Saturday, September 12, 2009

Corporate hostages

A not-so-senior colleague of mine was recently selected to a Japanese MNC after several rounds of tests and interviews. After successfully clearing the same she had to submit details of previous employers as part of the pre employment reference check. Imagine her surprise and horror when the new employer withdrew their employment offer, because her previous manager gave her a really poor rating in the referral. This gal is known to me and I remember her as one of those people who are mostly seen hard at work with very short tea/coffee breaks.

So what was her fault for getting such a bad reference from her previous manager? That she dared to look for a change after four years in the same company, a better pay packet and a promotion to manager!

Recently a very senior colleague of mine, who had joined a small company so that she could take a break from a hectic job that involved 75% travel and concentrate on her daughter's studies, got the shock of her life when she resigned. Her H.R Manager, after failing to convince her to stay back accused her of giving false employment details (without proof) and humiliated this woman with an enviable track record, before letting her go.

These are not isolated incidents. I hear of such incidents on a weekly basis. Managers and employers getting back at employees who leave, by giving them bad referrals to their new employers. I know of several people who have not joined their new jobs because they are afraid of losing the offer when their background verification report comes in with insidious remarks from previous manager/employer. It doesn’t matter how well you work, if you leave, they screw up your career!

Today millions of employees across India are being held hostage by superiors who have the power to make or break their careers. This creates for a work culture where sycophancy and obsequiousness is the only way you can ensure that you have a trouble free transitions from one job to another.

I think it is time that we had more reasonable employment process, where a company does not have to rely on the word of a prospective employee’s previous employers to hire him or her. It is time companies developed a hiring process that satisfies their queries about the suitability of a prospective employee in a fairer manner.


scorpiogenius said...

Disgusting, and shocking!

What could be done if these assertive and hypocritical bosses feel that the world should only be revolve around them? I don't think there is any sore of laws in place to protect the employee. He/she is at the mercy of the boss. What needs to be changed is the over-dependence on these references or else look ask for 3/4 references within the same company.

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

Corporate hostages indeed! This is shocking abuse of power! I wasn't aware. I suppose it is the backing of the bureaucratic and indolent legal system ensuring that cases never come to court which gives these managers the confidence to do this in India. I am not sure if it is prevalent in other countries?

Anonymous said...

So so true and happening!!!! I am glad you blogged about this!

Anonymous said...

One plan of action that might actually work is to have a system where you can sue the manager for defamation and actually resolve the case in a reasonable amount of time. Harassment at work is taken very seriously in the US, which is why you will rarely find managers giving out bad reviews unless they have the documentation to fully support their claim.

mathew said...

really horrible to know this...i have my share of bad managers too...but this is something truly shocking...she should actually go legal about it..

sunny_raju said...

I have known some one saying similar, coz she had denied physical intimacy with her boss in the past
I might be wrong, but I guess people have started using Linked IN networking site for professional references. dont know how far it works

silverine said...

Scorpiogenius: You are right, employers should use references other than reporting managers. I am afraid this is one loophole employers are abusing to fix ex employees! Something has to be done.

Karthik: This exists sadly! Bigger companies simply ask the employee for another referrer if the manager gives a negative remark. But small and mid size companies take negative remarks seriously and since most of them do the reference check after the employee joins them, it leaves the employee with no job as they would have resigned after getting the offer letter.

Anon: I am hoping that corporates realize how unfair this practice is!

clulessness: Harassment at work is the norm in India. I hope they make it an offense here too and managers are held accountable for reference reports!

Mathew: Thats what I advised her!!

sunny raju: Linked In wont work, as employers insist on reporting managers to give you a reference!

Katte said...

One way to alleviate this situation is for the new company to enforce having the previous manager to give his recommendation in writing. That way there is more accountability as a defamation lawsuit can be pursued if he is being dishonest. Any other forms of recommendation should be taken with a pinch of salt. This should not be difficult since the new employer *wants* the employee and is aware that the old manager is sour. The gist of what I am saying is that the onus for the solution here is on the new company. And maybe, the ease of pursuit of a defamation lawsuit in India.

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

wtf@...most of them do the reference check after the employee joins them

That makes no sense.

Partha Pratim said...

Everyone, especially at the level of recruiting someone is prudent enough to understand how the referral and feedback mechanisms work. There is nothing else we can do except for bringing this up for more active discussions and setting an example ourselves.

Dhanush Gopinath said...

We say we are professionals, and it is just the professionalism they are lacking here. The open mindset to set the employee free and decide his career in his/her own terms. Yet most of the corporates say they are free and open minded. And on the other hand employees openly look for multiple offers, even after accepting the one offer. So in dealing things professionally all are "MatHeMatics" :)

Almost same thing happened with a friend of mine recently where the managers didn't allow him to leave even after serving the notice period, they asked for more days of extraction from him. The company which gave him offer was generous enough to wait for him, since they thought he was really good.

But the fact is it is only with some of the guys I feel. Not every one need to be like that. And that's where the professionalism comes into picture

Non Political Unions? The Jet way? Is it a solution?

~==[[[ Abhi ]]]==~ said...

Totally true! This happens all over the country, no matter how PROFESSIONAL we think they are, ellam @ the end of the day "Down to earth" aan! THARA :)

hammy said...

I've heard of some incidents like that... Frankly, I always wondered why such a flawed practice was ever in place... When someone resigns, it is rare for it to be under such a placid atmosphere; egos are liable to flare; there is a high probability of friction. Certainly, SOME people can be mature enough to take the high road, but to expect that as the norm... totally baffles me.

But I rather think this will wear down... Not because the bitching will cease. On the contrary, my own feeling is that the bitching is going to increase... and once the practice of bitching about your employees is common enough, it'll start doing less and less damage... cos the recruiters will give lower and lower weightages to such backlashes, and eventually, feedback from former employees will only matter if the employee in question is very well known to the new employer.

But... this will take time, and until then, we're all toast.

silverine said...

@all: I have done some further research on the subject and my replies to the second set of the commenters may vary a little from the post due to the new information I have received. Also, please note referral agencies put a red flag on your resume if you have changed more than four jobs in five years. This is not something serious, but a point to note only. Some employers exploit this too to harass employees.

Katte: Apparently bigger companies do
take such recco with a pinch of salt and ask for another reference or make the employee sign a disclaimer. But smaller companies do take it seriously. Your suggestion is good. Ex managers have to mail the feedback form from official ID, but due to confidentiality clauses, the new employer will not divulge the report. So reports have to be made transparent.

Karthik: Thats the practice unfortunately. Otherwise the present employer will know that the employee is leaving when the feedback form comes to his manager! :p

Partha: You are right. I give scores of references and I make sure that I do not say anything adverse even if the person was bad at work. I jut give him/her a satisfactory rating as all of us are on the learning curve.

Dhanush: These are rare instances. What we need is to do is make managers accountable for feedbacks. Unionism is not going to get us anywhere but pro activism in the area of hiring practices will.

Abhi: I do not think it is happening at large scale. But the ones that do happen are serious and damages peoples professional lives.

hammy: You are right. I was talking to my HR manager and she was of the same opinion that if a person got a bad report then it is a question mark on his ex manager as to why he persisted in keeping the employee, giving him raise etc. The fact that he cleared the interview and tests is further proof of his capability she says. Besides relieving letters with the customary line on your conduct also clears the air for you. So perhaps things will change soon.

Anonymous said...

This is shocking indeed ! In the US, you are not allowed to divulge any details about the employee except the fact that he/she worked at the company between so and so dates. I thought it was the same in india too !



its bad world out there- i better make the best of college till i can

its really sad

Dhanush | ധനുഷ് said...

What are the chances that a the company will make the manager accountable if he/she gives a negative feedback? The chances are very rare.

Once the employee has left an organization no company will bother about him/her. So in that case will the employer, try to retain the manager or lose him/her too?

An ideal scenario can be where - may be in the next appraisal of the manager, you add this point too, that his/her handling of the employee that left the organization was bad because - 1. He/she kept on persisting with an employee that was not good (according to him/her).
2. He/she gave a bad feedback even though the employee was really good

and then rate the manager accordingly. The manager's unnecessary negative feedback on the employee should be reflected back to the manager.

But who will do it?

Natasha said...

So corporate write up!!! :-P

silverine said...

V: India will also be following the same policy it looks like, as people are beginning to be aware that managers can get nasty. What concerns me is that some employees are being sacked sometimes after a few months, by telling them that their background verification has come out negative. The report is not shown to them citing confidentiality clauses and they are asked to resign. They make it look like they are doing them a favor by not sacking them and asking for a voluntary resignation instead. This issue has to be addressed.

PD: Dont worry gal, things would have changed by the time you finish studies! :)

Dhanush: You do raise some pertinent points.I feel that since the manager is giving an official feedback, it should be kept in the records of the company or endorsed by the company before it is sent out. This will make them cautious as no company wants a bad word of mouth reputation for fear of scaring off talented hires. Apparently background verification is necessary due to audit purposes.
Also I am told that this issue is already under the scanner, due to negative feedbacks which prevents the hiring of an employee. So some employers are now using creative tactics like asking only for the HR managers endorsement of your employment period and nothing else.

Nats: LOL!! Official writing has crept up towards the end of this post I admit!! I am not surprised that you were on to it like a vulture! :p I guess it is due to too much official writing nowadays and less blogging. Thanks for it pointing out.

Jeseem said...

does ur colleague wear high heel (if she doesn't lend her urs).. it times she put it to proper use. :)
forgive me for saying this, but ur friend needs to be more street smart.
as a general rule,
never give ur manager as reference( ofcourse he wants to keep u in the same co. by hook or crook and get the best output. thats his job). give other people (preferably other ex-employees). and talk to them and make sure that they will give good references.
if u had a bad exit from a previous co, tell ur new employer, u had a bad exit.
and people not joining new job, 'cause they are afraid of bad references from existing employer.. all I can tell them , wake up.. why r u working for such a company.

there are always good companies waiting to hire you .. all you have to do is be willing to look

silverine said...

Jeseem: :) Giving the name of your ex manager is mandatory in some companies!

Meira said...

Goodness! That is scary. But don't these managers realize someone could do the same with them?
What next? 360 degree reference checks? sheesh
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