Why Some Research in Motion Staff are Feeling the Spin

Dear employee, you have been selected for a special program...

By , Columnist
In his brilliant book On Writing Well—a publication that all aspiring writers should read—William Zinsser describes clutter in writing as (among other things) “the official language used by corporations to hide their mistakes.” I was reminded of this today when I read a press release issued by Research in Motion (RIM), the Canadian company responsible for the BlackBerry.

RIM has been getting bad press recently for relatively poor financial figures. Today the company announced that it was laying off 2,000 of its staff. In the good old days this would have been called a cost cutting measure. Sadly, though, there are connotations inherent in the poor word ‘cutting’ that imply something negative. That is not what any credible modern corporation wants to be seen to be. Hence, the impending departure of 2,000 staff from the offices of RIM is part of a "cost optimization" program. That makes sense because to cut is to harm but to optimize is to make better.

Furthermore, these are not as unsophisticated as ‘layoffs’. These workers are not even being ‘let go’ (as though they’d been held against their will).  As described by RIM in a June 16 press release, the decrease in staffing is a ‘headcount reduction.’

In case you wondered, this action isn’t wisely intended to reduce the cost of salaries by cutting back development of things that aren’t selling. Rather, it is focused on “taking out redundancies” and a “reallocation of resources” so that RIM can “focus on the areas that offer the highest growth opportunities” and accelerate “new product introductions”. These are creditable aims given that 2,000 people will soon no longer have a pressing reason not to buy an iPhone.

According to RIM’s announcement today, it is going to notify its count of approximately 17,000 heads sometime this week that their number is going to be reduced. I found myself musing today on the form this communication might take. In the spirit of Zinsser’s critique, I offer the following imaginary letter that I hope will convince any RIM employee who might soon be out of work that this is, in fact, a good thing.

Dear Sir/Madam:

I am delighted to inform you that you have been selected to participate in our cost optimization program. As a result of your selection for this program, you and 1,999 other privileged employees will be entitled to enjoy a large lump sum payment courtesy of Research in Motion that you can accept with no obligation. Furthermore, after 30 days, you will be able to take advantage of our new Free Time Maximization Initiative that allows specially selected RIM employees to escape the pressures of the daily office grind and spend more time with their families.

We understand that some employees may not fully appreciate the advantages the Initiative offers in terms of increasing their available time for personal activities. You might be concerned about your ability to separate yourself from the work to which you have shown such commitment. With this in mind, we will proactively facilitate your extraction from the salaried productive activity you pursue on our behalf by expediting your relocation to a vantage point exterior to the prefabrication in which you conducted such activity and retaining your key pass.

As a participant in the cost optimization program, you should rest assured that in your absence RIM will continue to reallocate resources to areas that offer the highest growth opportunities in alignment with its strategic objectives. Should you be concerned that your selection for this special program coincides with financial difficulties that the company may have experienced as a result of the economic slowdown, or that it is related to the company’s rumored failure to innovate competitively, rest assured that neither is the case.  Whilst it may appear that you are being made redundant, note that the cost optimization program was designed to eliminate redundancies. In other words, you have for some time been surplus to our requirements.

Please leave your BlackBerry at the door.

Yours sincerely,

S. Pin.
Assistant, Headcount Depreciation Department

I should point out that although I am an iPhone user, I have nothing whatsoever against RIM and there is much to be admired about its products. I have, however, been taught that one should not indulge in written tautological obfuscatory verisimilitude when simple, honest words will do.

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Michael Simpson is a freelance writer, editor, presenter, researcher, instructor, gadget freak and sci-tech consultant based in British Columbia’s beautiful Okanagan Valley. Formerly from the UK, he’s converted from tea to coffee and written and presented on film, TV, science, nature, technology,…

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