In Competition No. 2378 you were invited to supply an extract from a book entitled either How to Fire an Employee or How to Fill Mental Cavities.
How not to fire an employee was once demonstrated by my friend H, a timid, kindly American publisher who was determined to get rid of a rebarbative member of staff. Hoping that alcohol would fuel his courage, he invited the doomed man to lunch. The brandy was being drunk and H felt the strength welling up in him when the victim leant forward, aimed his finger at H and announced waggishly, ‘You’re fired!’ A year afterwards, visiting New York, I learnt that he was still in the job.
The first title I offered you was, not surprisingly, published in Beverly Hills, the second, less predictably, in Bicester. The prizewinners, printed below, get £30, except for Niall Macdonald, who gets an extra fiver for his Machiavellian contribution.
How the Prince may rid himself of an overweening Purse-bearer.
It is comfortable to bask in the glory of this assiduous servant’s work, but no one should be so close as to enjoy privy dinners and thereafter cause tales of compacts and promises of succession to be spread.
The Prince could have him killed, but the common people, content though they are with their processed bread and electronic circuses, may be stirred to rise by pamphleteers, more especially if the Prince has been seen to persecute unjust wars or levy oppressive taxes.
A better stratagem is to heap praises on the victim and increase his task without greater powers. Then appoint another with similar responsibilities so that the Purse-bearer consumes his energies with internecine warfare until at last, exhausted, he quits his post.
The Prince has thus skilfully removed him without the opprobrium that would otherwise attend such a deed.
Ideally, you will tailor an environment where the employee’s self-esteem can only crumble: intercept emails; send the person to pointless conferences, then conduct important business in his/her absence. Drastically reduce the workload: nothing rankles more with colleagues than conspicuous idleness in others. For blue-collar redundancies-in-waiting, more rigorous measures may be appropriate. Deploy a trusted line manager to nit-pick over timekeeping and excessive washroom visits. Your shop-floor ally should remark that the employee looks hungover, especially when not the case. Personal hygiene problems — body odour and halitosis, say — are also conditions worthy of sniffy address. Now that the enervation process is operating nicely, spin the advantages of alternative employment: ‘We’re holding you back here’ or ‘Your horizons lie elsewhere.’ By making superfluous staff desperate to resign, you save yourself the stress and embarrassment brought on by the dismal machinery of dismissal.
It is appreciated by the Health and Safety Executive that persons employed specifically as Human Cannonballs have entered into a contract to be fired from a cannon. Nonetheless, the law requires that the employer exercise duty of care over the employee. Provision of safety clothing to the correct standard is obvious, but the cannon mechanism itself must also be suited to the size and shape of the person to be fired from it. In Flying Freddy vs Woodgates Circus (1998) it was held that an employer using a cannon of a calibre insufficient to allow the employee to exit it smoothly was failing in his duty of care. The law also requires that the employee should receive full training, and that such training should be documented. The regulatory authority is entitled to inspect records of training and Risk Assessment, at the location where the cannon is operated, given reasonable notice.
Before filling cavities administer instant anaesthetic. One paragraph of any EU Directive, or five lines by Salman Rushdie, are recommended for all but the largest brain-stem craters. Thus protected against extremes of cynicism or fantasy, attempt the dispassionate completion of the following. This will fill all cavities with wonder, laughter and hope.
Chapter 1: General principles
The treatment of the mental cavity, as in dentistry, depends on the size of the cavity and the health of the surrounding tissue. If the mentality seems generally sound, in the case of a small cavity an injection of sapientia may be sufficient, the dosage increasing with the age of the recipient to adulthood. Larger cavities may need a preliminary treatment with an interest-arousal solution. In adults such preliminary treatment is essential even for small cavities, which may well have proliferated with neglect, affecting the general mental state. For the largest cavities there is often no solution but, as a placebo, beer and skittles may be prescribed or, in extreme cases, any currently available soap.
No. 2381: Bouts rimés