Saturday, December 11, 2010

Now that Time has Passed

I try not to talk about work here, but as time has passed there’s an experience I wanted to share because it was one of the biggest examples of cultural differences I went through in England. In the U.S. we call it being laid off. In the UK it’s called being made redundant and it’s a very different process. In the U.S. you can be told ahead of time but many times, you get called into the HR office one day and you’re told your job is over and within an hour the life you once knew has dramatically changed. You don’t even get to walk back to your desk and collect your things. The George Clooney movie Up In the Air had some desperately real moments in it.

Due to UK employment law the experience is different. From what I understand, the employer first has to present a business case that proves the company must restructure. This may lead to some people losing their jobs but first for 30 days there is a consultation period with all employees that are affected can first present cases for restructuring that might save theirs or others’ jobs. So let’s say the employer says we just don’t have the business we used to which means we don’t need the same amount of staff. Then what I consider excellent material for a reality show begins.

I was involved in one of these situations and I was in a management role and had to listen to all of the restructuring ideas and in the end help develop a solution that took into consideration these suggestions and basically interview the staff for the new roles in the structure. From a management perspective, there’s good and bad. The good is you have the opportunity to pick the best people for the needs of the company at that time. The bad is facing those employees for 30 days. Coming from the American perspective where workplace violence occurs, I had to hide a wince every time I had to talk to one of these employees when they were venting about the situation. At the very least would my tires be slashed? That thought ran through my head here and there. Here’s what I witnessed in those 30 days.

1. The pissed off employee – The employee that basically refused to work for the next 30 days because they were mad that they could lose their job in 30 days. This attitude got worse and worse as the 30 days went on.

2. The vacant employee – The employee who took advantage of the laws allowing the employees to job hunt during those 30 days to interview excessively, or at least that’s what they said.

3. The objective employee – The employee who objectively looked at what was good for the business, whether they fit into that equation or not and presented that during consultation. This was the type who you knew would be fine no matter what happened with their current job.

4. The suck-up – The employee who suddenly thought hanging on your every word was going to buy them some kind of loyalty in the whole process.

5. The bundle of nerves – The employee who knows their skills are limited and their time at the company was running out and they would do ANYTHING to protect their jobs including throwing good employees under the bus. One of these folks said to me, “I don’t care what the structure is or who is left as long as I still have a job”. They didn’t make it.

When I was going through it in the UK I thought it was the worst process I could imagine. I have always had a difficult time separating myself from the human side of work. I picture these people going home and having to share with folks that rely on them that they may not have a job. However, hearing a recent story from a friend who worked at a company for 19 years, I started feeling a bit different about it. This person came in to work one day and with no warning they were marched down to HR, told their service was no longer needed and was escorted out of the building, not even able to say goodbye to people they had worked with for so long. At least the 30 days gives people a chance to come to terms with what might be coming and to make their peace.

But could Americans handle such a process?  Thinking about it makes me think of the film Office Space.  If you work in an office, it truly is a must see.

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