Editor's View

Dealing with delinquency

Oct 07 issue

Offices are breeding grounds of malcontent. No matter how inventively you encourage employees, send them on training courses, nurture their self belief, or ply them with bribes – a trip to the races, a bowling alley, karaoke – there’ll always be a tiny, po-faced coterie, happy to criticise the company.

Moaning is one thing, but grievances can escalate and a whole industry has been created to try to control and restrain humanity’s inability to work in harmony. While HR is certainly necessary, it seems that some measures are going too far.

Take the BBC’s The Apprentice as an example. When Alan Sugar says ‘you’re fired’, he’s harking back to a golden age when a CEO actually had that power. In reality, Sugar ought to be saying: ‘We’re taking this to personnel.’ Then the camera crew should spend months following the various legal to-ing and fro-ing, letter writing, emailing and endless meetings.

Of course, employment and staff problems often originate at the recruitment stage, largely because of tight strictures that mean you can’t ask a person’s age, or enquire whether they’re married, an atheist or religious zealot, or anything remotely associated with their behaviour beyond their CV.

It’s frustrating for an employer, as the shiny array of buckles on the HR straitjacket seem designed to prevent you getting an insight into a person’s attitude and character, which are vital in the recruitment process. References remain the best way to back up your intuition; but even then a referee is limited in what can and can’t be said.

Using discipline effectively
If personnel matters do arise and a disciplinary is required, it can go two ways. It could be a useful instrument to improve a gifted but wayward employee’s performance and make them more focused. Alternatively, it could set the slow wheels in motion for getting yourself rid of deadwood. However, if you realise that the person you’ve hired, whom you don’t really know, isn’t right for the job for whatever reason, it’s pretty much impossible to get rid of them after a year, unless you’re willing to pay for it.

Few people would want a return to the days when a woman could be fired for having the audacity to get pregnant, but it does seem that in elements of workplace legislation the balance of power has swung too far away from the person who pays the salaries. Ultimately, this prevents a CEO from growing their business as they see fit.