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The Pleasanties Of The Corporate Culture

Last month my father lost his job which, in a country with relatively high levels of unemployment is not in itself a big deal. However the nature in which the job was taken had me astounded at the coldness of the corporate culture that has recently become a part of New Zealand. Although I had been aware of the increasing dispensibility of both workers and jobs over the years, the reality of the newspaper headlines and TV bulletins is bought so much closer to home when it affects someone you know.

My father had worked for Tip Top icecream for over 20 years, delivering their products in one of their trucks around the Hawkes Bay. When the company corporatised the distribution of their products my father went with the company, purchasing the truck and contracting delivery to the company – effectively setting up his own business.

At the time the letter came one Saturday afternoon he had been doing his job longer than any of his customers had been in business and had developed a number of long-term relationships with customers who, over a number of years, had become friends.

So after 20 years of working for one company it was a shock to the whole family when a letter turned up, in the post, stating that a head office decision had been made not to renew his contract and his job would be over in two weeks time. Two weeks notice for 20 years service.

The company was duly called and an explanation sought, only to be told that the decision was made some time ago and the company was not going to enter into any further discussion or attempt to justify the decision.

Two weeks notice for 20 years service, despite the decision being made in advance, without even the courtesy of an explanation or warning that the decision was looming, or even possible. Two weeks to wind up a business, farewell customers and face unemployment for the first time in decades, and all that goes with that.

I talked about this with a number of friends and expressed my incredulity at what seemed the ultimate in cold-faced corporate cruelty. I was surprised at their reaction. A number had similar tales to tell of how family members had restructured whole businesses only to find that when the job was done their job was the last to go. Others knew of people who had employed staff only to be immediately replaced by them. Others still were surprised at what I now accept was my own naievity. “This happens all the time,” I was told more than once. “This has been happening to thousands of people for well over ten years.”

And when I think about it now I know they are right. Like most of the country I have watched thousands and thousands of jobs shed in this country – from the freezing works, the clothing factories and the ongoing corporate ‘restructurings’ – without giving too much thought to how these job losses affect, and often completely devastate, the individuals and families concerned. Indeed the ‘R’ word – restructuring – has fast become one of the most feared terms among the corporate sector, due primarily to the frequency with which it is used and the implications when it is.

The experience which has affected my own family has shown me how unresponsive the corporate culture is to customer concern. Friends and customers of my father have been unable to reach any higher than middle management to make their displeasure known and much of the corporate memory of the decision left when the man who communicated the decision left the company soon after. This is a big part of the problem – harsh decisions are often made only to be forgotten completely when certain staff move on.

Although I am now under no illusions about the frequency with which similar decisions are made in various corporations across the country, I find it hard to get my head around how people can be comfortable with making these decisions, how there doesn’t appear to be any reward for loyalty and, at the end of the day working for a company for 20 years is just the same as working for them for 20 days.

I know there are a number of businesses and corporations who treat their staff well and respect and value them, but I also know now that it is an employers market. More and more it seems that increasing profit is taking priority over decency and consideration for those who help make it

After years of loyalty to Tip Top products I now buy Streets ice cream as a matter of course. It doesn’t make much difference anymore, both are foreign owned companies, but it makes me feel a little better.

The ‘developments’ within my own family have not necessarily been for the worse. Some people find themselves feeling strangely liberated that, after spending a long time working for someone or something, they can see other options that they might not have looked for before. There’s also a lot of ‘thank god I don’t work for you any more’ as people realise the values, or lack of them, of companies which they had supported and maintained.

I hold no concerns for my own father’s future, however I feel much more empathy when I read the papers and hear of plants shutting and the dreaded ‘R’ word. Job security doesn’t exist as it once did and the job market is shrinking in New Zealand. What happened to our own family is certain to happen to thousands and thousands more.

Whether these people get treated with a little more respect remains to be seen. In some places and certain corporations it seems it is simply impossible to earn these days.


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