Tuesday 3 February 2009

sign your name....

I had to make an extra special effort to make sure that I was at work on time this morning. I usually drag my sorry arse in at around nine o'clock and then spend the next half hour or so making myself a cup of coffee, booting up my laptop, checking the Guardian sports pages... that kind of thing. But today I had to be in on the button of nine for what I was told by my boss was an important company briefing.


I arrived on time (just - getting to work in Monday's snow was no problem, but apparently Tuesday's ice was reason enough for people to drive even more slowly. Tsk.) My boss, however, was running late, so I had time to fetch myself a cup of coffee and to shoot the breeze with a couple of my colleagues who were also waiting for this important announcement.

The briefing, as you might imagine, was not all that interesting. Some changes are being made to various non-contractual terms and conditions to bring us into line with other businesses of our type. Blah, blah, blah. There was a lot of spin about these changes helping to make it a "Great Place to Work" and stuff like that, but the long and the short of it was that we were going to be slightly worse off in things like our sickness benefit and overtime pay so that the company as a whole could save money. I wish they could just say that outright and be done with it, rather than pretend that it's all really in our best interests, but there you go. They've even given us more than a year's notice of their intention to move the normal pay date out by a week. This means that between now and July 28th 2010, I can save a pound a week or something to make sure that this doesn't disturb my finances too much. Whatever.

So far so dull. What interested me though was that, at the end of the briefing, my boss passed round a piece of paper upon which we all had to sign and print our names to say that we had been present at the briefing and that we had received the little leaflet telling us about all the changes. Now, I don't really have a problem with signing the piece of paper, but I started to get really interested in what they were going to do with them all. There were only about ten or so people in this particular briefing, but there are several thousand people in the same office receiving the same briefing, and hundreds of thousands of others receiving it in our various stores, warehouses, factories and the like. Presumably that meant that there were going to be an awful lot of these forms with a fairly motley selection of signatures on them. What, exactly, are they planning to do with these?

Is there going to be someone in HR whose sole job for the next few months is going to be collecting and filing these pieces of paper? Is that person going to check every name as it comes in to make sure that everyone has confirmed that they have been briefed and understand the changes? Are they going compare the list of signatories with those on the payroll and complete a list showing who has not been briefed and those who have perhaps not signed on principle? Are they perhaps going to have all of these signatures filed away somewhere they can be simply and easily accessed at some later date to be used as evidence in the event that someone kicks up a fuss at some point in the future?

No, of course not. If they bother to collect the forms at all, then they are simply going to have several thousand pieces of paper with several hundred thousand names and signatures scrawled on them in absolutely no kind of logical order at all. Looking for one particular name amongst that lot would be a fool's errand indeed, even if you could say that a signature on a piece of paper like that was actually worth a damn.

So, that being the case, what the hell were we being asked to sign for? Perhaps you could argue that the very act of signing the paper was intended to make us really think about the changes they were announcing today, but I'm inclined to think that it was just process for processes sake. It's the kind of thing big companies run on, and I'm sure it's a process that makes someone somewhere feel like they are important.

Maybe that's enough of a reason.


  1. Back when I was working as a manager, and I had to address a bunch of people about a change, I referred to that sheet of paper as a "cover my own ass" document.

    It ended up in my own file drawer. If after the changes took place, if someone complained to a higher up than me, I had a signature to "cover my ass" that I told them about it.

  2. Michael beat me to it.

    Although before I can continue with the rest of my comment, I need just one thing from you.

    Sign here: ______________________

  3. In the old days, when a person's signature was worth something (i.e. when people used more cheques and signed their name a lot more), I'd have been more worried. In the digital age though, your signature is worth bugger all. Maybe they'll put them all together and make a nice mural.

  4. my boss checked for me. apparently a copy of the paper with your own signature on it will be put into your personnel file. So now I know. Still seems like a waste of time to me, but there you go.

  5. I saw my personnel file once - it had a copy of the notes from my initial interview, with the ringing endorsement "worth taking a chance on" written on the top.

    Mind you, I was the only one they hired, so ....

  6. After being quite badly caught out last year, I now make students sign a box on their cover-sheet stating they've received and are happy with feedback for every assessment they do. As Michael says, it's purely to cover my ass. Interestingly, though, it was noted by one of my colleagues, and hailed as "good practice" and something we should all be doing. Consider me the pioneer.