Thursday, 26 June 2014

Redundancy, the Rock Opera!

When I was unfairly made redundant some years ago, I started penning 'Redundancy, the Rock Opera', my attempt to salvage something positive out of the situation - namely a vehicle for individuals to learn about their employment rights in an infotaining way, since I had become a reluctant expert on the subject. My fantasy featured such immemorial hits as 'It's Nothing Personal, Just Personnel.' Then life changed and suddenly I was in a happy work situation again where my talents were appreciated and the 'opera' became impossible to finish because I was no longer in the right place emotionally and my brain wanted to forget all the pain and move on. Ok, and there was the minor detail of not being able to write music and the niggling worry of who could afford to buy tickets to come and see my rock opera anyway if they were all redundant.

These days there seems more need for an introduction to Sir Tim Rice than ever as I hear about increasing numbers of situations similar to mine. The recession it seems is still being used as an excuse for many employers to cull perfectly good staff, often using their HR (Human Reaper) bod, even though they may have no genuine financial or business reason to shed staff. They've merely decided that they no longer like the look of someone, they fancy a fresh face or whatever they have decided (often the employee is left none the wiser, bashed into submission by a sea of brain-baffling business bullsh*t.). Some employers too apparently find it easier to get rid of people than actually follow the procedures laid out in their own staff handbooks of raising any issue they have with them and giving the employee the opportunity of rectifying the matter or offering a compromise. Nor do they tend to bother with the verbal warning, written warning etc marlarky that they are supposed to, even when there is a performance issue. The concept of retraining or additional training if someone's performance isn't quite up to scratch are similarly anathama to such employers. And don't even mention 'redeployment' as an alternative! Like divorce, once the 'r' word is mentioned, there is seldom any going back. The general pattern is to put the employee in an impossible position and then try to tell them that they have made their position untenable - ie blame them for it! If of course the employee has not obediently cleared their desk and headed out the door within the hour as all employees are meant to do when informed they are 'at risk of redundancy'.

One former boss had the right idea. He would invite any member of staff he had concerns about out for a coffee in a neutral space away from the working environment and embark on a genuinely friendly chat about work and how the employee was finding it, giving them the opportunity to tell him about any issues or personal problems which may be affecting their work and asking how he could support them if so. And guess what? His yearly HR bill was generally the price of a few coffees and cakes, unless the employee themselves chose to move on or retire and he had to recruit someone new. But generally, it was a very happy and well-run ship under his watch, with no need for underhand tactics or nastiness. By promoting a positive environment, he also had a knack of getting the best out of his staff so that they looked forward to coming to work each day and worked hard.

Quite often you see highly qualified people who specialise in HR with far less idea of how to treat people and resolve issues than my said former boss with no paper credentials. As one genuinely-good employment law expert friend put it recently; 'I never cease to be shocked by how much bad HR there is out there, considering all these people are supposed to be trained in it and it's all they do all day every day.'

Perhaps the rise of corporatism has led to many companies forgetting the fundamental basics such as their humanity. 'I'm a human being, God damn it. My life has value!' as newscaster Howard Beale puts it so succinctly in the cult classic, Network

Ironically, workplace humanity seems to have been seeping away in inverse proportion to the rise of workplace legislation on equality and diversity, grateful as this employee is for any and all protection.

Human beings continue to be treated as if they are more and more disposable in virtually every area of life however and legislation does not stop some employers from running a coach and four horses through employment law and regarding losing a tribunal as an occupational hazard.

No one would deny that sometimes companies have a genuine need to make changes to their organisations. But it is not legitimate redundancies I am questioning but unfair redundancies.

A few European countries have a law whereby a company has to pay an employee a minimum of a year's salary in order to make them redundant for all reasons other than gross misconduct (though they can be more generous if they choose). This buys the employee time to mentally regroup, find another job, retrain or set up on their own and saves the state an awful lot of money in benefits, ill health bills and legal fees. It wouldn't be a bad idea if Britain followed suit as it seems to be one of the better ideas to come out of Europe.

Either that or employment tribunals need sharper teeth to penalise the cowboys and compensate their victims, thrown out of work through no fault of their own.


Steve said...

Have to say, for all I moan about my place of work, our HR dept is very good and my boss and I regularly employ the old "let's go for a coffee" tactic when dealing with staff who are cause for concern. Doesn't always work but sometimes that's because the coffee is shit.

Wisewebwoman said...

I have worked in toxic environments where employment laws were treated as occupational hazards to be circumvented.

Excellent post and I so agree about the year's severance.