Friday, January 12, 2007

CEO Arun Sarin's a 'dignity' clause in his contract

I read ( can't recall where) sometime back, that Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin had it written into his contract that if and when his time came, he could not be asked to go by sending him an unceremonious "electronic mail or any other electronic messaging service." I read this in the context of a report that a UK-based insurance company had sacked 2,400 of its employees via terse e-mail.

By insisting that hiring and firing be done with some dignity, Mr. Sarin can be said to have set a precedent for HRDs. But then, do many of those who get fired really care? The shock could be the same whether you learn of it through a decently drafted e-mail or a three-word SMS, saying 'u r out'.

I once got sacked, but it happened decades before our graceless Internet era. I was then a proof-reader at a London printers. You got paid weekly, on Friday afternoons. And got sacked as well on Fridays. An hour before clock-out on Fridays, the cashier used to go round the printing works carrying a tray of sealed envelopes, and handing out pay packets to shop-floor employees. Like others, I awaited the cashier's arrival with the usual eagerness on that fateful Friday afternoon. He came, delivered, and left. He had left in my packet more money, twice my weekly pay.

Could it have been an accounting error? When I went to him, the cashier assured me there had been no mistake and that all the money was mine for keeps. He also let it be known that the company no longer needed my services. That extra cash was in lieu of the one-week notice period. Can you think of a nastier way of getting sacked? Gracelessness was the standard operating procedure for some companies.

There were exceptions. In Life magazine, it was said they didn't believe in sacking their staff. Instead, the chosen ones were made to feel so unwanted that they left on their own, sooner than later. Writing about her experiences in a book, Such Is Life, a former staffer described how those who fell out of favour were put through, what the author termed, the 'Treatment' by the Life management. A senior writer under 'Treatment' found, on his return from a vacation, that his desk on the editorial floor occupied by someone else. He found his personal effects shifted, in his absence, to an office on the floor above.

At his new office the staff writer was given a room to himself, with larger carpet space. However he was no longer asked to attend editorial conferences. No assignment came his way. He was left to his own devices. The management believed their dignified indifference would drive most people to resignation. But they misjudged the staff writer who used his time in the 'cooler' to write a novel. It got rave reviews. When the management realised he was building up a successful writing career at Life's expense, the man was relocated to his earlier desk on the editorial floor.

Such was Life then.
Now we need the 'dignity' clause.
(Unabridged version at Dateline Mysore,

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