digital, agencies, life, and other stuff

It’s how we behave in the bad times that defines us – beware of ‘false-faces’

Posted by Lee on May 7, 2009

sa-two-faceWorking in an agency and speaking at various conferences means that you mingle with a cross-section of business people, and this means you hear a lot. A lot of information and gossip.

As we enter our Southern Hemisphere winter, we are all feeling the chill winds of the global recession down here in NZ, and quite obviously, businesses are now coming to terms with some harsh new realities. The most optimistic amongst us realize that against a background of plummeting sales, companies are faced with some ugly choices around reducing costs. And the ugliest of these is to make employees redundant.

There has been much written to caution against redundancies until all other options are exhausted, and some companies seem to be following a sensible pattern of stepping up their cost cutting measures, starting with cutting ‘perk style benefits’, reducing the amount of business travel and related costs, asking senior people to take a cut in their salaries, instigating a head count freeze, losing staff through natural attrition, and exploring shortening the working week for all employees.

Yes, most right minded employers do value their staff and are looking to protect them to some degree, not only for compassionate reasons, but because when things look up again as they inevitably will, those same companies will need good people working for them. However, there comes a time when laying staff off is the last option and again, most companies try to do it humanely and in a dignified way.

What has surprised and shocked me however, are the few examples I know of where some companies seems to view making a redundancy payment another cost they do not want to bear, instead they embark on a path of making some employees life unbearable to either force them to resign, or attempt to set them up under a trumped-up disciplinary issue so they can move swiftly to sack those employees, thereby sidestepping the need to make a payment to the affected staff members.

Beware of ‘false-faces’

It’s even more galling when these companies put on a ‘false face’ to their clients and the wider market, a front that portrays dynamism, open culture and proclaims loudly how it values its staff while all the while behaving like bullies to their own employees.

These companies manage to hide it behind posters and slogans in the good times, because well, they are the good times, and it takes much less skill to run a company during the economic boom years – the real skill comes when these ‘Captains of Industry’ have to guide the ship through stormy waters.

Yes, it is tough at the moment, but as they say “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. If ever there was a time to be living the brand values that these companies prominently display and pronounce while strutting around , then the time is now, when times are hard.

Shooting first, aiming later (if at all).

Some of the morally and ethically weaker companies react badly at the first sign of trouble and when a problem emerges in their carefully constructed, ‘false-face’ world, they do not look to fix the problem, (probably because they don’t know how to), instead they look to apportion blame and punishment – singling somebody out for their wrath, as this is far easier than fixing the wider problem. Perhaps they think it will help to reduce the head count, either through making the accuser’s life hell, or preparing them for a ‘sacking’.


In New Zealand, we pride ourselves on doing the right thing, on giving people a ‘fair go’, and from what I’ve seen, on the whole we live those ideals well, perhaps that’s why I find it so reprehensible that at the first time of trouble, some have so abruptly done an about turn and shown their true colours.

Save your loyalty and admiration for those companies who deserve it, for those who behave and act with dignity under pressure, even if they have had to make tough decisions.

Perhaps the current economic environment is an echo of Darwinism in the natural world. It is about the survival of the fittest, and the fittest companies will survive and be stronger when things improve.

However, ‘survival’ and ‘stronger’ will be based upon a strong code of ethics, an organization that does the right thing by its customers, shareholders and employees, and values the people it comes into contact with.

‘The times, they are a’changing‘, and the real people will not forget those who companies who behaved badly in the tough times.

Footnote: This is an opinion piece and does not relate to my own employer, our clients, or any of the many people me and my company choose to associate with.


One Response to “It’s how we behave in the bad times that defines us – beware of ‘false-faces’”

  1. […] but it seems that yet again, the employer is not doing the right thing by their staff – this is an issue I’ve written about before. Surely as a minimum,  the staff’s outstanding holiday pay is an entitlement – an […]

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