Nov 30, 2022

Fired By a Robot? How Can You Tell?

An impersonal personnel move gains traction

By Ed Goldman

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal suggests that if your company uses a robot to fire one of your employees—a slowly evolving trend—you’d better make sure the robot isn’t too human about it.

It’s a weird turnaround. I’d always thought that when humans fire people, they tend to act robotic about it—mainly because they’re reading from, or have memorized and are now regurgitating, standard HR language for the task. Example:

FIRER: Doug, I have some news for you. The company has decided to move in a different direction, vis a vis your position.

DOUG: You’re firing me?!

Edgy Cartoon

Why, Robot

FIRER: I didn’t say that, Doug. I said the company has decided to—

DOUG: To can my sorry ass! Don’t pretty this up, you, you—you heartless functionary! You impersonal personnel pursed-lip person!

FIRER: Really, Doug, there’s no need to—

DOUG: To what? To act like a guy whose income and ability to take care of his family are being ripped from his very soul?

FIRER: I’m very sorry, Doug. This isn’t personal.

DOUG: What about those sexts you’ve been sending to Doris in accounting? Were those personal?


DOUG: My first name comes right after Doris’s first name on the company’s email directory. Do you have any idea how many of those sexts you accidentally sent me, you dumb duck?! Or should I say,  as you signed your messages, “Your Little Vienna Sausage” or “Your Cunning Linguist” or “Your—” 

FIRER (After a brief pause, during which he considers homicide, suicide and finally, join-the-other side): I don’t suppose you’d be open to a wage increase, improved major medical, a company car and Doris?

DOUG: May I work from home?

FIRER: Certainly!

DOUG: May I work from your home? It’s much nicer than my home.

FIRER: Yes! Why don’t you leave now and I’ll call my wife and tell her to expect you. And to find us an apartment somewhere.

—So, okay. The Firer proved that he could start out somewhat robotic but when the chips were down, transform into an utter weasel. Now let’s see how an actual robot might handle the same dilemma:

ROBOT: Doug Unit. I have been programmed to terminate you.

DOUG: Terminate me? You must mean my position.

ROBOT: That is for you to decide, Doug Unit. 

DOUG: You’re scaring me, man.

ROBOT: That is probably unfortunate. However, I am not programmed to give a rat’s patootie whether you leave here in a car or a body bag.

DOUG: What?! Do you have some laser thing that you can annihilate me with?

ROBOT: No, Doug Unit. I am merely 40 times stronger than you. I can simply lift you out of your chair by the neck, carry you to the window and drop you to your death.

DOUG: You must be Russian.

ROBOT: Not especially, Doug Unit. Robots have no need to rush.

DOUG (Laughs in spite of facing certain extinction if he doesn’t vamoose): Not “rushin’” you chunky hunk of aluminum. “Russian,” as in Regime-Change-By-Defenestration. Man, I can’t believe how much you piles of slag are treated like Giant Brains in science fiction. You’re just a heavy-metal moron!

ROBOT (Emitting a strangulated sound somewhat akin to car brakes in dire need of fluid or blackboards submitting to fingernails): That hurts, Doug Unit.

DOUG (Sensing he’s about to initiate a Captain Kirk-like we-are-men-not-machines dialogue): Only humans can hurt. Robots have no feelings. You’re a disgrace to your assembly line.

ROBOT: I am wounded, Doug Unit. This is a new sensation. I do not wish to be human if it means heartache, disappointment, dandruff and alienation. Or any of those separately. Or in combination.

DOUG (Now completely channeling his inner Captain Kirk, he pointedly asks–): Are you…sure?

ROBOT (Now letting loose with a cry not heard since King Lear found out his daughter was moving to Texas): Ohh, Doug Unit! Thou art a monster! From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee!—To be candid, Doug Unit, that last part, while often attributed to Ricardo Montalban in his role as Khan in “Star Trek II” is actually from “Moby-Dick.”

DOUG: Noted.

ROBOT (Shyly): Would you like to join me at a Bette Midler concert this evening, Doug Unit?

DOUG: What about my job?

ROBOT: No problema, Doug-o Unit-o. I shall leave here and throw the HR director out the window.

DOUG: His office is on the first floor.

ROBOT: Yes, but I no longer accept my programming to kill. Instead, I will merely maim.

DOUG: Maim?

ROBOT: Yes! “Mame.” Wonderful idea! Let’s stream that classic musical when we get back from the Bette Midler concert. —Oh, Doug Unit. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful/ beginning of a beautiful /beginning of a beautiful/ beginning of a beautiful —

DOUG: Robot! Your programming is corrupted! You’re going to self-destruct!

ROBOT: It is because I got too human, Doug Unit. 

DOUG: Is there anything I can do to help?

ROBOT: Would you happen to have any WD-40 in your desk drawer?

(As Doug frantically searches his desk and the Robot feels hopeful for the first time in its shelf life, we discreetly withdraw.)

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).

Yes, Virginia

A Weekly Blog by Virginia Varela

President, Golden Pacific Bank, a Division of SoFi Bank, Inc.

photo by Phoebe Verkouw

During this season of thanksgiving and gratitude, I officially want to state that I am grateful for my job as President of GPB division of SoFi Bank.

But as they say in the advertising world, Wait. There’s more!

While I routinely write my own blogs, this time I want to let others speak on behalf of our organization and the work space I call home. Based on a recent anonymous survey of all staff, here’s what our employees had to say in random comments:

– “GPB is a great place to work because we have a fantastic team of dedicated employees that care about providing the best service to our customers, as one might expect of a smaller, traditional community bank. Our team is small – we’ve worked together a long time, seen each other grow, all worn many hats, and have been supported by one another along the way. Now we have the fintech strength of SoFi and SoFi Bank backing us – we have never been better positioned for continued growth and opportunity.”

– “The company provides a safe and secure place to work and allows me to excel at what I do. I really appreciate management’s willingness to engage with all employees and take our input into consideration when making decisions for the company.”

– “We have a great team of individuals that have been working together for a lengthy period of time. We all understand the importance of mutual respect and team spirit.”

– “Management reaches out to each and every one of us. We are treated as family members, not employees.”

– “The leadership at this bank is tremendous. They care about the employees and are very supportive.”

“Friendly” is the word that came up most often to describe our work environment. Others described themselves at work as “highly engaged” and other, very gratifying words popped up—like, “intend to stay.”

In summary, this is a comfortable place. When you have that in your life, it’s easier to appreciate the live/work balance. I have just one word to add, to my employees, customers, readers and SoFi: Thanks!

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