Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Is management censoring you?

I was fired today. “Thanks, again, to everyone for your past service in this capacity.”

Let me start from the beginning. I’ve been working at this job for almost a year and a half now. Everyone has always stressed how important being involved in multiple ways has been: join a committee, go to events outside of work hours, say hi in the hallway, take as many classes as you can, ask to work on new projects, etc. A few months ago I decided to get more involved with the Social Committee at work that budgets, plans, and organizes the various social events for our entire department throughout the year. A group of us meet every now and then to talk about ideas for upcoming events like the Thanksgiving lunch, Christmas party, chili cook-off, a summer picnic, little afternoon snack breaks throughout the year, the costume contest for Halloween last week, and (so we assumed) any other ideas that committee members bring to the table to discuss.

Today I received the following email from the Vice President of the department (edited for anonymity):

First, let me thank all of you for volunteering to serve on the social committee this past year. I have been truly impressed with the number, diversity, and quality of events that were planned and carried out within the limited budget we have allocated for such things. And, in my opinion, this past year was the best so far.

However, as we begin the new fiscal year, I would like to constrain the size of this committee, which currently lists a total of 14 members, so that it might operate even more efficiently and effectively. For example, a smaller committee should find it easier to find time to meet and make decisions, whereas it’s almost impossible to find a convenient meeting time for a committee of 14 staff and, frankly, I don’t see how you cold hope to arrive at consensus with a group that size.

So, for this year, I am asking that _________ serve, again, as the Committee Chairperson, and that the following staff also serve as members: [head admin], [one of the former committee members], [another admin], and [the 3rd admin]. Of course, this is voluntary service, so please don’t hesitate to let me or the chairperson know if you cannot (or simply choose not to) serve on the committee for any reason.

Thanks, again, to everyone for your past service in this capacity.

-- [VP of Division]

Let me see if I read this correctly. “You did a great job last year. In fact it was the best year ever. But it’s clearly not working, so let’s cut out all the inefficient people. In fact, let’s just keep the chairperson and the admins, and I’ll throw in one of the members to make it look like I didn’t get rid of everyone. Thanks everyone else, you’re fired”.

I have many gripes with this email.

1) How is it that I can be removed from a voluntary committee that I do not charge time to the company for? If I want to provide input in an email or in passing in the hallway to the social committee for their next event or bake cookies for my coworkers or help negotiate with a charity for the holiday season, what is stopping me? Essentially this email is only telling me that I am being removed from the list-serve so that I will no longer have any information about what is going on.

2) It is common sense not to fix something that is not broken. If everything worked really well in past years, why would you change the system? (To me this suggests that other factors were in play, ie bureaucracy)

3) If there is a problem with finding a meeting room or arriving at a group consensus, I believe that other fixes should be attempted first before just removing over 60% of the committee. We are smart people. If the problem was ever brought to the group’s attention we could have thought of a solution. Break down the group into smaller sub-groups for certain activities. Plan monthly meetings ahead of time in a conference room that will fit at least 14 people. Reorganize into a chairperson, co-chair, secretary, etc and have the secretary send out an email to the rest of the group so that we could at least vote on which activities we support or ask us for our input via email. There are limitless solutions to a problem.

4) The remaining members of the committee do not and simply cannot represent my opinions at large. The remaining members are all fairly conservative, over 30, and rarely brought new ideas to the table. Every single employee under the age of 30 was cut from the committee (that’s at LEAST 4 of us). Every single “out-spoken” employee who suggested any sort of crazy or otherwise unconventional idea to the group was removed from the committee. Management, why would you remove all the young and creative staff from a committee that will only thrive on the success of fun? Young people know fun.

5) Most importantly, I am upset because management has set a tone. A tone that individual opinions are not accepted. A tone that anyone who dissents or rocks the boat will be cut. A tone that is unfair. Anyone in the department should be free to express their concerns or suggestions for social events because we all participate in them. I wanted to have an opinion, so I joined the committee (and let’s not forget that I was told that I needed to get more involved and be more social) and now I’ve been fired. Great.

My question is what was the VP trying to accomplish by sending this email? By attempting to control a more “efficient and effective” social committee, he has instead angered at least 10 of his employees, if not more.

Now I’m stuck in a catch-22. I want to make it clear that we are very upset at this move, but I know that if I say anything or rock the boat it will not be received well. It seems appropriate at this point to boycott the events that I am told I have no opinion in forming. What do you think about management getting rid of Gen Y? Have you had similar experiences?


  1. I don't know the specifics of the company culture or your role in it but this is my experience. If I am upset about something, especially if I feel it's unfair or plain out wrong I absolutely make it known. Obviously you need to be diplomatic about it so you might not want to go in to your VPs office telling him how wrong he is. Just start out saying that you were disappointed by the changes to the committee and you were hoping to discuss it.

    My theory has always been that it's always OK to rock the boat as long as you stay level headed and respectful. If management gets upset that you have opinions or that you want to help improve things then it's probably not the sort of company I would want to work for.

    I prefer to err on the side of being brazen and ruffle some feathers because if you sit by and don't say anything because you're afraid of being fired you're not taking an active role in your career.

    The best way to become a leader is to take the lead. It's better to ask for forgiveness then for permission.

    Heck, if he doesn't want the 10 of you on his committee, just start your own committee. There is no reason you can't organize events on your own.

  2. I wouldn't push it. Maybe make one inquiry and/or a request to be reinstated to the VP, but don't push it. Someone, somewhere up the line complained about this committee taking too much time, too long of meetings, unwieldy emails, or something. The VP, who may or may not consider social activities "beneath" him/her, probably made a quick, not-so-thought-out decision to resolve the problem and doesn't want to hear about it in the future. Potentially unfortunate, but in the grand scheme of things not that big a deal. At my old job, when I realized that the only activities/projects I really looked forward to were the volunteer/extra/"non-priority" projects I volunteered for, I decided it was time to move on.

  3. @andrew: I like your attitude. brazen :) In my head, it would play out just like you've laid out, except in reality after taking some time to cool off, I don't think it would bring me the results I'm hoping for. The VP probably doesn't even know who I am and quite frankly I don't even know where his office is. I guess I'm at a standstill on this one...

    @11frogs: yes, you make a good point too! It's probably just time to move on.