Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Termination Log

I work in a place where if someone is fired, no one is really supposed to talk about it. Management isn’t really supposed to tell their staff members even why someone was fired. It’s almost like you are supposed to pretend it didn’t happen and just carry on.

I understand the reasoning for this approach. It keeps the crew from having a bad reaction when the news is released onto the sales floor.

Coworkers often develop camaraderie; I think anyone would get upset seeing their friend get fired. People can perceive their friend’s job loss to be unfair, even when it is not.

Discouraging a discussion stifles people’s urges to express their unhappiness with the management’s decision, and prevents creating a scene in the workplace. No customer wants to shop in a place where the staff is emotionally enraged with their management.

However, I think it would be a far better tool for strengthening your team if there were a completely open discussion about why people are released from the company.

If the rules governing expected job performance are reasonably clear, and the behaviors that will result in discharge are universally understood, there should be no reason to keep the details of the termination a secret.

I am obviously assuming people are not being fired for unfair reasons, in which case secrecy would be prudent on the management’s part. This is another reason pasting a layer of secrecy over a firing is not helpful for a healthy workplace--it makes people suspicious. Maybe that person was fired without just cause, and that is why it’s being hushed up.

No one likes to feel like they shouldn’t talk about an event that is significant for them (a friend or coworker being fired); sometimes in a scenario like this, unfortunately that is exactly how they are made to feel.

It also makes people feel like they are not trusted. Somehow, they are being told they shouldn’t know about why someone was fired; it doesn’t seem right.

If we opened the discussion surrounding job loss, each dismissal could serve as a reality-based example for the remaining employees regarding the consequences of …whatever it was, probably stealing or harassing someone or something stupid. Or maybe they were a wonderful person who was just not doing a very good job.

Whatever the reason, people would be better able to relate to what are otherwise just imaginable results of hypothetical workplace scenarios. An impending threat on their job is given a backbone and put into perspective. They can relate to it, because it happened to their friend--or someone they at least knew.

The company should print up a bio of the person who was fired and their history with the company, with a photo. It would be sort of like a little obituary.

They would type up a little synopsis, and at the end it would say, “This person was fired because of X, Y and Z. Here is what everyone is expected to do so they will never be fired for X, Y and Z.”

They could put all of the little obituaries in a binder in the break room for the staff to read through during their free time. It would be optional background information people could read through if they wanted to know more about why an employee was fired.

Keeping the binder in the break room would ensure that even if an employee got fired up about a particular obituary, chances are they will at least be on a break; they would have a chance to get any potential outburst out of their system before they have to return to work and handle customers or face their boss.

Employees would obviously benefit from the transparency also, as they would be in a better position to identify patters in termination that they perceived as unfair. People could more easily realize that a particular workplace isn’t a good fit, and work on finding a more desirable environment for themselves.

All the secretive nonsense breeds nasty rumor-making, too. Before you know it, an unfortunate workplace event becomes confused by conspiracy theory and retellings of “he-said-she-said.”

I say, let everything sit out in the open for people to talk about. The truth will set your workplace free.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On Comic Book Collecting

I have always thought it was kind of amazing how insanely high the value of old comic books can become. Anywhere from hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The most valuable comic in the world is worth 1.5 million dollars, which I think even an enthusiastic comic collector would agree is a ton of money for just one comic book.

What I think is most interesting is why these comics are so valuable. It's usually not because they contain some uniquely exciting storyline material, or the artwork is especially affecting.

It also has a lot to do with how old the comic is, what physical condition the comic happens to be in, and how rare the comic is. Sometimes the first appearance of a particular character will inflate the value of a comic book if that character becomes famous or popular; the first appearance of Batman is a $1,380,000 comic and the first appearance of Superman is the $1.5 mil mentioned above. First or early editions of comics that end up running many issues will be worth more.

But basically, it seems like if you can say “Whoa, you still have one of those?" or "I can’t believe you saved that thing for all this time!”, then the comic is more valuable. The actual content or entertainment value of the comic is somewhat irrelevant.

Considering all this, if there were ever a good time to own a valuable comic book collection I think this would be the time. In ten years, it’s very possible comic books will no longer be physically manufactured and bound with paper. Many comic books are available exclusively online already.

As more and more readers become comfortable with the electronic medium, the price of producing a hard copy and shipping it all over the place goes up and up, and laptop/Smartphone/tablet technology continues to improve (and becomes more ubiquitous), it will eventually become more convenient and profitable to just release the comics online and get rid of the paper version altogether. The same thing is happening to newspapers and magazines.

Someday, the production of a physical comic book might become as the production of a vinyl album is today; mostly for old-school or nostalgic effect by retro grouches or hipsters who swear it was better back then, and the new method has got no soul because there is nothing quite like actually holding one in your hands.

Just as records are more valuable today because they pretty much don’t make them anymore at all, I am sure the value of comic books will also soar as they phase out the paper version; people will start getting rid of them and over the years they will become lost or destroyed, until finally they become a genuine museum-worthy artifact.

A selective and fortunate population of nerds will likely become rich because of this inevitable change in medium. Their smugness is well-deserved after all the chiding and disapproval the hobby earned them over the years from their mothers who just couldn’t understand their passion.