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Belgian Company Lets Online Voters Choose Who To Fire

Results in Sales Increase That Eliminates Need To Downsize

Belgian Company Lets Online Voters Choose Who To Fire

By Mark Swartz
Canadian Workplace Specialist

Talk about your bizarre turn of events. With much of Europe in recession, a small advertising agency in Belgium reached a point where it had to let one of its 10 employees go. And what does a creative company do when it’s forced to downsize? Why, post “mug shots” of its staffers online, complete with brief biographies, and ask the public to choose which one should be turfed.

The Brussels-based company goes by the name of So Nice – an irony thicker than a Belgian waffle. Its owner says that business was down. Some customers were paying later and later, then not at all. Thus the need to shake things up.

And shake things up they did. First the owner asked employees for volunteers to take part in this unique exercise. Eight said yes. Then a website was built exclusively to promote the goings on (www.youchoosewefire.be). Within a week, 15,000 voters from 20 countries had cast their ballots.

The free publicity was a boon. So much so that a bunch of delinquent customers fessed up and paid their bills. At the same time the attention generated by the site, mentioned in Canadian media too, led to new clients coming aboard.

It appears to be a happy ending for all. The ad agency was able to avoid downsizing anyone. The employees enjoyed their respective 15 minutes of fame. Now 2009 looks like it might be a banner year for this firm.

Mind you, one has to wonder about any lingering effects on poor Jerome, Alex, Jean-Seb, Helene, Patrick, Sebastian, Nico and Martin, the employees who consented to be part of the online guillotine. Which one of them received the most votes to lose their job? Is that person haunted by the fact that thousands of strangers around the world want to see him or her unemployed? (Maybe they should be looking at Monster Belgium just to hedge their bets.)

One thing’s for sure. Now that this stunt has worked for one company, all sorts of assorted copy cats can’t be far behind. Take Microsoft. Maybe it’ll try to save its 5,000 employees slated for dismissal by holding your computer’s operating system for ransom. GM, Chrysler and Ford can halt further layoffs by having you pay to prevent them from coming late at night and slashing your tires. As for me, I’ll be guarding my PC and sleeping in my car until firms like these start hiring again. Whether you choose an edgy approach in employee downsizing and retention, like So Nice did, I leave up to you.

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is the best selling author of "Get Wired, You're Hired!" He is a professional speaker and consultant on workplace issues at www.CareerActivist.com