You know that rude behavior employers dish your way when they recruit you, cajole you, try to woo you, impress you, and interview you — then won’t return your calls, much less decide whether to hire you?

Now it’s happened to a C-level executive, CEO Carol Bartz, who was just fired by Yahoo. While Bartz’s performance, and Yahoo’s justifications for firing her, will be debated, what’s clear is that Yahoo’s board of directors is a bunch of wussies. They fired her on the phone. (For more details, see my column on, Stupid HR Tricks: Yahoo Phones It In, and join me in the discussion.)

Gimme a break. Say what you want about Bartz’s performance at Yahoo, the former CEO of AutoDesk never “phoned it in” during her stellar career. She deserved better.

So what’s the point? The point is that Yahoo’s board just sent a loud signal to the community from which the company recruits: We behave without dignity and integrity. Don’t bother seeking a career here, unless rudeness and disrespect are high on the list of attributes you’d like in an employer. Worse yet is the signal to investors and customers: “A reputation that attracts top talent isn’t on our agenda.”

Yahoo Finance just featured an article titled, “Tech Jobs Plentiful, Talent Is Not.” Gimme a break. “While the tech sector remains one of the few bright spots for the U.S. job scene, firms are having a difficult time finding qualified people to hire, a new survey says.”

No kidding. I hear Yahoo’s HR department is crying, “Talent shortage!” But who wants to work for a bunch of rude wussies, to whom “phone it in” suffices for “executive action?” Go ahead, laugh your ass off. What goes around, comes around. Trouble is, when companies start doing it to C-level execs, that’s a clear sign it ain’t gonna get any better.

Tip to companies that operate with integrity and treat people with respect and dignity: You have no competition when recruiting and hiring.

Message to “the talent” out there: Those good employers are out there. You’ve just gotta look harder today.

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  1. Just incredible. I hear about it happening all the time, but I didn’t expect it from such a well-known brand like Yahoo! And to a C-level employee? Regardless of the size of the company, it’s highly disrespectful. And you’re right, the message they are sending is not going to attract any top talent. It really makes you wonder: If they are doing this to C-level employees, how are they treating everyone else? For a company that knows first hand how fast news travels via the internet, that was an idiotic move. Yahoo, get ready for the backlash and for your sake, let’s hope you have a good PR team.

  2. I agree that this is a scummy tactic. And I’ve seen/heard about stuff just as bad.

    Re: The “talent shortage”
    Everytime I hear that phrase it makes me cringe for various reasons.

    As you point out Nick – sometimes it has to do with poorly run companies. They hire people, the environment stinks, employees quit, and company is back at square one.

    Other reasons include – unwilling/unable to judge people on ability, unwilling to train people, strict adherence to “salary history” or “salary surveys”

  3. I’ve been wondering if there’s more to this story. For instance, here’s a scenario where it would make more sense that they use the phone: The board chair meets with Carol in person and tells her that the board has serious concerns about her performance and is considering firing her. She talks with other board members, maybe in person. She’s told that the board will take a final vote on the issue on Tuesday. She’s called after the board vote and told the results. In this case, the important conversation would have been done face-to-face, and it’s not crazy to think she’d want to know the results of the vote ASAP rather than waiting for someone to fly out to her, particularly since she knew the vote was happening.

    I obviously have no idea if this is how it went down, but I’ve seen situations like this before and wonder if that’s actually what happened here.

  4. It’s even worse. The board chairman called her and read her dismissal off from a script but apparently he didn’t inform the people who take care of the standard HR procedures. That evening she still had access to her Yahoo email and sent an all-employees message that said:

    To all,
    I am very sad to tell you that I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you and I wish you only the best going forward.

    So all of the employees know about the phone firing. Nice.

    (Details from )

  5. @G: Thanks for the link to the Fortune exclusive. Alison, it seems clear that the Yahoo board behaved like a bunch of yahoos. Or, to use Bartz’s term, “doofuses.”

    But according to the Fortune article, it was even worse. The board sent its lawyers to do the deed — at a hotel. So Bartz checked in somewhere else.

    If anyone thinks board members operate in some rareified atmosphere of intelligence, it seems the guy who read her the script — board member Roy Bostock — had been deprived of oxygen. Otherwise, why would he recite a letter written by a lawyer? Man up, Dude.

    Bartz has always been a bit profane, but she’s also a class act. Her note to her old team and her comments about her temporary successor were not prepared by lawyers.

  6. By phone? I am surprised they didn’t fire her by sending her an email – at her address, of course.

    Eventually someone will be fired by a tweet, or by a posting on their Facebook Wall. You heard it here first.

  7. Um. While firing someone over the phone is neither good practice nor very manly, the widespread view in Silicon Valley is that this particular phone firing could not have happened to a more unpleasant and deserving person. (And that’s before we get to her results on the job.)

    Treat people with respect and you increase your own chances of being treated with respect.

  8. This kind of behavior isn’t limited to gutless boards firing a CEO at a major company; it happens all the time to much lesser mortals known as workers.

    I don’t know the whole story of Carol Bartz; maybe she was a good CEO, maybe she wasn’t. Was she worse than Ken Lay of Enron fame? Or of any of the Wall Street CEOs and big auto CEOs who got gov’t bailouts (and the big auto CEOs flew to Washington on their private jets, then dug out their tin cups)? Or the CEO (and probably board) of Ford that decided to build a manufacturing plant that will employ 5,000+ people…in India.

    I’m not too impressed with CEOs’ behavior lately–they rank right up there with snake oil salemen and telemarketers and politicians, so I’m not surprised by Yahoo’s behavior. What it does tell me is that if this is how Yahoo treats one of its CEOs, I can only imagine how they treat the peons, the workers who ensure that Yahoo makes profits. Not good. And that’s another company I’m scratching off my list of potential employers right now.

  9. I think my story can top this, although my position in education was not as prestigious as the CEO of Yahoo I was employed by Coastal Learning Center of Ocean County New Jersey for a period of almost 12 years. I was never told via email, phone call, face to face or form letter that I was being laid off! I was merely not given a contract – not given anything. Please note that all of my performance evaluations over those years were excellent. I now know that I was let go in the middle phase of a situation where 39 people including my bosses were permanently laid off. The company, a private for profit alternative education corporation simply restructures and hires entry level people whom they regularly and systematically replace. I hope they incur their karmic debt for what they did to me and my co-workers. I am retired and pensioned from a former positon, but the disruption they caused and continue to cause to all their workers, but especially to people in their late forties to early fifties is just really criminal. These people have little opportunity to regain their footing. I recently read a statistic that if you lose your job in your fifties, you have an 80 percent chance of never working again.