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How would you like to be fired?

Pic credit: origin unknown

Pic credit: origin unknown

Everybody knows a business has to make money. So why are employees still surprised when they're treated as an expense?

"Personnel costs are the highest costs" was a common refrain during my apprenticeship. I took that to mean that investing in people was money well-spent. Hire the right people, make sure recruitment and job descriptions are aligned with business goals, and that teams work well together.

What it meant in practice was that as an executive assistant, I should have a filing cabinet and printer as close to my desk as possible - to maintain confidential communication private, naturally, but more so to avoid wasting precious seconds walking to and from less convenient locations. 

Job security is not what it once was, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that even companies in cultures with a more paternalistic management style (where the boss/company takes some responsibility for their employees, like family members would) will take on the more Western bottom-line approach. (More on that tomorrow.)

This internal memo announcing staff cuts at Ohio's "Plain Dealer" newspaper is a striking example of how business is all about business (bolding is mine, and I found it here): 

July 30, 2013
In September of 2012 we announced that we would begin the process of designing the best business model that would safeguard the future of this enterprise, ensure our leadership in the market, uphold our journalistic standards and continue our mission to serve the Northeastern Ohio community for years to come.
As we announced in our prior communications on April 4, 2013, to ensure that we are positioned to remain Northeast Ohio’s number one source for news and information in the ever-changing media environment, the Northeast Ohio Media Group will be launched later this summer and the Plain Dealer Publishing Company will adopt a new home delivery schedule for the newspaper.
These changes require a redesign of our operations that will result in a realignment of the workforce. These are difficult decisions, but are necessary.
In our June 19, 2013 e-mail to employees informing them of separation notifications that were to take place later that day in various divisions, we indicated that we would go through a similar process with employees in the remaining divisions at a later date.
From approximately 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, July 31st, employees in the Editorial Department will receive a phone call notifying them that they are either being separated from employment on that date, or that they are not being separated from employment. Employees who are notified that they are not being separated should report for work at their next regularly scheduled time.
Employees who are notified that they are being separated will be provided a time to meet Thursday, August 1st with a Human Resources representative at the Tiedeman Production and Distribution Center. At that time, each impacted employee will receive a copy of his/her severance information and will also be given transitional details, including meeting with a representative Right Management, a company that specializes in transitional programs.
We sincerely regret having to go through this process and we thank all who are impacted for their years of service and wish them all the best for their future.

From a Type perspective, this memo sounds quite STJ - objective details, facts, closure, timelines. Of course I'm projecting through my NF lens, but here are some Feelings (value and people-based) additions that may have added a softer note:

There is an abundance of details about exact times and dates of previous communications, as if to establish alibis. "Say what you will, but don't say we didn't warn you!" Safeguarding the enterprise was always the first goal. And that makes sense, doesn't it - without the enterprise, no one would have a job. In any case, the language is quite impersonal and objective when it comes to covering the company, but vague and non-committal when it comes to addressing the employees. 

Realignment of the workforce is a difficult but necessary decision. With a little imagination, there's a faint whiff of an apology for what's to follow, but not really.

In my opinion, it's never just business, it's always personal - because we're persons. So I for one would have appreciated a little more elaboration here - what were some details of the decision-making process? How were people's needs taken into account? What were the other options that were discussed, e.g. cutting executives' salaries or bonuses, selling real estate, offering early retirement options, internal transfers, etc. 

The last couple of paragraphs struck me as shameful, or ashamed. As in, having to write it made those responsible feel so completely vulnerable, that they could not find a more decent, authentic way to put it. "We sincerely regret" and "we thank all those impacted" by this "separation from employment". I would have liked to see some lines of details here, e.g. what were some of the proudest achievements you thank the employees for? How have they contributed to your paper's successes? 

If you're going to be fired anyway, you might argue that it doesn't matter how you're told. I've been let go a couple of times, and I've also quit a couple of jobs. What I always tried to do was treat the exit with the same amount of respect I had for the whole experience. And this memo, I'm sorry to say, does not seem respectful at all. 

So, to cleanse our palates, here's a resignation letter from a more NF perspective, found on brainpicker.org. It's a lot more personalized, with respect for the individual and the company:

Dear Barton:
You have a man in your employ that I have thought for a long time should be fired. I refer to Sherwood Anderson. He is a fellow of a good deal of ability, but for a long time I have been convinced that his heart is not in his work.
There is no question but that this man Anderson has in some ways been an ornament to our organization. His hair, for one thing, being long and messy gives an artistic carelessness to his personal appearance that somewhat impresses such men as Frank Lloyd Wright and Mr. Curtiniez of Kalamazoo when they come into the office.
But Anderson is not really productive. As I have said his heart is not in his work. I think he should be fired and if you will not do the job I should like permission to fire him myself. I therefore suggest that Anderson be asked to sever his connections with the company on [the first of next week]. He is a nice fellow. We will let him down easy but let’s can him.
Respectfully submitted,
Sherwood Anderson

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Step 7 - Living in the Present

Picture Credit tuppus Time is an individual construct, and our concepts of time differ by personality type as well as by culture.

Numerous research is showing that the ability to practice critical awareness and living in the present without worrying about the past or future is a key ingredient in wholehearted and well-balanced living.

I often wonder if people with a Sensing preference have an easier time of focusing on the present, type theory states Sensing is a more present-oriented function than Intuiting.

People of different Temperaments have a different orientation to time (Berens, L. 2010):

  • Stabilizer (SJ) - Past
  • Improviser (SP) - Present
  • Catalyst (NF) - Future
  • Theorist (NT) - Infinite Time

Thinking about the function attitudes of each Temperament it makes sense: Introverted Sensing for Stabilizers is concerned with remembering, recalling, and reviewing, whereas extraverted Sensing for the Improvisers is more about engaging with the environment at any given moment. For Catalysts, the identity and unique potential of a person is often future-oriented and tied with personal and professional development paths, whereas the Theorist is often more concerned with ultimate truths and lasting logical systems and frameworks.

In different cultures, we also see varying attitudes and approaches to time. If a nation has existed for a long time, especially when it has celebrated successes in the past, it is more likely to draw on those past successes and value tradition. Examples might be India or Greece.

Younger nations are more likely to be more present or future focused: since they don't have much experience to look back on, they model values and behaviors towards certain ideals. Take the United States and its Declaration of Independence, for example. Going by age, as one cultural analyst puts it, the US is in the throws of teenager-hood.

When it comes to my home country Germany, I think the attitudes are mixed. Germany's 18th Century writers, thinkers, and musicians are well-known across the world, and conservative politician Bismarck in the 19th Century laid the foundation of the welfare state we know and love today. Then the second world war changed everything. Mention Germany in any conversation today, and WWII will be one of the first things that come to mind. As a recent conversation with a dog-walker in our elevator reaffirmed:

  • Woman: what a nice accent, where are you from?
  • Me: Germany, originally, but I studied in Scotland.
  • Woman: Oh, yes, I'm German too. Well, not born and raised, but when I visited Russia a woman looked at me and said "German! Bad! Pft! Pft!" (spitting at my feet).

I still don't know what I'm supposed to say to that, except I'm sorry this happened to her.

Being present in the moment and living in a state of mindfulness, then, may come easier to those who grow up in a society where present-focus is being encouraged, and those who have a cognitive predisposition to more easily stay in the present in the first place.

Still, present mindfulness is not unattainable, but a question of practice. Five minutes of daily meditation where you do nothing but focus on your breath, counting your heartbeats in and out, is a good start. Up the time as you get more comfortable, and celebrate every millisecond your monkey-brain is not off somewhere making a groceries list.

Reference: Linda Berens, Understanding Yourself and Others, An Introduction to the 4 Temperaments 4.0, Radiance House, CA, 2010

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