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The Italian Job (Part 1)
The Italian Job is neither an old movie, nor a remake of it. It is rather a living condition, in which some typical features of our being Italian find room to be expressed.
Talking or writing about job and employment conditions at social and country level, may result tricky, as it is quite easy giving in to temptation of demagogy and populism. Two ingredients able to divert the topic of any discussion from a logical course to other unpredictable destinations.
A smart way to introduce such a complicated topic is by objectivity and irony. The first one is the target to be reached, while the second one is the means to achieve the target.
A couple of years ago I read Il mondo deve sapere (literally: The world must know), written by Michela Murgia, and published by Isbn Edizioni in 2006. The book provides a fresh and ironic picture of the nonsenses upon which the work of promoters, within a call centre, is hinged. The style adopted by the author is essential, straightforward, and immediate, making the transmission of the message to the reader unequivocal. It is not by chance that the book was written starting from the content of the blog, managed by the author, while she had a temporary work, as a promoter.
The product she was required to sell is totally irrelevant. What really matters are the adopted methods, both by the promoters for convincing potential customers to purchase it, as well as by the employers for motivating the employees in their daily job.
It is not my intention discussing the approach to the customers, as it is out of the topic of this post. In this regard, I just want to stress that the clear message emerging from the book is the pronouncedly non ethical, unfair, and nagging attitude of the promoters. A more in depth examination of such an aspect might be the topic of a future post.
What I want to discuss more in detail are the aspects related to the employment conditions, well depicted in the book. First of all, the promoters working at the call centre are all employed exclusively with temporary employment contracts, for periods of time not longer than few months. This is an essential status, enabling the employers to put a relevant psychological pressure on the employees.
Flexibility and meritocracy are the two key concepts, driving the actions of the administrators depicted in the book. Unfortunately, despite a concept can be right and unmistakable, it can be interpreted in multiple ways, including the ones more in contrast to the initial idea they refer to.
The principle of flexibility is meant to enable more possibilities for the employees, so that they can change their role (vertical advancements) and/or the specific tasks (horizontal advancements), aiming at the optimum conditions, according to individual efforts and expectations.
The interpretation of flexibility results, in practice, in the possibility for the employers to offer temporary contracts for very short periods, and with really poor guarantees for the employees. Indeed flexibility, which was meant to be a benefit for employees, results to be an advantage only for employers.
On the other side, the principle of meritocracy is meant to recognize the excellence of the most hard-working employees, awarding them for the significant scored goals, and stimulating the other colleagues in improving their productivity, trying to fill the gap with the best ones.
The meritocracy results in public humiliations of the employees who did not reach the very challenging (and nearly impossible) targets imposed to them. In practice, instead of supporting the conditions for establishing a relaxed and positively competitive work environment, the employees are continuously acting in a condition of tension and fear.
This technique is not too far from the one adopted with watchdogs, trained with rude methods, and kept constantly underfed, in order them to develop more belligerence against intruders. In the case discussed in the book, the flexibility and meritocracy result in aggressiveness exerted against potential customers, and hostility against colleagues, considered more as competitors, rather than collaborators. A remarkable example of how excessive unilateral freedom in interpreting common principles, can lead to totally distorted actual conditions.
To be continued...