Monday, November 22, 2010
by Mark Baker
'Processing.' Processing is a word you'll never hear spoken in corporate meetings, but it nonetheless exists and is the means by which many companies rid themselves of 'Legacy Employees.' A Legacy Employee is one who has served the company for many years and is nearing retirement age where upon they look forward to enjoying the retirement benefits they earned in exchange for decades of dedicated service to said company.
The problem is, many companies having already divested themselves of ethics and integrity, follow the path laid out by their 'Human Resources' staff members, whose goals are no longer to manage 'Personnel' as much as limit or totally eliminate the companies debt obligations, the largest of which is often future retirement and health care obligations to their retirees. The surest way to eliminate these future obligations is to fire the employee before they can qualify for same and this is where 'Processing' comes into play. Companies deny they practice systematic 'age discrimination,' but it's widespread nonetheless and in fact it's an accelerating trend in America as it's pool of late 'Baby Boomers' (those born between 1946 and 1964) who entered the workforce in their late teens or early twenties approach 30 years of service where they would become eligible for early retirement.
Perhaps this trend was enviably as 'Personnel Management' segued from a niche to a professional concentration becoming 'Human Resource Management.' Personally, I never cared for the term Human Resources as it connotes a cold, impersonal feeling far different from that of the 'Personnel Departments' of old. Where the old model placed emphases on employee development and personal enrichment, the latter focuses on worker management. Even the words and terms have grown colder and impersonal. Where in the past, you'd be an 'Employee' of a company, you're now an 'Associate,' or other such term that paints a wall of separation between the worker and the company.
In stark truth, the Human Resource Department views their companies'
Associates as nothing more than 'Units of Production, or at best a necessary means to an end. The idea is to reduce the 'Employer/Employee' relationship to a point void of human connection or friendship. Even outside the HR discipline, today most companies encourage their up-and-coming mid-level managers to NOT develop personal relationships with their subordinates. This allows them to develop a certain degree of what psychologists refer to as 'Cognitive Dissonance' that makes it easier for them to club the unsuspecting 'unit of production' over the head when that day presents itself, with little to no remorse. All this Orwellian 'Newspeak' is also accompanied with a Soviet-style 'Un-Personage' that was perfected during the Gulag years. For example, in the worst companies that utilize these hideous practices, once an 'Associate' is 'Terminated,' the remaining 'Associates' are told the next day that "So and So is 'No Longer with the Company.'" The word 'Fired' NEVER is spoken (for good reason, due to the fact that to do so and call it what it is, would open said company up for potential litigation wherein it would actually have to substantiate 'why' so and so is "No Longer WITH the company.' And God help any remaining 'Associate' who dares to ever speak about, or even mention the name of the terminated fellow associate; to do so will generally land them in their managers office at the receiving end of a stern scolding that often includes disingenuous platitudes such as "We want to look forward, not dwell on the past..." Often these daring associates will find themselves the next candidate in the 'HR Processor.' It's also interesting to note that these 'Un-person' 'No Longer With the Company' (ie, Employee Firings) tend to happen systematically inasmuch as people who have over 25 years, or are over 40 years of age, or have had a 'Medical Procedure' performed that caused them to be off work for an extended period of time, etc.
Even though a companies' longest serving employees tend to often be their best in terms of production, AND they too are often times the 'Go-to' people for younger employees as they refine their skills, the bottom line is that the HR professional always views employees in terms of Diminishing Returns and Growing Liabilities; or more coldly again as 'Units of Production' with a finite 'Shelf-Life.' The 'Science' of their cold trade, is to best determine the point where they feel an 'Associates' Value to the organization is overshadowed by their perceived Liability to it; all under the constant mantra of "Avoid paying Retirement Pension and Long-term Health Benefits AT ALL COSTS!"
The reason I write this piece is two-fold, 1. I happen to know that 'Processing' IS proactively practiced by company HR departments (having had a personal friend who used to do it for a living for a large insurance company we both worked for before she got sick of it and left the field), and 2. Because I just watched it happen to my 48 year old girlfriend who gave 28 years of her life to another big insurance company based in Lansing as well. What's ironic is that I am a devout capitalist conservative who backs a 'Right to Work' arena over a 'Unionist mentality,' so as you can imagine, I get real steamed when I see companies that are wildly profitable, practice what amounts to age-discrimination an an attempt (albeit successfully) to reduce long-term costs at the expense of the very people who helped grow them into the successful companies they are. It may not be illegal, but these practices are gross ethics violations and a sad commentary on the direction of American Business.
So, this all said, on Monday, November 1st of this month at 4:37, I received a text message from my girlfriend informing me that she'd just been fired. As I waited for her to emerge, I watched many of her fellow 'Associates' exit the building at the end of their workday, it struck me as odd how so many of them looked the same carrying their insulated coffee mugs, or walking out with co-worker friends all sharing a look of a captive animal finding its way from its cage. Then after all the others had left, I stood outside the door to meet my girlfriend as she exited her office for what would be the last time after 28 years of service. She was doing her best to be brave and not allow her deep hurt to show as she was followed by two bleach-blonds pushing a wheeled cart that contained two white boxes that contained all my girlfriends' personal affects. I offered a smile to my Netti and then stepped in front of the two emotionless zombie-women who were escorting her belongings. I politely offered to the two automatons "Your indignity ends right here ladies; twenty-eight years of loyal service and her reward is two cardboard boxes; I wonder how you two can stand to look at yourself in the mirror in the morning?" whereupon I removed the two boxes from their cart and loaded them into my car and left.
To Annette and the others before her that have been 'Processed' at this company: You will come out of this treatment better then ever. To those friends of Annette who know her well and miss her, be brave and don't allow yourselves to be bullied into suspending your natural feelings about Annette and the others who have been singled out; watch your backs and stand together. For the management that practices this sort of treatment against your best and brightest (and especially you two sad bleach-blonds with all the emotion of the evil twins from 'The Shining'), well you have to live with who and WHAT you are; if you can, you're sorry excuses for human beings.