how sound travels. This is NOT the place for a confidential conversation.

            Given how small these booths sound, how is someone supposed to work in there? I hope they are not having those conversations in the glass walled conference room that lots of people can almost certainly hear.

      2. 2 Cents*

        I’m hoping it has a plug and a lock on the door (or can have one installed <—ask me how many times I’ve been walked in on!)

        1. LW*

          It has both of those things! In fact, it doesn’t even have a handle on the outside of the door, and must be opened with a key, to avoid this very issue. It also a small table and a chair.

      3. PolicyWonk*

        A soundproof booth may not be sufficient for lactation, or it could be sufficient (has an outlet, enough room to maneuver) but super terrible (doesn’t have a sink, has a phone booth like bench). I know it’s not an issue now, but certainly worth thinking about.

        1. LW*

          The booths are separate from the space that can be used for lactation, which is a lockable room with no glass at all (like a closet, but big enough for a table and chair, and with outlets). There’s no sink, but there’s unfortunately not a lot we can do about that in this location. There is a sink 30 or so feet outside the room.

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            Ahhhh! I was totally confused earlier. I thought you were saying that the soundproof booths could be lactation rooms and didn’t realize there was a separate space that could be used for lactation in addition to the booths.

  18. Goldenrod*

    The absolute worst firing I ever heard about happened at my last, very toxic office. The person being fired had 2 office mates. Our horrible manager emailed the 2 office mates seriously like FIVE MINUTES beforehand to say, “Get away from your desks! NOW! You need to not be in the office for 10 minutes”…..a needlessly alarming email that they didn’t even receive in time.

    So now the poor fired employee – a perfectly nice lady who just didn’t have the required skills – is packing up her things with the shitty manager standing over here like a prison guard. She was so humiliated. After she left, the manager RIPPED her nametag off her cubicle and my friend (one of the officemates) started crying – and the manager YELLED AT HER, saying, “Why are you crying? This doesn’t have anything to do with you!”


    1. TootsNYC*

      it is hard on the “survivors” when someone is fired, even if they know it was fair and are a little relieved they are gone.
      And it’s hard on the survivors when there are layoff.

    2. Going anon*

      I have heard some bad stories and I have seen some things:

      – the perp walks
      – security guards forcing women to open their purses to be searched. One even dumped everything out on a table one at a time (they were doing layoffs so it wasn’t like she was terminated for cause).
      – people who never got their stuff back
      – people who weren’t even allowed to take a framed photo of their family
      – people whose stuff was broken because whoever was packing it was careless
      – someone up thread questioned why someone would not be given their coat, well, I’ve seen that happen too.

      I understand that in some situations, you have to be very careful, but maybe start from a position of let’s give the person you are letting go some semblance of dignity.

      These are the same kinds of employers who talk about how much they value loyalty.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        I’m starting to think “we value loyalty” is the same kind of red flag as “we’re a family.”

    3. Who Plays Backgammon?*

      And this guy was the one who still had his job? Yep–there are lots of rummy managers out there.

  19. blink14*

    Ooof, this is bad. My last office space at my job was a cube farm, with 4 private offices, a huge kitchen, and one solitary, glass walled conference room. There was ZERO privacy, it was difficult making a personal phone call, much less anything else. We were with a larger department, and that department let several people go during the time we were in the space. The vibe was so bad in that space from all the negative feelings going around. The director of that department planned goodbye parties, which was even more awkward, because everyone knew 2 people specifically had been fired. So they had to come in, put a smile on, and listen to a BS speech about their contributions. 1 firing was legit and not handled well, 1 was very controversial and very inappropriately handled.

    My employer started to take over other floors in that building, and fortunately the newer spaces at least came with small private meeting rooms and phone rooms for privacy. Even in my current space now I have to run out to make phone calls, but it’s at least configured in a less open way.

  20. AndersonDarling*

    On the flip side of this, I had to quit in an open office space. I was working from home and called my boss, who was sitting in the middle of the open office, and let her know I found a new job. She was blindsided and I understand that she didn’t take it well. She wasn’t able to ask me any follow up questions because…open office space…she didn’t want everyone to hear what was happening on her call.
    I had a good relationship with my boss, but I’m not really sure I could get a good reference from her because the resignation call tainted her memory of me.

    1. Lurker*

      That might have been a situation where you emailed you boss and asked her to call you when she had time for a sensitive conversation. She may have surmised what the call would be about, but at least she could have mentally prepared and possibly called from a more private location.

  21. Just no*

    LW, what would your company do for a nursing mother? Would it be legally compliant? This sounds so messy and uncomfortable for so many reasons.

  22. Bopper*

    We have an open office but also plenty of “telephone booths”, mini meeting rooms and conference rooms.

  23. veryanon*

    Ugh. I work in HR and every place I’ve worked had open cubicles. It’s…less than ideal. For confidential conversations, I have to either reserve a conference room (always an interesting feat) or hope that one of the walk-in spaces will be available. We’ve requested a semi-private space, to no avail.
    When I have to terminate someone, I always, always arrange to do it in the conference room next to security in the lobby. Which means that I can exit them with a minimum of disruption, but unfortunately this conference room has gotten something of a reputation.
    We don’t allow the employee to go back to their workspace, but have another manager on standby to collect whatever personal items they’ll need immediately (keys, purse, etc.). We then pack up and ship anything else. Early in my career, I got burned once when someone basically ran away from me as I was escorting her out of the building and screamed “I JUST GOT FIRED!!!!!” at the top of her lungs. Everyone within ear shot came rushing out to see what was going on. It was horrible.

    1. Roscoe*

      I mean, they got fired. Do you believe you shouldn’t allow them to tell people that? You feel the need to “control the narrative” that much that saying “I just got fired”, which is a true statement, was you getting burned. It was horrible? Yeah, well you still had a job after that. I’m sure it was worse for the person you fired

      1. veryanon*

        It was horrible for everyone. She was fired for cause, but I couldn’t explain that to the multiple people milling around, obviously.

      2. SimplyTheBest*

        I’m sorry, did you completely miss the “screaming at the top of her lungs” bit? That’s a huge difference from someone calmly letting people around them know they got fired.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yikes! Yeah that is horrible. But in the end I have always told myself that those who do act out when they’re fired in that kind of way are just wounded and in reality, they’re just embarrassing themselves. So I get that secondhand embarrassment going on of “oh dear, that was a sad reaction to have…”

      Most dramatic was the ones who would get their termination and then run out of the place with their middle fingers raised at everyone. It is it what it is, they’re blowing off their steam.

      I’ve seen someone try to knock something over on the way out and then it pitifully didn’t work out the way they envisioned. It’s a real “Okay that happened” moment.

      But then again, I had one guy disappear and just ghost us suddenly. Only to show up a few weeks later looking for his paycheck. No biggie, right? Except he was spuuuuuuuun out on the drugs. So yeah. I am pretty unshakeable.

      The bystanders usually just “Get it” and move on. Or they chatter among themselves like “That was a colorful exit, goodbye to that.”

      1. LabTechNoMore*

        Most dramatic was the ones who would get their termination and then run out of the place with their middle fingers raised at everyone.

        And to be fair, who hasn’t fantasized about doing exactly this.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I see stuff like that and that is exactly what I think of, “They are livin’ the dream.”
          If the worst thing a person does is flip a finger, my day will go on.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            That kind of thing just makes me think of the “spectacular resignations” thread, one of my favorite ever on AAM. Quitting in fish!

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I mean it’s only recently that I didn’t work with a bunch of people who will flip you off even if they’re not being fired. But again…rough crowd LOL.

          So these antics are filed under “LOL bye Fred, have fun in your next job, hope you last longer there!”

  24. Roscoe*

    Can I also suggest not having their manager escorting them out unless you REALLY have reason to believe they will do something. If they have an “awkward” conversation with their co-workers, well that should be their choice. You did fire them in the middle of the day. If they want to tell people that they were just let go, I think that is fair. But giving them the perp walk is taking away any dignity they had left after being fired.

    I was laid off a couple of months ago (I know, not the same), but at least they gave me the right to gather my things and leave on my own without acting like I was going to burn the place down.

    I’ve been at jobs when I witnessed a manager or HR person walk someone to their desk, stand their while they tearfully packed up, and escorted them out. Lets just say that while I fully believe the person deserved to be fired, my opinion of the “escort” was changed the most. It was heartless and unnecssary, because EVERYONE knew what just went down. She may have been able to quietly do it on her own. But having someone hover over them made it just awkward for everyone around

    1. LW*

      It’s interesting to see everyone assume that this was in the middle of the day. Typically, it’s first thing in the morning or last thing at night.

      1. Roscoe*

        My point about middle of the day is that there were clearly people around since you are so concerned about an “awkward” encounter. Either way, I still don’t think, unless you have serious concerns, that you need to escort someone out.

      2. Quill*

        I have only ever been laid off or fired in the middle of the day if I wasn’t told at like, 6pm via an email or called with “don’t come in monday” on a weekend, and then had to figure out how to get my jacket back…

    2. Goldenrod*

      “You did fire them in the middle of the day. If they want to tell people that they were just let go, I think that is fair. But giving them the perp walk is taking away any dignity they had left after being fired.”

      YES to this!! If the person has a history of being erratic or inappropriate, fine, don’t give them that option. But anyone else – don’t treat them like a criminal, that is just adding insult to injury.

  25. writerboy*

    I pity the person who would have to pack up MY workspace. That would be their morning gone right there.

    1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

      When I was put on a PIP and knew that I’d be resigning before the PIP ended, I slowly started taking home all my personal effects. That way, I could be out the door in minutes if I wanted.

      1. A reader*

        I was laid off from my last job. I had survived one round of layoffs, but as I was still one of the newest employees, I had a feeling my name would be on the next round of layoffs. I knew for a while that Things Were NOT OK at this company, so I did the same thing and slowly started clearing off my desk. I think I walked out of that place with my purse, keys and mug. This was in an open office plan, and after seeing how humiliating it was for the people in the first round of layoffs, I decided I should preserve some dignity by clearing off my desk well in advance.

        Now I’m in a job I love and I just can’t bring myself to decorate it with anything. I don’t have pictures, a plant, anything.

        1. Quill*

          I always check my cube or desk for anything remotely personal when I start a contract job.

          If there’s stuff left behind that seems possibly personal but disposable (breathmints, a non company branded mug, fancy pens,) I know how the company handles ending a contract – with pretty much no notice.

  26. SuckyTiming*

    At one company, I came in half an hour to an hour earlier than everyone else on my team (except my manager, who came in at the same time). They waited until I’d already been at work for an hour and a half (and everyone else had already arrived) to pull me into a room and tell me I was getting laid off. I was escorted to go to my desk to get my backpack and jacket, then escorted to the bathroom (I had a long drive home), and then escorted to the exit.

    The meeting literally took five minutes. I don’t understand why they couldn’t have just told me before everyone else got to work and given me some time to pack my stuff.

  27. zoe*

    Alison, I wanted to let you know that “nursing parent” is a more inclusive term than “nursing mother” and one that I encourage anyone wanting to be inclusive to use. This is because somebody may be nursing, but may not identify as a mother (e.g. a transman). Thanks!

      1. Mockingjay*

        It’s wonderful to see so many readers’ concern about private accommodations for nursing parents. We’ve come a long way.

        In the early 90s I had to use a bathroom stall to pump. (Yes, cleanliness was a major concern. I got proficient at touching as few surfaces as possible in a confined space.)

    1. Not Me*

      If you want to be truly inclusive you’d simply call it a “lactation room” or “wellness room”. Not all people take a baby home from the hospital after giving birth, but that doesn’t necessarily stop lactation from happening.

      1. zoe*

        Sure, that makes sense to call the room a “lactation” or “wellness room.” But Alison was referring to a person, not a space, which is why I gave a suggestion for a term referring to a person. Perhaps “lactating person” fits.

  28. LW*

    Letter writer here – perhaps I should have clarified a few things:

    – We do have two single-occupancy, soundproof booths for private conversations.
    – We are an office of mostly sales and customer support/product onboarding staff. At any given time, up to 50-60% of our staff may be traveling/offsite.
    – We do have a space that can be used as a lactation room, but it is again, single occupancy (and would be very, very weird for anyone to have a meeting in, as it is frequently kept locked).
    – It’s very common to use headphones in our office.
    – We have an enormously flexible WFH policy.

    Altogether, there’s a lot of handwringing being done about the ability to focus that’s really out of proportion. I’m in the office now, and only 11 of our 22 current staff are in today, and at this very moment, literally no one is speaking. We’re fine.

    Also, we don’t “perp-walk” anyone out, unless there is a credible reason to believe they would be violent, abusive, or an information security threat. We do try to have terminations in the early morning or late evening, but those hours are out of the norm for us, and it does run the risk of becoming one of those patterns that Alison mentioned. In fact, we once asked the direct report of someone we were terminating to come in early so we could notify them that we were terminating their manager and discuss continuity, and that direct report panicked because they thought they were being fired. We also tend not to have a lot of personal items on our desks, and we don’t have much personal storage (think tables vs. desks with drawers), so usually the remaining personal items are a framed photo, maybe a coffee mug or reusable water bottle. It’s typically pretty limited.

    It does seem like there’s a camp of people who would prefer not having to see anyone after they’re let go and a camp of people who would want to say goodbyes. We tend to err on the side of the former (especially because these days, people have means to contact anyone they’d want to say goodbye to), and we do try to be really sensitive. As I mentioned in another comment, we do offer a cab home and the contact information for our company-sponsored EAP.

    I am appreciative of the feedback and perspectives, and I’ve already started looking into permanent frosting or something similar for our conference room walls (which is mildly complicated by the fact that we sublease our office space and would need approval from our sublandlord for that kind of alteration).

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Your letter states that they’re “escorted by their manager”, therefore it’s being read as being a perp-walk.

      You sound pretty defensive with this comment. I don’t know what you expected from an advice column with commentary attached…but accusing us of “hand-wringing” while acting like we should have known these details is kind of extra?

      1. Roscoe*

        Yep, I got that defensive tone too.

        She seems to be taking offense to the term perp walk, but prefers the euphemism “escorted out by their manager”. Its the same damn thing. And we aren’t getting it out of nowhere. She included in her letter and mentioned and awkward encounter because someone dared to tell people what just went down.

        1. LW*

          It’s actually that the terminated person was upset by the situation, not that they “dared to tell people what just went down”

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Oh. They dared to be upset about a humiliating personal loss that also involves permanent damage to their career, loss of their income, and possibly loss of their medical insurance. Horrors.

            1. LW*

              My point is that we’re trying to minimize the humiliation factor, as in this particular example, where the person that was terminated was subjected to questions by people around them that really upset them. Yes, a termination is not great for the person being terminated, but I am trying to mitigate the trauma as best I can in my current circumstances, while also balancing our information security requirements and business needs. We’re never delighting in firing anyone.

      2. LW*

        I think the phrase “perp-walk” seems to imply that security comes to remove the individual in a brusque manner, which isn’t what happens.

        I certainly wasn’t expecting anyone to know those details, but people’s ability to focus in the office environment that I didn’t select or set up wasn’t the focus of the question, but there’s a lot of harping on it. I’m aware that a lot of people don’t like open plan offices, and it’s not ideal for some people’s abilities to focus, but I was seeking advice about best and kindest practices in the space that exists.

      3. SimplyTheBest*

        This doesn’t sound defensive at all to me, just a clarification from someone who had to answer the same question about where lactating mothers are expected to go like eight times.

      4. Malty*

        Hey I respect you The Man but I just read this through twice and it really doesn’t come across as defensive. LW’s been kind enough to provide us with lots of extra context while people repeat the same questions/info so they’re just summing up here. The comment about hand-wringing is in response to people talking about employees ability to focus which I think it’s great we all care about, but in fairness LW wrote in for help with one specific problem and got a bunch of comments about a different aspect of their job and it must feel like a lot so it’s totally fair to allay some concerns and sum up in one comment to stem the flood!

    2. Observer*

      Curtains are your friend. You can put up a curtain rod without involving your landlord.

      And make sure that your conference room is connected to your network. This way if someone (most likely HR) needs to have a private conversation while accessing your system (more common than people realize), that can happen. If I’m calling my HR person to find out how much leave I have, and how to apply for FMLA, for example, the HR person needs access so they can answer the question(s) and send me any required forms, but I don’t want the whole world to hear about the problem(s) I’m having.

      In other words, it is not just about firing people.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yep. I used some on a bathroom window of a former apartment. It was cheap and easy to do. I had found a pattern of frost squares but someone else used contact paper on another window and they had found a pattern that looked like stained glass windows.

    3. Observer*

      We tend to err on the side of the former (especially because these days, people have means to contact anyone they’d want to say goodbye to), and we do try to be really sensitive.

      Why not give people the option. And if someone has the audacity to actually TELL people that they were fired, and even sounds mad, so be it. If you really are being sensitive and you’ve been doing your homework, it’s not going to do any harm. Everyone will survive a bit of awkwardness.

      1. andy*

        There are sort of managers that hate when factual state of things is said out loud. It is inevitable that everyone knows someone was fired (where else that person disappears and someone is going to be friend enough to call) and it is not hard to guess that fired person is not happy about it. But God forbid any of this would be said out loud.

        I really don’t believe it is about sensitivity and I think that all employees knows this has nothing to do with sensibility.

        But also, I bet they all talk about it in depth the moment management leaves the room. And they all have opinions on the reasons and their correctness. They would talked about it either way of course, but preventing people to talk with anyone does not stop it.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          This is what I have usually picked up, “Don’t say it out loud” in the context of management knows it was a bad call to fire the person. Unfortunately, the places I have worked that had the highest lockdown on discussing firings were also the places that had the worst and longest discussions on firings. The grapevine was like a baseball bat to management’s knees, it did a real number on the leadership.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Yep. The more secretive management is (about firings, layoffs, or anything else) the more active the rumor mill becomes. It’s like the Streisand Effect on a smaller scale.

    4. zora*

      The frosting on windows is just a vinyl decal, and it’s 100% removable. I’ve had it in multiple offices, and even had it installed in one. It’s a totally temporary and pretty cheap option, so you should be able to do that without a ton of trouble with your landlord

    5. Malty*

      Hey LW, you’re doing great. The frosting is a good idea and also firing people sounds like it sucks and I could not do what you do. Good on you for seeking info on this and looking for ways to make a crappy time in someones life a little less crappy

    6. PlainJane*

      Has it occurred to you to just *ask*? “We do need you to go home now. Would you like to say goodbye to your coworkers and gather your things, or would you prefer to have us mail your personals?” How hard is that?

  29. european*

    Here, only big American companies tend to fire like people describe here – locked out immediate out of everything walk away. Then the person collects salary while doing nothing at home, because unless you are fired for specific massive cause (listed in law).

    Non american companies tell people about firing then then normally let them work for time after. The people are less motivated and agreement about leaving sooner can be made, but of course those people then get less money.

    Mostly writing this out, because I feel a bit in crazy town with standard in comments being “leaving immediately”.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      The person does not collect salary while doing nothing at home! It’s called unemployment insurance, and in many states there is a tax paid. Plus, it is not ANYWHERE near close to your salary. It may only be in the range of $800-$1500 a month (varies, depending on salary in last quarter). Not to mention, you lose your healthcare insurance coverage immediately. I find that is the biggest thing most Europeans don’t get about working in America. Losing healthcare coverage means if you are sick or get sick or injured, you basically cannot get treatment or medication because you cannot pay for it. It’s a very scary prospect for most workers!

      Sometimes though you do get to work longer. Some companies give 30-90 days notice of layoffs.
      But yeah, firings for inability to do the job well (or because the boss doesn’t like you–really any reason) usually mean you leave immediately.

      1. European*

        Nope, it is salary. Because employer can’t fire them on spot without strong cause – alcohol at workplace, not showing up two days, violence or some other similar documented things. With low performance etc, they fire you and you are still employee for sometime.

        So, what those corporations do is to fire them, keep them as emplyees for formal reasons, but pay legal amount of salary why they prevent that person from working. Unemployment checks comes after.

        American company working in Europe is subject to local laws. So the usual protections apply.

        From what I can tell anecdotally, the abrupt way of firing generates more stirr and gossips and likely exaggerated stories that are passed around.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It’s called “Garden Leave” from what I’ve heard around here for European countries.

        They aren’t getting our traditional unemployment insurance! They’re getting paid in full but are on the bench essentially until their contract is out. It’s not reduced.

  30. Granny K*

    For goodness sakes, get an office with WALLS!

    When I had a 1:1 with my manager some years ago and had to tell him my father got the diagnosis for pancreatic cancer and I didn’t know how quickly it was going to go (doctor’s appointments, rate of decline, etc.) and totally. Broke. Down. Crying. I had even rehearsed it and everything. Thank goodness he had an office with walls (as well as being a cool manager who handed me tissues and waited for me to compose myself). If I had to have that conversation in a glass-walled office I would have probably just left for the day. Eeesh!

  31. never want to see another open office ever again*

    This same exact thing happened to me at my last job (I’m HR) and is among MANY reasons that I HATE, HATE, HATE open office spaces. No soundproofing, footsteps sounded like gunshots, nobody was allowed to speak or take calls at their desk (!!!!!) so everyone worked remotely or from their car unless they had work they could do in silence or over gchat. We did have meeting rooms but they were always occupied. Often the CEO would steal the room people had booked and we’d end up having a meeting with three people in a (non-sound-proofed) phone booth or the storage closet. I get really het up when I think about this. I left for 8 trillion other reasons (psychologically abusive employer) but when I looked for my next job, the first thing I asked about was whether they had an open office. If I knew in advance they had an open office, I wouldn’t even apply. And that is going to be a lifelong policy for me. Open offices are also terribly unhealthy for introverts. I refuse to spend another day thinking “Man, I can’t wait until no one can see me so I can finally get something done.”

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      I agree with you. I am a computer sysadmin and an introvert. I’ve lost count of how many time I’m trying to debug a complex problem and have my whole mental map of the thing go “poof” because of interruptions and noise.

    2. Sleve McDichael*

      Oh my goodness, somebody else with the ‘people can see me so I can’t get any work done’ problem! I thought I was the only one! The 10 months I spent working next to a doorway on the end of somebody else’s desk was an absolute nightmare.

  32. Ocean*

    I have back pain issues and home issues that sometimes trigger anxiety attacks. At the old building I used to find a rarely used office to stretch on the floor or mediate (and occasionally cry). With the new open office plan it’s much harder to hide this. A Headset so I look like I’m on the phone and some strategically stacked file boxes help. But still, I recommend some private spots for any office.

    1. James*

      I’ve used the privacy room at my office (a cube farm, not quite open office) to collapse due to a migraine a few times. I had taken medication, but the headache came on faster than I expected.

      Medication takes a while to kick in, and someone with a chronic problem sometimes needs a place to collapse until the medicine starts to work. Folks with ANY chronic illness will appreciate it!

  33. namelesscommentator*

    We have an open plan with private conference rooms, so we have a few more resources for privacy, but still face the desk-stuff clear out issue. Firings happen at the end of the day when few people are here. The firee is called into a meeting in the most remote conference room while a VP discreetly asks the rest of the staff to head out. We all know what’s happening but we’re going to find out when the email is sent the next morning anyways, and it affords somebody going through a horrific thing some privacy and compassion.

    You need to get a conference room with some real privacy, or look into private office rentals. My last job had a building conference room for rent for $30/hour where we held external meetings or HR conversations, or even logged into webinars from. How do employees resign under the current system? Disclose health/pregnancy/family changes that will impact their work? Discuss PTO plans? Negotiate salary?

    Breather provides affordable conference room rentals if creating a private space at your existing office is truly a non-starter, but I’m struggling to understand how a healthy workplace would function without access to a private space for these conversations.

  34. true*

    I was laid off in an open plan office, and I think they might have done it wrong…Yes, I was taken into a closed conference room, on a different floor from the rest of my team when I was told, but it was only 4:30 pm and after the “meeting” was done, my boss just let me go back up to my desk by myself and gave me until 6 (our usual end time) to clean my desk up. I didn’t have very much to pack, so I spent the final hour of the day giving my team members hand written thank you notes, informing them myself I had been laid off. In the meeting my boss said everyone was being informed that I was leaving at that very moment, then when I went back upstairs no one had a clue and people were even asking me to finish work for them! After I finished with notes and exchanging personal emails/phone numbers with a couple people, I started loud phone calls with friends and family informing them I had just been laid off for unclear reasons. Not my most mature moment, but I felt all my cubicle neighbors should know they could also be let go at any moment. Also, since no one was watching me collect my items and they were specific about cleaning out the whole desk without telling me who would be taking over my work, I took a bunch of the office supplies (pens, tape, legal pads etc.) that I used company money to buy and threw out a bunch of receipts (bulk of my job was expense reconciliation) that only existed in paper form. See if my position is redundant now.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      With layoffs it’s often done this way but some of your reaction [destroying documents] is why some places steer away from it.

      There are times when layoffs are announced with more heads up than a few hours even. We let someone go and gave them a couple weeks to wrap up given their position. But the reason was indeed that we were absorbing their position because of massive cash issues that weren’t kept secret. And yes, it did strike fear into the hears of everyone else [rightfully so, they were next on the chopping block.]

      This isn’t me chastising you given the fact I’ve quit and done some petty ass shit in my life! Just a casual note that it’s a real life example in front of us!

    2. Rebekah*

      Thanks for this real life illustration of why we should always perp-walk the fired person straight out the door. There are so many posts above saying not to, because people are reasonable and decent and won’t do anything wrong. It’s good to see that simply isn’t true.

      1. LabTechNoMore*

        For what it’s worth, there are plenty of comments on this page about people who had their belongings stolen/damaged/tossed by the company in the process of being fired and not being allowed access to their desk. But, for some reason, when the company takes an individual’s possessions it isn’t considered theft. It goes both ways.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          This. I don’t discard work papers or steal data. But people have stolen my stuff (people would literally start scavenging the laid off person’s desk before it could be packed up.)

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Oh no, they took some office supplies. And receipts are replaceable, I literally have to get copies of receipts all the time, it’s really not that big of a deal.

        This kind of petty stuff happens without firing someone. I guess it’s also reason to set up security cameras and trust nobody because yeah, people behave poorly sometimes. That’s the business of working with humans.

      3. true*

        I mean, from my perspective, they laid me off because they didn’t need to have my position any more– if the work I threw out with the rest of the garbage at my desk was essential, why get rid of the only person doing that work? I left a nice clean desk for the next person!

  35. Nicole*

    I get letting the person go to their desk is awkward, but it also seems like the kind thing to do. I’ve seen that done at other offices. The team will find out anyway – you can’t just pretend it didn’t happen. So offer the person the chance to go to their desk, or offer them to let someone else do it if they would prefer. You can have someone come along to play interference, but unless you think there is truly a risk, I would let them go back to their desk.

  36. Leela*

    OP Please let them get their things and just have it be awkward. Firings are awkward. Have one of you there if you think it’s best. I was once let go from a company and they wouldn’t let me return to collect my things (they sent someone to grab my purse, without asking me, after they’d brought me into the room to fire me, but I wasn’t allowed to go get anything off of my desk). They told me to come back the next day and collect it which I was really upset about because it wasn’t close to home and they weren’t paying me for the time to go all the way out there. When I did show up, they had only collected less than 1/4 of my things, they hadn’t even put the picture of me and my husband in the bag for me, and they wouldn’t let me go back to my desk to get it because “awkward”. I ended up having to come back three times in total, the end of which I STILL didn’t have all of my stuff (they’d thrown away some flashcards I’d made as I was studying a language and a few other things). I would have definitely taken legal action if I’d had the wherewithal but I was drowning in medical debt and couldn’t really afford to come back at them properly.

    I’d also be really wary of you if I was an employee who saw that other people weren’t allowed to get their things, it sends a message that you don’t respect the employees or their property and I’d definitely factor that in if I came across an interesting offer or was open to leaving already.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I found that really odd too. And I can relate to your experience. When I was let go from a former job I was able to go to my desk and get my stuff, but of course, I had 3 years’ worth of items. My own binders & notebooks, special things I had been given by co-workers, etc. I couldn’t take it all with me. They pack up your desk and ship it to you. But they didn’t wrap anything so I had broken mugs and other stuff.
      I can understand that they might not want someone damaging company property in retaliation, or taking privileged data (thumb drives, sending files to themselves, stealing customer info) but they should at least get their own coat and purse.
      And I just thought, what if the person who gets the coat and wallet steals something? Or forgets something. I have asthma and at one point I only have 1 inhaler. I don’t need to keep it on my body at all times, but I would take it to work and back home, when I run errands, etc. If i was in this situation I could very easily have used the inhaler in the morning, then put it in my desk drawer so that it was easily available for the rest of the day. If I got fired in the middle of the day and all I was given was a purse and coat I would be without my inhaler. And I might not think about checking if they put it in the bag after just being fired.
      OP if you have ANY power please change this. Have someone escort the ex-employee to their desk to make sure everything they take is theirs. This should also stop anyone asking questions at the moment.

  37. I'm just here for the cats*

    I can’t imagine having an HR not have a private office, or at least a small private meeting room. There are so many things in HR that need to be confidential. Can you imagine being a person who needs to set up FMLA? Or complain about sexual harassment. I think it would make HR seem like something you can’t go to.
    And of course, at least one person is going to overhear, especially if there are no dividers between desks. So now Jane just heard that Debby has complained about Fergus and the rumor mill gets it to Fergus before HR can do anything!

    Please talk with management and get some blinds for the office, but you will need to use blinds at different times, not just for firing. It may be better to make the glass into privacy glass. There are these window film that makes the glass look frosted. It’s like giant rolls of window cling. That would be a quick and relatively inexpensive way to fix this issue.

    Plus I would suggest that you look into portioning off a corner of the office so that you can put dividers up to have a secluded space.

    1. LW*

      It is worth noting that I’m a lower level administrator, and our head of HR, based at another location, is reachable via phone/video chat for anyone who needs. I’ve had meetings like that in conference rooms (where we can be seen but not heard), and I’m definitely already working on window clings or frosting or some such for our conference rooms, as long as we get the ok from our sublandlord.

  38. Blue Dog*

    We had an HR Manager who tended to dress in very feminine floral dresses. I am not sure if she thought it made her more approachable or this was just her personal style. However, for some reason, she apparently came to the belief that if she was forced to terminate people, she had to look “professional” and always wore a blue suit. These “signs” were not lost on people, especially over time.

    Fast forward three years and if she made a surprise stop by a regional office or told someone she needed to speak with them, the first question would be “What was she wearing?”

    1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      ”Sansa, we just saw Cersei leave the floor and she’s in the Blue Suit of Doom. Run!”

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is also reminding me of the story about the HR person dressed up on Halloween who had to fire someone dressed as a mummy or some crazy thing. At least you wouldn’t see that one coming but yeah…the weird things people do that signal their intent is interesting.

      I do wear nicer stuff when I have outside meetings, all it means is “stranger danger” to anyone in the office, lol. Damn to dress in a suit just to fire someone, my bosses would need to keep one in their office for that since it’s not regularly planned that far in advance.

  39. WearingManyHats*

    Just a kind of hilarious story where the company I worked for had scheduled a very contentious department layoff. The folks were understandably upset, but professionals, so we had them pack up their items while the CEO and I (HR) had a meeting with our very small office to let them know. In the middle of this meeting, the building held a surprise fire drill! I had to escort everyone out of the building, where we stood around in the most awkward way possible while people tried to have small talk with the termed employees and then I escorted them back to their desks when we were allowed back in the building.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “In the middle of this meeting, the building held a surprise fire drill! I had to escort everyone out of the building, where we stood around in the most awkward way possible”

      :D HAHAHHA! Soooo awkward.

  40. Fired Temp*

    I was a temp at a place for about 7 months in an open office. It was a terrible job and I did horrible, I don’t contest that, but they strung me along telling me I had a “future” there but only kept me long enough to help during a difficult transition, then once they hired more help they “fired” me, and because I was a temp they didn’t need any reason or documentation (which there wasn’t any). They told me in a private office but then my manager did security while I cleaned out my desk in front of the entire team I had been working with, asked me to hand my access key, then escorted me out of the building. One person there I worked well with even saw me being escorted and she first tried to chit-chat with me for a second then realized what was going on and then just walked away. I am someone who has been a high performer in my entire career, and this was the most traumatizing work experience I’ve ever had. I did get revenge in that I got a better job suited for my skills afterwords with better pay, but I permanently hold a grudge to that company. The building is near a bus stop I regularly take to work so I frequent the coffee shop inside and I’ve seen some of my old co-workers there from time to time, but I haven’t run into my former managers who I have a shade-laden rehearsed speech for… (patters fingers together evilly).

    1. Goldenrod*

      “One person there I worked well with even saw me being escorted and she first tried to chit-chat with me for a second then realized what was going on and then just walked away”

      What a horrid person.

      1. Fired Temp*

        I think it just really caught her off guard and she didn’t know how to handle that situation, as this company just moved into an open office from a traditional office, and she was a founding member of the company. She really wasn’t an awful person. When I first started I was actually in a cubicle near her office in the old building and we got along really well together, and because management was playing me as a “a great new hire to help out” to people in public I think she was really shocked that I was fired.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I frigging hate this kind of behavior, I’ve seen it a few times over the years. “Oh Jimmy stinks at the job but we need /someone/ to do that even if they’re on perma-struggle street. Nope can’t cut them loose /yet/, let’s just drag this out some more for our own shitty benefit.”

      Yes it’s business in some ways but it’s edging towards some cutthroat nonsense.

      My partner had this happen a few jobs back, they kept talking about the future and preparing for these future things that were in the stars. Then they callously just said get out once they were over the busy season or whatever it was. It reminds me of the story the other day with the person grinding an axe towards someone who quit without notice during the busy season. They’re mad…but I bet they would fire someone when they’re of no use to them anymore, so why can’t we quit when the job is of no use for us, you know? [And I’ve quit during a busy season before, I apologize for nothing, they did it to themselves.] “It’s just business” ;)

  41. Alli525*

    At my old job, all applicants for admin roles were interviewed in our fishbowl conference room, which was directly across the hall from the office’s only entrance AND the midway point between the two halves of our office. The problem is that the only people who ever interviewed for those roles were women in their 20s – 90% of our non-admin employees were men – so any time a woman in her 20s was seen sitting in that room, every admin started panicking and/or gossiping about who was getting fired. It was awful and we brought it up several times with the C-level, but I think it’s probably still unresolved.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      If they claim it’s been mailed, then you’d have to hope they sent it with insurance so you could claim it with the postal service. Otherwise there’s small claims court…

      It’s depends on the jurisdiction really. But usually it’s deemed that it’s “at your own risk” to take your stuff to a place you may be asked to leave immediately at any time from.

    2. boop the first*

      I was so weirded out by that sentence, heh. I didn’t realize they meant the items were collected FOR THEM, I initially thought in horror that coworkers were stealing the items before they got there.

  42. Goldenrod*

    On this topic, may I recommend a movie to this group (for those who haven’t seen it)? “Up In the Air” with George Clooney, Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga. It’s about people whose jobs it is to fly all over the country, basically just so that they can fire people in person at failing tech companies. It’s such a poignant, funny, interesting movie (about firing and being fired, among other things.)

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I feel like we should petition Alison for a community “Watch A Long” of this movie, I haven’t seen it in ages and totally forgot what it was about.

  43. Chronic Overthinker*

    Oh I hate open offices, because something similar happened to me. I had a meeting on my calendar pop up with no invitation and we had a bullpen type situation with offices all around the perimeter. I was called into the meeting, termed, asked to gather my things, which was nice, I guess, but still extremely awkward with everyone else around me doing work. It was a toxic environment though, so I’m glad I was “forced to resign.” I exited quietly, but middle of the day so everyone knew something was up and HR was at the elevator to take my badge/keys. Termination is always humiliating, regardless if you see it coming or not. Quiet dignity is what is truly needed, unless the individual has been known to be disruptive. Thank goodness I was able to pack up my stuff. I had some unique personal items that had they been lost/damaged, I would have been truly upset.

  44. Des*

    What a horrible office this would be to work at. I’m sure everyone who can is wearing earphones to block out their coworkers noise and also getting half as much done as they could be if they had some privacy.

    1. LW*

      Letter writer here – perhaps I should have clarified a few things, because I didn’t know that so many commenters would be concerned:

      – We do have two single-occupancy, soundproof booths for private phone/video conversations, as well as three conference rooms.
      – We are an office of mostly sales and customer support/product onboarding staff. At any given time, up to 50-60% of our staff may be traveling/offsite.
      – We do have a space that can be used as a lactation room, but it is again, single occupancy (and would be very, very weird for anyone to have a meeting in, as it is frequently kept locked).
      – It’s very common to use headphones in our office, but not everyone does, myself included. Not everyone needs absolute silence in order to focus. In our office of 22, I’d say there are 4 or 5 people who are regularly wearing headphones.
      – We have an enormously flexible WFH policy.

  45. pagooey*

    Oof. At my very first corporate job, the Powers that Be scheduled the mass-layoff meeting first, and then the everyone-who-was-spared meeting immediately after…in the same conference room. So the sobbing, newly unemployed staff were streaming out of the room as the rest of us were strolling in.

    (That company folded, nearly 20 years ago–who’da thunk?)

  46. Curmudgeon in California*

    Thank you! Someone needs to slap these people who think people can be productive, collaborative and happy in a giant fishbowl of Constant. Public. Observation.

    Open plans actually reduce the person to person interaction (

    The conference rooms where I work now have partial frosting on the glass on about half of the conference rooms. You can still crouch down and see who is in there, but it’s better than a total fishbowl. Fortunately, we also have regular one on ones, so a manager and a direct report aren’t unusual to see in a conference room.

    There’s still not enough privacy.

    1. LW*

      I understand that people don’t like open offices, so my question was intended to solicit suggestions on how to work in the environment that I have (and have zero ability to change to a non-open plan scenario).

      It is also entirely common for everyone to have 1:1s with their manager, their grandboss(es) and senior management, as well as myself (as the only onsite HR person), so seeing folks in a conference room isn’t an immediate indication that something is amiss.

  47. George*

    Wow! The idea the somebody else is going to pack up my stuff almost has me seeing red.

    Asking me to list the stuff or point it out is equally ridiculous. Am I going to remember, in moments after being fired, which books on the shelf are mine, which I borrowed from a co-worker, and their titles (the big red book is mine, light blue is mine, but slightly teal belongs to Jane)?

    Not only that, but it feels like an invasion of privacy. Sure, somebody can stand there awkwardly… They can be to ‘help carry’ if need be, but I don’t want my coworkers to be packing up the spare pantyhose or what calibur tampon I keep in my desk! Or any medicine I might have to take at work.

    And good luck to whomever thinks they can just mail me my office fish!

    Obviously, this assumes the firing isn’t for theft or something.

    Also, I know a person who worked remotely, was laid off by phone and had all accounts turned off (even email) by the end of the call. It was super hurtful… And it guaranteed that they couldn’t transition any of their work – which they would have been happy to do up until they were treated so harshly (they had been on site at HQ the week before and were scheduled to go back in two weeks).

  48. Diamond*

    My last workplace was a regional office, and at one point when someone got fired three senior management staff traveled down to our office. This meant we didn’t even have enough desks for everyone who was there. They fired the person mid-morning and she then had to wander around the office gathering up her stuff, bumping into all the people, then she came back because she forgot her lunch in the fridge… it was so awkward!

  49. LGC*


    So, LW, what’s your aim with terminations? And what’s your office like in terms of people coming and going? It seems like you want to get people out as quickly as possible, and as quietly as possible. So that might be your starting point. It might serve your purposes better to start doing terminations at down times, as opposed to mid-day.

    Also, this was not part of your letter, but please don’t tell IT to disable employees’ work logins well before (let’s say, over an hour) before you formally terminate them. That makes things SUPER AWKWARD for their supervisors. Ask me how I know.

    1. LW*

      Terminations aren’t really happening midday; typically first thing or right at the end of the day, but it’s difficult to make sure the office is empty, and people get nervous if they are invited to a very early or very late meeting (one of those patterns that Allison mentioned avoiding). I’ve been at my company for a year, and in an office of 25 or so, we have terminated four people, one of whom was a contractor who was aware that the review period stipulated in his contract was imminent, and it was entirely likely that we wouldn’t extend. Two were done first thing in the morning, two were done at the end of the dat (after 4:00pm).

      And we definitely do not terminate IT/accounts until after the terminated employee has been informed. It is rather instantaneous, as we have some fairly strict information security requirements, but we certainly wouldn’t let anyone find out that way.

  50. Blarg*

    TLDR: crappy firings = crappy orgs

    I was let go this fall by a non profit I respected before I worked for them. They hired me for a very specific role as a temp, as a “let’s get you going cause we just got this grant and you can hit the ground running and we’ll make it permanent as soon as we write a job description.” Except the hiring manager didn’t tell HR that part, which I didn’t know. And when HR found out 3 weeks later, they decided to get rid of me in a power play with my manager. They pulled me into a meeting in a semi-frosted fishbowl. Told me I was done and to hand my laptop off to the IT person on my way out. Then left me alone. So I went back to my cube. Packed up my stuff as my coworkers were just utterly stunned and pissed, handed my laptop to IT person who didn’t know it was coming, and said goodbye to the front desk person who got so upset she started crying. (I think at the whole situation not about me specifically — it was like the realization that the employer was a mess).

    Then they forgot to pay me my last check. Then overpaid me by a week when they did finally pay me. Then said it was … severance. And I just had to ask for my W-2. They emailed it the next day.

    Don’t be like these fools. Sigh.

  51. Zena*

    I’m still stuck on the blinds of doom. We had a VP of our dept years ago who was an older guy and when he was firing people, he would always wear a very specific navy colored blazer. People picked up on this, so when he walked into the office in his blazer they would purposely stay out of his way to not get fired. Eventually the guy retired. The new VP was a total workaholic, considered everyone at work family and could never fire anyone.

    1. Blueberry*

      There’s another thread above about a HR person who also had a Special Outfit For Firing People. The concept is both gigglesome and terrifying!

  52. mourning mammoths*

    Several people on my team were fired within a few weeks of each other. The routine became that management called everyone into a last-minute meeting, right before lunch, to inform about the transition and to give the outgoing employee enough time to gather their things in private.

    Around about the 4th last-minute pre-lunch meeting, we all started looking around to see who was missing this time. It turned out management wanted to give us some good news for once. I don’t even remember what the news was, I just remember the panic of “Oh no I actually like everyone who is left on the team, they can’t have gotten rid of someone good!”

  53. Newbie*

    This whole thread is making me have horrible flashbacks to my last job. I worked as an HR Administrator at a company that was open plan/had absolutely no private spaces. My desk was situated in a glass room filled with five other desks that looked out over the warehouse/customer service area. Everyone could easily see my screen and hear any conversations I had. I remember making sensitive work calls in the stairwell that led to the break room because there was nowhere else I could easily go. We did have a small conference room that was located in the opposite section of the building than where I was. I remember how awkward it was having to walk employees into the conference room if a disciplinary conversation was happening or if someone was being let go- it was like parading them by all their co-workers who all knew what was going to happen. There was one private office in the whole building that was meant for the owner, but he never used it because he preferred to keep an eye on the functions of the warehouse. Instead, his girlfriend who worked from home would come in three days a week to use it *eye roll* I mean, why give it to someone who works for you and whose job requires a high level of confidentiality? That whole job was such a mess.

    Eventually the office area did expand and I did get my own office, but it was glass walls with a window that looked into the warehouse area, so although there was some privacy, it wasn’t much better. I have since moved on and now THANKFULLY have an office with no glass walls and a door that I can close when I need some privacy. My sympathies to anyone who works in an open plan office. It really can suck.

  54. Oaktree*

    Just don’t do what a boss of mine once did, and fire me on the floor of the restaurant at the end of a ten-hour shift, where all the customer could witness me break down.

  55. Amavelle*

    During our latest renovation my previously windowless office now has a large glass window. After being measured for blinds, we’re not getting blinds because of safety concerns. There are less visible areas from my window, as my door is still solid, and there is significant sound control, but I’m still sometimes torn about wanting potentially more privacy when working with college students on sensitive topics. There are spaces around campus I could reserve for more privacy, but for those I’d need to know about the need in advance.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      Actually, for safety concerns you should have blinds. It’s safer not to have everyone visible to everyone who walks by. It’s one of the things that scares me about open plan – no hiding, no cover – I feel like I have a target painted on my back.

  56. Chelsea*

    If you are in the US, I am pretty sure your company needs to have a windowless private room for lactation purposes. That might be something to think about as well. It could double as a firing room.

    1. LW*

      As I’ve mentioned in a number of other comments, we have a space that can be used for lactation, but it is a single-occupancy space that’s wholly unfit for meetings.

  57. LogicalOne*

    Yuck fishbowls!!!!! I have only ever quit one job because of this. I hate open office spaces. It does more harm than good. Read the stats. It makes people sick because they constantly worry about people eavesdropping in on their conversations or make people think others are staring at them watching their every move, makes people think everyone is watching them from work to eating to see if you spill anything on your shirt and embarass yourself, it makes for our backs exposed to everyone which is a survival instinct to have your back protected. Explains why people like booths verses tables at restaurants, germs are likelier to spread, and depending on the business, staff need time to unplug from work during their breaks. Staff are likelier to burnout if they can’t get away from their desk or don’t have an established break area. I will avoid working at businesses like this at all costs.

    1. LW*

      These kinds of comments aren’t really helpful, because I can’t do much of anything about the structural design of my office. I’m asking for advice to improve the parts of this equation that can be feasibly altered. Sucks that you wouldn’t like my office; we’ll have to look for someone else.

  58. Former Employee*

    How to get sued: Fire someone and have another employee get their purse, jacket, personal items, etc.

    Magically, the $100 they had in their wallet is gone. The designer jacket they wore that day has vanished. Their expensive coffee mug has disappeared. Anything they contributed that is business related is nowhere to be found.

    Let them get the stuff they can carry easily and offer to have them come in after hours to pack up their desk.

    A business can always have a security guard that is built like a young Arnold Schwarzenegger stand nearby (not loom over the just fired/laid off employee) while they pack up their own things.

  59. 653-CXK*

    When I WFH back at ExJob, we had hoteling stations at work, and there were House Proud rules about their area (nothing personal, clean up after yourself). It wasn’t bad if you had a few teammates working there.

    The day I was let go from ExJob, my hoteling choice mysteriously went away, and after working about 1-1/2 hours, I got the tap on the shoulder from my supervisor. She had me come to a small office just outside the security station, I got the news from my manager my employment was terminated, and went back to pick up my things. Thankfully, as I had not carried much at all during those hoteling days (mainly my laptop and some pens/pencils), I was able to leave the building easily and quickly, and I didn’t make a fuss doing so. One of my teammates had an inkling of what was going on, but I think he and the remaining teammates were notified later.

    In current job, I have my own desk, but not a cubicle.

  60. Louisa*

    This happened in my old office, also fairly open. The bosses handled it really well, although there was a private office where the conversation with the person being let go must have happened. But smartly, it happened near the end of the day and my bosses came around and quietly told us, please pack up and leave for the day…so the office would be empty when the let-go employee came back to gather their things. It was a thoughtful thing to do and maybe your office could do the same, getting most people out, rather than looking for a private space which does not exist.

  61. Long Time Lurker, Infrequent Poster*

    Nothing to do with firings, but open office companies may want to invest in switch glass/electrochromic glass that can turn opaque with a flick of the switch. Even simple glass partitions can become privacy rooms as needed, so the company can have all the openness needed but also privacy as well.

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