Friday, November 15, 2013

Workplace Wisdom IX...The doom-laden appointment letter

AMBIGUOUS, pessimistic and doom-laden – these are the characteristics of most appointment letters. This letter is the employer’s first formal written communication to the employee. It is an invitation to join the team, stay with it and perform well. In return for this, he or she will be paid

a certain consideration which has been arrived at by mutual agreement.  This is the gist of an appointment letter. Its purpose is to communicate to the employee his or her part of the bargain as well as to convey the employer’s commitment.  As both the purpose and the message are clear cut, why do most appointment letters sound like a death knell?
They typically adopt a you-do –it-or-else king of tone. Instead of assuming that the employee will willingly walk into his job with the best of professional intentions, these letters are crafted on the presumption that he’s out to swindle the organization and ‘worm’ himself in; hence the warning.
A lecturer gets an appointment letter which begins; “Please note that the appointment is purely temporary and is terminable at a month’s notice on either side. “  A newly-appointed editorial executive of a journal  is told: “You will be probation for six months during which your service may be terminated at 24 hours’ notice on either side. “An engineering firm issues the warning.  “During the probationary period, your services are terminable without a notice and without any reason on either side.”
With all these ‘threats’ dangling before him the employee is made to feel that he or she should keep a lookout for another job in the first six months or even from the next day itself.  Depending upon the notice period stipulated.
Then there is the clause ‘warning’ the employee to “abide by the administrative instructions and rules and regulations as in force from time to time “or” You will have to observe strictly the rule and working hours of that department…” or “you will not directly or indirectly disorganize official work.”  All these seem to be based on the presumption that the new employee has joined with highly subversive tendencies.
In its bid to play safe, appointment letters take on a tone which border on the offensive.  While they clearly spell out the parameters governing the employee’s behavior, they couch the organization’s reciprocal commitment in terms clouded with ambiguity.
Rarely do they specify the intricacies of the statement: “This arrangement could be terminable by either side at 90 days’ notice or by payment of 90 days’ salary in lieu…  “Only after the event, does the employee realize that “Salary in lieu” only means Basic + DA and not in Toto.  And if he resigns and the company asks him to leave before the full term of the notice period, he will not get compensated.
Why can’t appointment letters be more courteous and informative?  Instead of weighing down these morbid documents with direct threats, why not begin with a warm “We welcome you to the organization”?  Why not couch the whole letter in less ominous sentences?

Rarely is a word whispered in the letter about what the specific job function is.  This appears to be conveniently left out so that when the new appointee is floundering in the dark after joining the organization, he or she can be blamed.
It is high time personnel department are given a crash course in drafting appointment letters that don’t provoke employee hostility and resentment and visions of a prompt resignation.