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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