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Worse Ways to Make a Living

A kind reader sent on this blog post discussing this article in the Washington Post. The Post article profiles a company calling itself the "Five O’Clock Club." Doesn’t that sound charming? It sounds like a group of colleagues who go out for happy hour on Friday after work, who sit around a large table laughing and unwinding after a hard week. Instead, it’s a company that profits off of human misery. Their name is deceptively charming, but maybe the name "We Take Money to Fire People Club" was already taken.

One of their latest clients is the Brooklyn Public Library, who after suppressing children’s books decided they were so short of money that they paid the "We Take Money to Fire People Club" thousands of dollars to do what they do best – lie for a living. The blog post details some of the various lies surrounding the issue. The Post article makes it easy to figure out who was fired. The "We Take Money to Fire People Club" wrote a public letter of apology for the details, only it was actually written by someone in the library. It’s a tissue of lies all around. I guess the HR people in the library haven’t learned the lesson that you don’t have to dissemble to hide your shameful public actions if you just don’t commit any.

I found it hard not to be morally repulsed by the "We Take Money to Fire People Club" the more I read the Post article. Here’s a description of the top hatchet person:

"She was trained to speak to laid-off workers by reading and internalizing a script in the Five O’Clock Club employee manual — "Ask: ‘How are you doing?’ (Just listen to what they have to say and reassure that all will be fine)" — but so much practice has made Hall the office’s new authority. You keep each call to 10 or 12 minutes, she says, because there’s always another to make. You try to call on weekends, because that’s when people become depressed and eager for contact. You expect 10 percent of calls to involve crying and another 10 to include cursing. You avoid the term "unemployed." These are "job-seekers," or "separated employees," or "affected workers," or "people in transition."

I suppose one must have a script, but the script is just another big lie. "Just listen…and reassure that all will be fine." Uh huh. Avoid the term "unemployed." That’s right, euphemize and lie! "You never mention that 250,000 people lost their jobs in one month. Instead, you say that job loss has slowed, the market continues to recover and the economy is improving. Always improving." Always improving! No wonder the woman starts every day with a terrible headache.

The Firing Club has a manual on "How to Terminate Employees While Respecting Human Dignity," complete with inspirational quotes. Nothing respects human dignity like an inspirational quote, especially if it’s accompanied by the big fake smile evident in the accompanying photo. The woman in the photo looks happier than everyone else because she at least still has a job. The script also gives them some more lies to feed to distraught people they’ve just fired.

"George, you’ve been a trooper. I’m sorry that this organization has moved in a different direction."

"George, you have made many good friends here. We hope those friendships will continue."

"George, we realize that loss of employment is undoubtedly a difficult experience."

"George, you have made considerable and long-lasting contributions and they are acknowledged and appreciated."

I’m sure the Brooklyn Public Library employees were heartened and encouraged by these sincere compliments, at least if they were named George. If employees who have made considerable and long-lasting contributions that are acknowledge and appreciated are fired, then no one’s safe! If I were George, I’d ask for a specific list of contributions before sincerely wishing the liar would die soon and in great agony. But that’s just me.

The Firing Club provides "certified" counselors to comfort the victims. They swarm upon the person who has just been fired trying to get them to direct their anger away from the organization. We wouldn’t want that, after all. "Feel free to try to build a relationship…. Ask them where they are from and then say, ‘Oh, my mother lived there.’ You know, get a conversation going."  "It’s really important for them to think we care." Throw out some more lies! Tell them anything! Maybe there are people dumb enough to think they care.

They’re not just liars, though. They’re also sneaky. Entering the library, "they hide their shoulder bags as they walk through the front door so nobody sees the Five O’Clock Club logos printed on the fabric. They have become masters of the inconspicuous business meeting, sometimes visiting human resource directors after hours or renting temporary office space to convene in secret." When the receptionist they’re going to fire soon askes who they represent, they lie again. I don’t blame them. They should be ashamed of what they do and sneak around. It’s a pity that the Brooklyn Public Library is giving public money to them, though.

The blog post argues that this is a lesson in how not to fire people, which is probably the case. I draw another lesson from it as well. I go off on librarianship sometimes. Being a librarian isn’t exciting. Much of the time, it isn’t even very interesting. However, as dull and financially unrewarding as it might sometimes be, librarianship is an honorable profession, which is more than one can say about the "We Take Money to Fire People Club." We don’t have to lie. We don’t have to sneak around. We don’t profit from human misery. At the end of the day we can go home with the knowledge that we haven’t harmed any people, and quite likely we’ve helped a few. There are worse ways to make a living.

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Contact the AL: annoyedlibrarian@gmail.com

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Comments

  1. Dances With Books says:

    I saw that story, and to say that I was disgusted is to put it mildly. I am not sure what is worse: that company profiting off the misery of the unemployed, or the library, which is claiming financial hardship, paying money to those vultures to do their dirty work for them.

  2. Hero says:

    I can’t be the only one who laughed out loud when reading this:
    “She opens the confidential folder and pulls out a Five O’Clock Club booklet titled “‘ow to Terminate Employees While Respecting Human Dignity,’ which includes inspirational quotes about compassion from Theodore Roosevelt, George Lucas and the Dalai Lama.”

  3. another f-ing librarian says:

    “[...]quotes about compassion from Theodore Roosevelt, George Lucas and the Dalai Lama”

    …none of whom were, or are, unemployed!

    There is no more odious person than the complete stranger assuring one of one’s “value and contributions” who has not clue what one’s job even *was*.

    Couldn’t they program one of those Lucy Liu ‘bots from Futurama to do the dirty work? And maybe a “Young Tom Selleck” ‘bot for the ladies? I’d hate that a lot less. Especially if the ‘bot would buy me a drink after…

  4. S385d says:

    Anyone want to be the director of the Brooklyn Public Library? With two PR issues in less then two weeks the director might be getting a few inspirational speeches over the phone during labor day weekend from the 5 o’clock Club. Karma gets you every time.

  5. behs8 says:

    Gosh, people don’t seem to care what you have to say.

    How annoying that must be for you.

  6. Elisa says:

    I saw that story when it first ran in the “Post” and found it depressing.

  7. phhh5 says:

    That story pissed me off. How stupid do they think people are to believe their lies. How would a complete stranger know how many friends you’ve made or accomplishments you’ve had? And then they lie to themselves and assure themselves that everyone eventually goes on with life. Some don’t!

  8. Auntie Nanuuq says:

    What a bunch of Farking Pigs!

  9. Midge says:

    “And then they lie to themselves and assure themselves that everyone eventually goes on with life. Some don’t!”

    Whatever helps them sleep at night, I guess.

    I was trying very hard to see it from The Firing Club’s point of view of being a counseling service but I just can’t. How dare companies outsource terminating employees? And how dare that ridiculous woman act like some kind of martyr? I don’t care how many headaches she gets.

  10. TwoQatz says:

    What goes around, comes around. My corporate job was, thankfully, outsourced. The company president who ordered all the layoffs? Got laid off himself eventually. There is no way to terminate regular employees with dignity – it’s a swift kick in the gut, especially if you have years of good performance reports and awards to your name.

    Like most American businesses, they had made virtually every employee exempt and were determined to wring 50-60 hours of work out of those that they “let stay.” Unfortunately too many libraries are headed in that direction. We need to close our damn doors when they reduce our budgets! Not rally around a cash-poor institution that works its people to death in the misguided notion they’re providing a much-needed “service.”

  11. cutenerd says:

    Hmmm…The moral of the story is not to trust any club with a number in the name. The 700 Club is a perfect example. Although AL frankly squeezes out any hope of a career in libraries, I’m consoled to know that my service is socially beneficial, albeit dull. I see so many people attracted to this field because of an abstract “love of reading” or because they want to actually help people. So the question remains, what happens between the time budding new librarians filled with positive energy turn into slimy, deceptive managers looking to cut library budgets, so long as their salary isn’t affected? Are there wolves among us who feign idealistic notions about democratizing information all the while dreaming of a stable 40 hour job making 60-100K? Are these demons inborn or does working in a library for atleast 10 years do that to people?

  12. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    cutenerd, I think sliminess and deception are inborn traits. I’ve been doing this gig for nearly 30 years and I have yet to succumb to either. But then, I’m not in administration and have avoided it mightily. I can be bitchy though …

  13. under the influence says:

    I’ve been researching a second career option and had settled on getting my MALS. After I laid out all the pros to a friend, she encouraged me to look at the cons before I sent in my application…which lead me here. I’ve been glued to my computer for the past few hours, maybe I need to weigh my decision a bit before committing to a Graduate program. Are you guys complaining just to complain or is the job a librarian this awful? Are jobs very scarce? Can one get a decent position with a MALS degree or is there months, perhaps *gulp* years of searching before landing a job in the role of librarian? (I read what AL’s typical day entailed, it sort of took a bite out of her “right” to complain)
    I was interested in studying to become a Medical Librarian.

  14. Mlp96 says:

    Previous poster: Read the student blog on this site. There are postings on your topic.

  15. cutenerd says:

    In response to under the influence:
    If you do get the MALS, please keep in my mind that you might have to accept some less than ideal jobs at the beginning to get into the field. If you have experience in a related field, thats great. I’m trying to get a position in an academic library, I just recently got the MLIS. Most large academic libraries (which incidentally pay better) require a second Masters, so I’m starting a second Master’s hopefully in January to jumpstart my career trajectory.

    The “complaints” I think stem from the fact librarians are overeducated and underpaid and undervalued. Most of us lack empowerment to change our insitutions. Having said that, many librarians are content with the stable hours and relatively static work enviroment. If you don’t mind the tedium, this can actually be a rewarding career. Plus, you’re not ripping people off like the layoff consultants so you should sleep easy at night.

  16. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    Good luck, cutenerd. Our TIAA-CREF accounts have taken a hit and my colleagues and I will work until 65, maybe longer. Our enrollment is down but, thus far, we haven’t lost any professional positions. That could be coming because libraries cost $$$ to run and reducing hours (and thus staff) in this digital environment makes sense. I don’t have a second master’s but I have a skill set this university wanted badly and I was hired with just the MLIS.

    BTW – I’ve found smaller academic libraries pay better. There’s less cachet but where there’s cachet there’s less incentive to pay. I earn more than the librarians at a nearby hoity-toity college.