Don’t shoot the messenger

Well, here we are again.

Another year has gone by and here I am delivering yet more bad news to a group of people who should have seen it coming, but are still shocked and crushed nonetheless.  All but one of them has been here before. Last year and in some cases, the year before, too. It can’t be good.

No-one likes the news that they may not have a job in 6 weeks time. But as I sit with Manager Frank as he delivers the rationale for why half the staff have to go, I can’t help but be amazed at how they take it. Frank has never been in a position to deliver this kind of news, and I can feel him waiver and shake from within. But he pulls it off. None of the audience will ever know how much time I sat with him and made sure he was saying the right things in the right way, explaining what to do when, and how this long and horrible process has to work. They see him, their leader, strong and decisive. I know better.  

How do they take it? Lets go round the room.

Cyril, a big, miserable-looking lump of a man is good at his job, despite the appearances. He takes the information in and grunts occasionally as though someone is badly telling a funny story he’s heard before, even though its not funny, and yes, he has heard it before. He asked pertinent questions about how he’ll be affected by the pending redundancies, but theres a sense of sadness about him, despite his gruffness.

Next to him is Carl. A skinny man who looks permanently like he’s been caught doing something he shouldn’t be.  Not an idiot, but he’s certainly not very good at his job, and before the redundancy threat came along, he may have been looking dismissal in the eye in any event. He seemed fairly pragmatic about the news, and even put forward some useful suggestions.

Brenda, a hard-working, conscientious and dilligent member of staff who we’d be sorry to lose looked close to tears and barely spoke. Secretly I know that as long as she applies for her own job, she’s safe. I cannot tell her that. No-one can. I feel her pain, but there is nothing I can do. Absolutely nothing.

Violet, who reminds me of Thelma from the Scooby Doo cartoons, makes a fuss and moans and complains and was utterly selfish. She has no awareness of how the others feel, unlike me. She drew attention to herself, tried to make others feel sorry for her and succeeded in doing exactly the opposite. She too is not meeting her targets, and is performing at a much lower level than Cyril and Brenda, and they know it. Violet made no friends today.

Christine stoically took in the information, and worried about her poor sickness record. Her achievement level is similar to Violet’s, but she didn’t upset the applecart, and quietly wrote her own notes to ask sensible questions later. Christine is generally easily led by others – but not today.

Bob is off sick, unwell and poorly performing. If redundancies hadn’t come knocking, Bob would be facing dismissal earlier even than Carl. He was grateful for the information we gave him, and even thanked me. Unbelievable.  

Muriel squeaked and sqawked and generally tried to be teacher’s pet by making out she knew all along that things were bad and that something like this was bound to happen. Muriel is a high achiever, but she talks too much, is very emotional and manages to upset everyone very easily. She stamps her feet and cries when she doesn’t get her own way. So today, she just did her thing. Out of all the others, Muriel is the only one who hasn’t been through redundancies before. She is fairly new to the team, and had no appreciation that these others are all survivors.

As a team, this is a most dysfunctional team. Their line manager, Kate, is inexperienced and finds it hard managing this group of people who are, at best, like a sack of cats.

None of the team mentioned Kate. Partly because they hate her anyway, and partly because, with the exception perhaps of Brenda and Cyril, everyone else is way too selfish to consider anyone other than themselves. 

No-one thanked me as we left. No-one except Frank, that is.

I’ve never stopped to think about it like this before, but I am the messenger. I say what needs to be said in a sensible, reliable way. I am the voice of the corporation, a face for the faceless entity that is an organisation. The person to shout at, to complain to, to hate. On another level, the complainers know that I am there for them. Administering the will of the company, yes – but they know it isn’t my will. It isn’t me they hate. They just need a messenger to shoot. Its nothing personal.

And that’s me.


3 Responses to “Don’t shoot the messenger”

  1. 1 anotherblogger 29 July 2009 at 9:05 am

    no one thanked you as you left after telling them their jobs are gone and you’re calling THEM selfish?

    I realise the job you had to do must be very hard. I really do. It’s not the sort of thing I would like to do by any means. I knew I wouldn’t like your angle, though after the first paragraph:

    “No-one likes the news that they may not have a job in 6 weeks time. But…”

    that first sentence, only ONE sentence in fact, immediately followed by a ‘but’ made my heart sink because it’s such an understatement and to put a but in after only 15 words was unkind.

    Maybe I’m a little sensitive because my partner has been told by HR that they will formally announce redundancies at the end of August. 6 weeks is not a lot of time, so that they gave the team a heads-up about it early was kinda nice. The team sort of expected it as soon as they heard HR was coming down from Manchester for an announcement but they were thinking of all the OTHER things it could be because it’s damn scary to know the plug is being pulled on you – even worse when you know it’s happening all over so finding a new job quickly isn’t that likely. Redundancy might not look so bad from where you’re sitting but that’s because it’s not happening to YOU.

    In my partner’s case, he hated his job already so doesn’t really mind. He was going to early next year anyway, so it works out well for him but when he talks of how it’s affected the team in his office: the fears, the shake of confidence and the concern about their and their familys’ futures, it’s kinda heart-breaking. People are afraid.

    So have a heart. Losing your job is more than just something ‘no one likes’, it feels shitty, really scary, too. If people start acting selfishly, it’s because the company has said: you’re on your own now. Being made redundant affects one very personally and team dissolves, so selfishness is probably the most appropriate reaction.

  2. 2 drunkenspaniel 30 July 2009 at 12:01 am

    Hi Another. Thanks for your post.
    The important thing is – I do have a heart. Losing your job is a horrible thing, and what I wanted to try and get across in my post (and obviously failed miserably!) is that the people who have worked hard and do a great job are the ones who get hit the hardest. The people who have contributed hugely to the situation they now find themselves in because they haven’t been pulling their weight are the ones who don’t seem to have noticed it coming, have very little concept of how the others might feel about it, and are just out for what they can get.

    To be perfectly honest, I don’t expect people to thank me. That’s not my job – but to have someone sensible delivering the news in the right way is so much better than the alternative.

    I wanted people to know that I’m only a person too. I feel too.
    But it seems that since I deliver bad news for a living, I must be a cold evil husk of a person. It makes people feel better to believe that.

    And I’m so not.

  3. 3 anotherblogger 30 July 2009 at 6:05 pm

    yeah, I think the person behind the name badge does often get overlooked. I know I would not relish doing what you and your colleague had to do. I guess everyone is too busy reeling from the news to consider the person who’s had to psych themselves up to tell it. It also means the skill of doing it well and properly gets lost. Hope it gets better where you work and you can be the bearer of better news soon.

    As to the it being the lazy ones who seem most scared. I’m not sure that’s true but then again, maybe lazy have an instinct for knowing when they’ve got it good and are the least happy when the gravy train is kicking them off for fare dodging. Plus, being lazy, the prospect of job hunting sounds like too much hard-work. They’d much rather just tread water and hope no one notices.

    My partner and I are now in the weird position of being nervous that they DON’T make his team redundant. We’re rather looking forward to cycling round the world on his redundancy pay. Have you ever had someone punch the air at being told they’re being made redundant? I imagine HR have seen it all.

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