And it happened again today.  Two professionals that I know reached out to say that their roles had been eliminated and that they are back on the market.  In an era when almost every organization is an at-will employer, most employees recognize that their “employment can be terminated at any time, for any reason or no reason, with or without notice, or cause.”

This isn’t really a surprise, we’ve all heard this statement before.  Since Toussaint Theory was recognized by the courts in 1980, it has appeared in nearly every handbook, employment application, and offer letter.  As a workforce, people have learned that they need to be prepared for the potential of being suddenly unemployed through no fault of their own.

But what if we didn’t?  As an employer of choice, wouldn’t it be great to say “we’re going to work with you when there are problems?”  Or better yet:  “We selected you for employment here because you are very talented and we won’t fire you unless you give us a good reason to.”  After all, when’s the last time you terminated someone without a good reason?  Great organizations don’t.

Choosing to not be an at-will employer means that you can still fire someone for poor performance, breaking rules, or to lay them off when business is slow.  What it also means is that you won’t fire them without any reason.  It sends the message that you are making a commitment to them, that they have control over their future, and more engagement in their work.  If you do this, you need to make certain that you have an effective performance management program to monitor and provide ongoing feedback on performance.

If we’re serious about building employee engagement, telling our employees that we plan to keep them around is a great place to start.


  1. Kevin Janes

    Excellent insights. Nice to see fresh innovation ideas in HR. REALLY enjoyed your post on Fun Socks! Adding a healthy amount of comfort and fun to the workplace is critical to building a loyal, productive team.
    The “At will” verbiage probably has more to do with legality than actual intention. When I managed a team of 40 in California I had to go through a very tedious, well documented process to let people go to ensure the company was protected legally. Here in Utah, the broad verbiage in “at will” laws eliminate much of the risk that comes with the emotion of dismissing a team member that is a liability. Good leaders know that helping a good employee through a rough patch or personal issue is a HUGE opportunity to cultivate the loyalty necessary for maximum success. But I suppose many are not so wise.
    I agree with you whole-heartedly that the “at will” verbiage is discouraging, as nobody wants to feel that they are disposable, but in our litigious society it’s an effective way to protect the future of a good company from frivolous lawsuits. Sorry for the long comment. Keep up the good work!

Comments are closed.