The easy way to fire bad workers

The easy way to fire bad workers
Idealog’s own ad guru wonders if there wasn’t some merit in an employment regime where firing someone still had a weapon involved

Gone are the days when you had a career for life. A 2012 Forbes article found the average worker in the US stays in a job for around four and a half years, but young millennials expect to stay less than three.  I expect the same applies here. Job–hopping seems to be endemic among those born in the two decades before the turn of the century. That means they could have somewhere between 15 and 20 jobs throughout their lives. 

This brings into focus the paradox created by employment legislation, which protects employees from wrongful dismissal and provides for notice periods and financial cushions (sometimes small, sometimes large) to be paid by employers in the case of redundancy. However no such obligation exists for the employee. They can walk out at any time. 

The irony being that if they resign they get nothing, if they are made redundant they can negotiate a payout. 

I spent most of my life in advertising, where you were regarded as an optimist if you took your lunch to work. In the Mad Men days in that fragile business you could take a recalcitrant worker down to the car park with a Luger and be done with it in a few seconds.  Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Advertising is a business that has given rise to some of the more spectacular dismissals and less sensitive firing lines. New recruits were told that their life in the business would be like that of a Battle of Britain fighter pilot; noble and glorious, but quite possibly very short.  

One of the better termination conversations came out of an advertising agency in Wellington. The overpaid but talentless art director was summoned to his boss’ office: 

“I’m firing you.”

“What for?”

“Health reasons.”

“What do you mean?”

“You make me sick!”

Another immortal line was used on a lazy account director:

“Well Tarquin, (name changed to protect the guilty) we don’t know how we’re going to get along without you, but from Monday we’re going to try.” 

Managing advertising people has never been an easy task, as one agency general manager found when he tried to curb unauthorised absences by his employees. He suspected his staff of long lunches and generally having a good time during working hours, excusing their absences as essential appointments.

Trying to enforce an edict prohibiting such disgraceful behaviour, he picked on legendary creative genius Len Potts, who was making a dash for the exit:

“Where do think you are you going Potts?”

“To get a haircut.”  

“But you aren’t allowed to go on company time.”

“Why not? My hair grew on company time.”

“Not all of it!” 

“That’s OK, I’m not getting it all cut.”

When the writing is on the wall, a good person takes the hint, resigns and is able to get another job with little trouble.  In many cases though, less confident people consult lawyers and are generally advised to remain, frozen like possums in the headlights. 

It is sad to watch. Upon departure, he or she will get a handout after a long and protracted charade, involving consultations, warnings and notice periods, during which the atmosphere becomes toxic, personal relationships breakdown irretrievably and the warring parties start taking notes of every real or imagined slight. The ensuing Employment Court hearing consists of an exchange which goes, more or less, like this;

“On the 16th you...”

“Did not.”

“Did so.” 

“Did not”


“Didn’t.” etc;

Meanwhile the lawyers smile as the 15-minute segments tick by.  The adjudicator never knows who to believe so he or she splits it somewhere up the middle, unless one of the parties has been really out of line – and everyone settles for a number different to that which they’d imagined, in order to minimise the fees.

It’s yet another example of how our society ends up doing the wrong things for the right reasons. Whenever something bad happens we blame others. Somehow death has become regarded as failure on the part of the medical system, and crime the fault of government economic policy.  

We are constrained by legislation and policies which ostensibly encourage fairness, yet inevitably create unfairness.  But life isn’t fair; if it was Winston Peters would be in Kaitaia, running a Bouncy Castle franchise.

I read recently a great quote: “Sometimes individuals do stupid things, sometimes governments do stupid things.  Of whom are you most afraid?” ⋅

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