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Fix It Or Forget It?

November 30th, 2011

Employers have countless applicants per position, so they can be much more selective than ever about whom they select.  When does “discriminating” become “discrimination,” however . . . and what can be done about it?

Arthur* worked for a large company and had survived a few rounds of layoffs, but it was unsettling to him to watch various people around him lose their jobs – friends, acquaintances and strangers combined.  Perhaps worst of all, though, was the manner in which some of the RIFs were handed down.

Of course, it’s never pleasant to lose one’s job, but Arthur felt that there were more equitable means to select who would be let go than the current methods.  For example, instead of length of time served with the company, relative level of management, or even perceived departmental value to the company, Arthur personally knew of individuals who were terminated after years of dedicated service simply because of a recent minor error in judgment or mistake that could easily have been fixed.  Much of it seemed related more to politics than skill or tenure.

Since it appeared that management was looking for excuses to get rid of various staff, Arthur felt that he couldn’t consider his job safe, and that he had only been lucky thus far.  He thought it was best to begin a job search, but quietly, because one of the “mistakes” that cost others to be let go was visibly job hunting.

Among the staff left behind, it was common for lunch room discussion to be about how lucky the remaining ones felt, not to have to be looking for another job in such a difficult market, and many lamented about the challenge being greater, “at my age.”  When Arthur shared his actual age during one of these discussions, the others were stunned and expressed that they all thought he was quite a bit older.

Arthur has a family trait of being prematurely gray, and upon learning that he clearly comes across as much older than he is, felt that this would hurt his chances while interviewing.  On the other hand, he was concerned that dyeing his hair would be a dead giveaway that he is interviewing, and his head would be next on the chopping block for the upcoming round of layoffs.

I advised Arthur to leave his discount haircut place and Fix It! by investing in a higher priced salon – one that he would have to visit very regularly.  Instead of having a different person cut his hair each time, he needed to build a relationship with a single professional stylist, and have her gradually take the gray out of his hair.

Setting up interviews would likely take a couple of months, I advised, and if his hair slowly lost its gray, it would be less noticeable at work.  Over time, he would probably be perceived as “more valuable” at his office, as well as during his upcoming interviews.

It took nearly a year, but Arthur avoided a couple more rounds of layoffs and kept his current position, while also interviewing, until he found another position with a smaller company that he felt was a better fit.

“It surprised me how many details I had to invest in during my job search — including items, effort and time.  Details that nobody thinks about before they begin, but are actually quite important in helping you reach your ultimate goal,” Arthur recounted.

Blanche* had a long and successful history of recruiting and managing volunteers.  She interviewed with an organization whose identity was strongly associated with community service and outreach, through volunteer service, and they had an opening for a senior volunteer manager position for their main project.

Blanche had made it to the final round of interviews and for this final meeting, she was given a good deal of detailed internal literature to review, in addition to the online research that she had already done.

What she learned while reviewing these materials the week before her final interview was that the site managers (and senior manager, when present) are expected to lead the volunteers at the start of each day’s work in a group prayer, as a motivation.

This disturbed Blanche, since there was nothing in the organization’s website or mission statement to indicate that it was a religious organization.  While she understood the need to motivate the troops, she could certainly see how someone might feel isolated, intimidated or even offended by feeling compelled to begin the day by participating in prayer.

Blanche herself had misgivings about leading a group in prayer as well, and it was clear from these final enclosures that it was part of her job description.   While she expected that she could explain that she wished to abstain and so forth, if this was part of their organizational identity, she realized that she probably wouldn’t be as effective in her job if she began by not participating in something they considered to be so important.  Mostly, though, she found the organization’s subversive tactics to be distasteful.

If they want to identify as a religious organization, why not do so, out in the open?  And, if they want to embrace all faiths, why compel others to participate – without warning – in a ritual that some may not believe in?

Blanche decided to Forget It! and she called the HR Director prior to the final interview, telling her that she wished to withdraw her candidacy.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

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