Many fields of human endeavour give rise to sly phrases and painful euphemisms, but perhaps none more so than the world of employment relations.
Maybe it is because the language of dismissal can be so brutal – sacked, severed, retrenched, terminated – that employers strive for something to soften the blow for the employee, or indeed just to make the employer itself feel less bad about what it is doing. We’re going to release you, let you go, allow you to spend more time with your family, that sort of thing.
There are many such examples, but few match this little jewel from the CEO of Fab, an online design store which recently dismissed over 100 staff in Germany in order to focus on its US operations. Stunned staff were told by memo that Fab had decided that they had “the opportunity to start your new job search immediately”. Outstanding.
It must have been a difficult choice for the Fab CEO – stand up and say something so appalling to the faces of his staff, or do it in writing from a safe distance but thereby ensure an instant leak to the press (thank you, Bloomberg) and your immortality in the annals of ludicrous HR-speak.
On the topic of ludicrous, welcome to UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom. He has been in the press this week for a series of remarks which he apparently thought were about the UK’s foreign aid budget and everybody else heard as a series of racist remarks which would have brought colour to the cheeks of a 1970s comedian. The comments themselves would have led to his expulsion from any political party except UKIP and the British National Party, but in their own way they were not nearly so heinous as his belated and clearly unwilling apology.
We would always advise an early apology by any employee or manager seeking to limit the harm done by some unthinking or inappropriate remark, but not one like this (we have added sub-titles for ease of reference):
“At a public speech ……I used a term which I subsequently gather [must absolutely have known] under certain circumstances [being used at a public speech] could [would always] be interpreted as pejorative to individuals and possibly [inevitably] cause offence.
Also quite clearly [what?] no such personal use was intended [I was trying for a laugh], I understand [I still really do not understand] from UKIP’s Chairman and leader … that I must not use the terminology in the future, nor will I [no more public speaking for me], and I sincerely regret [but am not actually apologising for] any genuine offence [who could possibly be offended?] which might [I still don’t get this] have caused offence or embarrassment to my colleagues [I know I look a frightful clown, but please don’t sack me, Nigel]”.
Where an apology or expression of regret is appropriate in the workplace (and there are many day-to-day frictions where it is the right, easy and effective thing to do) then please do not let your managers produce tripe of this sort. A prompt and genuine retraction and acknowledgement of hurt caused can greatly limit injury to feelings and is not a sign of management’s weakness but of its strength. Something as shameful as Mr Bloom’s parodic apology, on the other hand, will only make matters far worse, as he is currently discovering.