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Case Analysis: Modern Day Pied Piper

Create platforms at work place that provide opportunities for employees and families to speak up and seek support, writes Anjali Byce

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This case brings back to memory the story of Pied Piper of Hamelin – a folklore we all heard as kids. The story goes: A piper dressed in multicoloured (“pied”) clothing lured away the rats in the town by playing his magic pipe. But, when the citizens of the town refused to pay him for his service; he lured their children by playing his magical pipe.

The modern day rat race, cut throat competition between peers and companies alike, is creating havoc. Unfortunately its ugly manifestations are not limited to the corporate world but spill over into personal lives and therefore the fabric of society we all form a part of. It is our choice (as pipers) whether we leverage the law (the magical pipe) to free society (city of Hamelin) of the rat menace (evils of society including unfair domination between genders) or we stay silent (as disengaged citizens ) and allow the creation of a future generation and a world that is devoid of values and inclusion.

Firuza Menon, the HR Head, is the lone distressed management committee (MC) member of Duwell on learning about a domestically violent ‘high performing’ senior manager. Turning a blind eye is akin to a criminal offence.

The case rightly states that our law defines a crime and does not need to define permission to act. We are responsible to ‘act’. In my view, the topic of violence (including domestic violence) is gender neutral. Stresses in life (work life balance issues, corporate competition, target pressures, peer influences or anything else) do not justify distortions in behaviour of people.

In between a stimulus and a response is a definition. We ‘choose’ how we define a situation and this determines our response.

How must a corporate respond?

Business cannot be at any cost! Values (like safety) extend beyond the physical workplace. We “insure” employees to protect their families; we “ensure” values to protect family and society! Assume that the ‘Breaking News’ next day disclosed Duwell was harbouring (through inaction) a chronic domestically violent employee. What does it do to the brand? Good performance is no compensation for poor values.

There is no choice on ‘whether to respond’– P(u)nch-na-ma(ore) – Yes, the pun is on ‘Panchnama’ (FIR). The absence of an FIR does not justify silence. The MC can file an FIR!

At SKF, we build our culture on the foundation of “mix with care and care for the mix”. This acts as a lighthouse for building an environment of respect, care and inclusiveness. Duwell can emulate this. Actions need to be in both directions – ‘counselling the offender’ and ‘supporting the victim’.

Choosing to terminate Mukesh is a choice the company has. However, public shaming by announcing the issue to external business partners is debatable. It treads precariously on Mukesh’s privacy rights. Sarla needs both legal and social support and counselling. Tolerance of abuse is also a psychological state that needs to be addressed.

Additionally, intolerance for Mukesh’s behaviour must be expressed to him in no uncertain terms. Using a false pretext of poor performance for his exit is also against values. I read a beautiful quote the other day: “Hurt me with your truth but don’t deceive me with your lies”. He too must be offered counselling support that provides a remedy for future.

While all we have talked about so far revolves around a reaction to the situation; Organisational health and culture is built on an environment that is preventive. Enable employees to spot tell-tale signs and arrest these situations. Create platforms that provide opportunities for employees and families to speak up and seek support.

Duwell also appears to have a larger malaise to address – except HR, no MC members seem to think of People! They are only thinking of markets, money and machines. We can’t determine from the case if there is any CSR that Duwell engages in; but may I say – charity begins at home! The best way of building sustainable change - be the change. Can we have Mukesh commit some hours towards support and empowerment of destitute women and children?

What kind of a world do we want to leave behind for future generations? We owe it to our children to be a Piper who helps build a beautiful world.

The writer is Director HR at SKF India. She is an alumnus of Lady Shri Ram College and SCMHRD. She is member CII- National Committee of Industrial Relations

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(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 28-12-2015)