- REUTERS/Joshua Lott
- UK-based travel firm Thomas Cook announced bankruptcy Monday, leaving 600,000 passengers stranded and thousands without jobs.
- When Americans get laid off, employers give them just hours to pack their belongings and leave.
- Other countries don’t have the same approach. Germany lets laid-off workers stick around for weeks after the fact, while Sweden has programs to help retrain fired employees and get them new jobs.
- In Japan, layoffs are even considered a social taboo.
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Layoffs in the US are often quick and dirty.
As depicted by George Clooney in “Up in the Air,” American company managers or execs typically meet with their employees to tell them they must leave before giving them just a few hours to pack their belongings.
In other countries, however, this practice would be considered absurd – or even cruel.
After British travel firm Thomas Cook went under, thousands are expected to lose their jobs – but they will likely get better benefits than US workers. Plus, laid-off employees get weeks to stick around so they can finish projects and get a head start on applying to new jobs, Erin Meyer, a professor at global business school INSEAD who has studied how cultural differences impact businesses, told Business Insider.
“Firing in the US is like pulling off a Band-Aid: you have a problem, you pull out the Band-Aid, it hurts a lot, and the problem’s gone,” she said. “In Europe, it’s more like boiling a lobster: you put the lobster in, slowly the lobster cooks, and finally the time is done.”
Here’s what it’s like to be fired in seven different countries.
In the UK, employers can only fire workers if there is a good reason to do so, and they tend to fire older employees first.
- TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images
In the UK and much of Europe, employees are hired by way of “indefinite employment” – meaning they can’t get fired unless there is a really good reason to do so.
“In the UK, it is not like the US, where when you fire somebody, you pack up their boxes and march them out the door,” Meyer said.
Europeans also tend to lay off older employees before younger ones, according to Harvard Business Review.
The United States has a quick, impersonal approach to firing its employees.
- Andrew Burton/Getty Images
At US firms, fired employees typically have short meetings with their employer or HR manager on why they’ve been fired. They usually only have hours or days to pack their belongings and leave, Meyer said.
Part of the reason for this is the country’s “at-will” employment contracts between workers and their companies. “At-will” contracts are those that allow employers to fire subordinates for any reason at any time, so long as it’s not discriminatory.
The US is only one of a handful of countries where employment is at-will, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Another reason could be because US managers don’t want to expose sensitive corporate information to fired employees who may reveal trade secrets out of anger, Meyer said.
Germany typically lets laid-off employees stick around for weeks following a firing to finish up projects and even start job hunting while still at their old posts.
Meyer attributes the more relaxed vibes around layoffs to both Germany’s worker-friendly policies, as well as their relationship-centric culture. German employees typically develop close relationships to their coworkers, making severing ties more personal for the employer, Meyer says.
Japanese employees see large-scale layoffs as a social taboo.
Japanese law allows employees to reject early-retirement packages. As a result, laid-off employees – who don’t have roles at their company anymore – sometimes continue to go to work and sit in “chasing-out rooms” working on other projects.
Layoffs are rare in Japan, largely due to the country’s “lifetime employment system” where full-time workers typically remain at the same company for years. The permanent employment contract is both a factor of the country’s culture around work, as well as government policies that discourage companies from firing workers, The New York Times reports.
In Hong Kong, bankers who lose their jobs get months of severance pay. Some higher-up members get years of guaranteed severance written into their contracts, making layoffs a “long paid holiday.”
- Getty Images
Source: South China Morning Post
Sweden has one of the most progressive layoff cultures in the world.
- Christine Olsson/TT News Agency/Reuters
Employees can pay into private job-security councils, which help fired workers develop new skills and get them financial support, according to The Atlantic.
Sweden leads developed nations in helping laid-off employees get back on their feet: 85% of such workers find new jobs within a year, the OECD reports.
In India, layoffs used to be a source of shame. As the economy grew and layoffs became more commonplace, the culture no longer stigmatizes fired employees.
The Economic Times of India spoke with executives and HR managers in the country, and found the rise of temporary work and job-hopping led to the culture shift.
“Globalisation has made Indian executives more familiar with the Western idea that getting laid off is part of market ups and downs, not a matter of personal failure,” ET reporter Saumya Bhattacharya wrote.