What We REALLY Want To Say To Our Ex-Employer

I don’t know a single individual who has not at different times in their career wanted to say what they really think to their former employer(s).  For our own good we don’t. As my mother taught me at an early age, if you have nothing good to say – keep your mouth shut.

Fast forward 40 yrs…We live in a world of constant movement. Senior HR execs, like myself, changes jobs approximately every 2 yrs. Many of these moves are not planned if you get my drift. In HR there is the added element of knowing the organization’s achilles heal and as the song goes, its dirty little secrets. All the issues that have bubbled up and potentially even resulted in litigation. Even more concerning  are the issues buried by leveraging the situation and even paying people off to keep their mouth shut. For the naïve among you wake up and smell the roses it happens everyday and even in those 100 best companies to work for businesses…

Individuals who come forward in the heat of the moment (think Goldman Sachs Director last yr.) usually get praise only to be followed by “spin” as well paid PR firms pivot the story into something else. Deflecting and changing the situation to a point the person and story disappear. It almost feels like blaming the rape victim for the assault – the “you asked for it or wanted it” defense. Some don’t come forward on their own and are forced to by extenuating circumstances…Someone else blows the whistle and your name and situation get brought to attention.

Sometimes it takes a couple of years to get the scoop, once the story has been distanced. Remember the CFO at Lehman brothers who came clean about the horrible work environment leading to their eventual melt down (Lehman’s and her own). Oh by the way, she was set up in part to take the blame – Just watch the movie TO BIG TO FAIL on HBO, they mention setting up the newly appointed CFO as a fall guy, or gal, for the board and investors. Failing businesses like scape goats and she was the perfect foil.

Many will argue we get what we deserve, we work for a little bigger paycheck or a higher profile place to move our career and  fatten our wallet. Greed moves us forward. Isn’t there a price for almost any action?

Some of the more concerning issues I have seen involve inappropriate relationships, shy of harassment but causing possibly bigger issues because those not involved are penalized from access and visibly for being bystanders, while those who participate…rocket up the corporate ranks…

For those trying to figure out what and who I am talking about, because you know me or have worked with me. don’t bother because it has  happened at most of my workplaces since graduating college…some situations closer to me personally then others.  Truth be told history and employment issues repeat themselves over and over. The names and businesses change but the incidents are very similar.

Then there is the financial component, companies that slash their raises and bonuses to meet shareholder or board expectations. How many times do you see major banks and financial institutions cut thousands of jobs to preserve billion dollar quarterly profits…Something about that just doesn’t seem right. HR sits on the sidelines silent…what a shame.

Back to my main point, what we really want to say to our EX . The biggest issue holding most back is getting a good reference. No one who spills the beans is getting one. In fact many organizations use severance agreements with no disparagement clauses and claw back features if your caught spilling the beans. As someone who has written and executed many of these over the years, I can tell you it is a very effective tool. Of course the toxins spill out on sites like Glassdoor where anonymity reigns supreme. Most insiders and senior execs dismiss or even laugh at the comments instead of taking them seriously. They should look at “Glassdoor” as a mirror that reflects back all they need to see but refuse to.

I am no saint and may have even committed a few faux pas during my tenure as a CHRO. On balance I think my batting average on treating people right and navigating inappropriate or toxic conditions has been good.. By doing so I have also paid the price, as many of my HR comrades do.  I have also had many an employee speak their mind on the way out the door…its cathartic for them and I rarely ever shared this with management, only when I was concerned about safety.

So let me say what so many want to and can’t: Stop being assholes, start being adults. treat us with dignity and respect…you will get it back 10 fold in our commitment and work.

Gee that was a lot easier than I thought, just a little too late.


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