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‘Sack’ is a four-letter word


It would all have been so easy if corporate practices were like cricket. When somebody must exit the scene, the umpire has only to put his finger up. Unfortunately, things are a lot more complicated at the workplace. What’s worse, amid this pink slip pandemic, managers—especially of tech companies—are making a complete hash of the job of showing employees the door. It all began with Elon Musk. No, he did not invent sacking – people have been eased out of employment long before him. But Musk chose to make a song and dance about it. In fact, if the process of dismissing staff was a motion picture, Musk would have got an Oscar.

It wasn’t always like this, however. In the old days, the boss didn’t need to use four-letter words like ‘sack’ or ‘fire’. He would simply call the targeted executive over for a meeting.

“The function you are holding,” the boss would begin, “is critical for the organisation.”

“Ah, yes,” the targeted executive would gush, glad to see that his office is securing recognition at the highest quarters.

“In fact, it is so critical,” the boss continues, “that we are planning to bring in a top-notch professional.”

“Ah, that’s sounds good,” the executive would respond optimistically, “somebody to assist me, right? I could really do with somebody like that.”

“Not somebody to assist you”, the boss would cut in, gracefully delivering the coup-de-grace, “Somebody you will assist.”

End of conversation. And in most cases, end of stint in the company.

If you had a transferable job, dismissal in the old days could come disguised as a transfer. Let’s say, you are in 'Strategic Planning', and one morning you are told that you are going to be shifted to 'Campus Horticulture'.

You protest saying that you have never handled horticulture before and would be totally out of your depth.

“So what’s new?” asks the boss, “I hear that you are totally out of your depth in 'Strategic Planning' as well.”

Another method of parting ways is graphically described in the bitter-sweet term ‘kicked upstairs’. Here, instead of the sack that the jittery executive fears, he or she gets a surprise promotion. This is double-edged. You have been moved upstairs which means that you are in a higher position than before. But you have been kicked in the bargain, and that does not bode well. It won’t take you long to discover why. The new designation sounds grand but rings hollow. You have no responsibility to speak of, and no power. Nevertheless, since no blood or gore has been spilt on the carpet, this is Gandhigiri in corporate circles. If there’s ever a crunch at Sabarmati Ashram, you can bet this is how they would go about downsizing.

Another non-violent technique is to put out an advertisement for the very post that the executive in the cross-hairs is currently holding. If you happen to come across the ad on social media, you will marvel at how closely the job profile, experience and qualifications match your own. By the time you sort out this little mystery, it’s time to tackle the bigger question – how to get a new job.

Let’s face it. The mass dismissals going on before our eyes are bad for morale. But look at the bright side. It is a wake-up call for employees who had begun to grow complacent. The serial whiners who liked nothing better than exposing the inadequacies of the company have begun to put their complaints on mute. They are even discovering good points about the organisation which had escaped them earlier. On the other side of the fence, the sacking spree has made HR departments curb their irrational exuberance during employee bonding programmes. It is embarrassing to have the guy who got the ‘Best Employee’ crown last evening get the boot a week later.

How is all this going to end? Industry experts predict that the downturn in the IT space will last till the third quarter of this year. Till then, I am afraid, we may all have to put up with a lot of four-letter words. 

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