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Bringing humanity back to workplace
In an eerily prescient scene from the 2009 film Up in the Air, an ambitious new hire gives a seasoned, corporate downsizing veteran a guided tour of the company’s new set-up which involves laying off employees over the internet.
She icily explains this as, “Someone sits down at a conference room somewhere and our server routes their session to one of our termination engineers (terminators, for short). They follow a workflow that takes them through anything — from a standard dismissal to a violent aggressor. Beta testing, role-playing, we go live at the end of the month.”
The clinical machinations of the modern corporate ecosystem were laid bare once again last week when the top boss of a US-based mortgage company, with about 20% of its employees based out of India, fired as many as 900 of its staffers over a Zoom webinar.
The founder of Better.com, Vishal Garg, who had pulled off the blundered execution was at the receiving end of intense backlash from all quarters, who criticized him for the cold, harsh, and downright ‘horrible’ manner in which he told his employees that they were fired.
While the CEO subsequently said that all US-based downsized employees will get four weeks of severance, one month of full benefits, and two months of cover-up, the damage it seems, was already done. The development has prompted a discourse in terms of what exactly is the right protocol to be employed when informing employees about drastic measures such as downsizing.
Organizations in First-World economies such as the UK seem to have a better track record when it comes to protocols involving lay-offs. For instance, employers are legally bound to enter a consultation period with workers for a period not less than 30 days, or 45 days, in case more than 100 people are set to be made redundant.
During this period, employers are also urged to look at alternative profiles for their workers within the organization. As far as India is concerned, many such rules are considered lip service as the corporate world is rife with episodes of unceremonious dismissals, unplanned redundancies, and in the worst-case scenario, a veiled threat of retribution from employers, in case employees choose to go public with the news of their ouster.
On the employee front, such callousness has contributed to a culture where the very act of quitting has become a public display, with employees not just announcing their exits, but going all-out and broadcasting the same — a case in point being the departure of former CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey. Messages such as “My mental health welcoming me back, after leaving corporate America” have gone viral on platforms like TikTok, while LinkedIn has also now turned into a veritable Colosseum where disgruntled employees have resorted to directly calling out their reporting managers for their ‘supposed indifference and unfair treatment’. The perpetuation of a culture of microaggressions in toxic workplaces has also added to the injury.
Having said that, going public, whether it’s from the employer’s or the employee’s side is a dual-edged sword. On one hand, future employers might be wary of job seekers who have a track record of airing their grievances on public fora. For employers, the fact that workers could not iron out their differences within the walls of a boardroom could lead to a spate of bad press and firefighting initiatives on social media.
The bottom line is that something essential has been missing in the global corporate arena for a long time now. In the quest for building lean, mean, hyper-efficient teams with managers who do not take no for an answer, some fundamentals of organizational behavior have been ignored. Dignity, empathy, and compassion for its employees and stakeholders must lie at the heart of any successful enterprise.