1994 - Themes on a Christmas Carol
One of the lasting themes in
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is the pursuit
of wealth for its own sake without social responsibility.
Scrooge sits in his counting house, oblivious
to his own material needs and those of his employee,
The relationship between manager
and employee has rarely been more pertinent than
it is today. Suppose, instead of focusing on the
human condition, Dickens had looked at the job
itself. Suppose the spirits who visit Scrooge
after he has seen the apparition of his late partner,
Marley, are concentrating on something other than
his personal history and prospects. Imagine, for
instance, he is visited by the spirits of jobs,
past present and future. What would they have
A condensed version of the story
might have started thus:
The job was dead to begin with.
There is no doubt whatever about that. Dead as
a doornail. Scrooge knew it was dead. Scrooge
was the employer and Scrooge needed no more jobs,
not in the ordinary course of events.
Hard and sharp as flint - a squeezing,
wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous
old sinner - Scrooge sat in his counting house
on a cold bleak, foggy Christmas Eve. 'You'll
not be in tomorrow, I suppose,' he said to his
'If quite convenient, sir.'
'It's not convenient,' said Scrooge,
'and it's not fair. Expecting the employer to
shoulder every social responsibility. If it's
not holidays, it's maternity leave, sick pay and
pensions. Bah. Humbug,' said Scrooge. 'You'll
be downsized, soon enough. Downsized or outsourced.'
Scrooge stepped out into the
cold, misty City streets and wound his way through
the throngs of last minute shoppers until he came
to the chambers he had once shared with his former
partner, Marley. Was that Marley's face upon the
knocker. ' said Scrooge to himself, twitching
his eyes. Settling himself in his nightgown, a
bowl of gruel on his lap, he tried to rid himself
of Marley's image. But the face was everywhere
about the room. A noise of dragging chains and
footsteps, at first faint, now clearer, could
be heard beyond the bedroom door.
The apparition as it passed through
the door was visible at once as Marley, dragging
his heavy chain fixed to cash boxes, keys, padlocks,
ledgers and deeds.
'Who are you?' asked Scrooge.
'Ask me who I was. This chain,
these boxes, these trappings of the job. I wear
the chain I forged in life.' The spirit looked
Scrooge in the face. 'I am here to warn you. You
may yet escape my fate, Ebenezer. You will be
visited by three spirits on successive nights.'
The fading apparition swirled throughout the open
window out into the night. Scrooge tried hard
to say 'humbug' but could not and dragged himself
back to sleep. It was already dark when he awoke
to hear the clock striking the hour that Marley
A light flashed inside the room
and a hand drew aside the curtain of his bed.
It was a familiar figure, dressed in a boiler
suit, holding a spanner in the other hand and
wearing a flat cap. 'I am the ghost of employment
past,' it said.
Holding Scrooge by the hand,
he guided him out into the high street. Here was
the bank with its tall marble pillars, crafted
plasterwork and long counters staffed by clerks
stamping passbooks, counting change and banking
the contents of weekly wage packets. Managers
sat behind oak desks in private offices, sipping
tea brought by their secretaries. Outside town
in the car factory, the workers had their precise
jobs defined and their unions ensured that demarcation
lines were maintained. The staff, their nomenclature
dictated by their white collars, had their desks
and telephones and adding machines and reporting
One of the boiler-suited figures
was complaining to the bank clerk. The wage negotiations
had been going badly. 'They can't make the five-per
cent limit stick,' he said. 'We took the vote
on a show of hands. We're out tomorrow.'
No sooner had the image faded
than Scrooge beheld another figure before him.
A pin-striped woman? Scrooge blinked. She was
'I am the ghost of employment
present,' said the spirit. It was Christmas morning
now and Scrooge found himself standing in the
City streets, scored by freshly dug trenches awaiting
plastic cables for the information super-highway.
There was Scrooge's clerk, Bob
Cratchit, struggling to get away from the traffic
lights in his company Vauxhall Cavalier, still
brand new. There was Tiny Tim, sitting up in his
Nuffield bed, paid for using Bob's Bupa membership.
Bob had made the most of his flexible benefit:
extra holidays, private medical insurance, company
car. It helped subdue the fears arising from the
negative equity in the mock Georgian 'executive'
home he had bought at the height of the property
The spirit pulled Scrooge by
the hand, moving through the night, across the
land, to a former council house in Nottingham
where a miner, not long redundant was feasting
his family. 'It's not going to last but the re-training
might work if there's a job at the end of it,'
They passed students, drinking
away the future with their talk of travelling
the world and working for nothing. They saw worried
faces on redundant middle managers, wondering
how long their temporary work and casual opportunities
could stave off house repossession, and they saw
the homeless, long since deserted by hope. They
passed a director, pondering the financial pages,
working out the best time to take his share options,
knowing that in a downsized, delayered workplace
his own options were running out. Time to telephone
As the spirit disappeared, Scrooge
prepared himself for the final phantom as it emerged
from the gloom. 'Ghost of employment future. I
fear you more than any spectre I have yet seen,'
The ghost said nothing but pointed
to an empty office block. A middle-aged man, was
it Cratchit? stood on the pavement looking bewildered.
He was speaking to Tiny Tim held in his arms:
'No one told me about this Tim. I thought I had
a job for life and it's gone. That old skinflint
Scrooge said he wanted a leaner organisation.
He could get my job done more cheaply outside.
The outplacement was helpful. I have a short-term
contract now but frankly its not as good as before.
'Never mind, Tim. Something will
The mist descended and when it
lifted they were back in Scrooge's chambers. Time
had passed. Scrooge himself was nowhere to be
seen. A computer terminal sat on a desk. In came
Bob Cratchit, wearing jeans, with Tiny Tim bouncing
after him, now not so tiny. 'Once we've removed
this, Tim, that will be the end of it. He never
realised. Who needs a counting house when you
have software systems? Who needs an office when
you can work from home? Those computer games you
played in hospital served you well. We can live
on the royalties from your Sonic Scrooge game
for the rest of our lives.'
The spirit showed Scrooge one
last image - a gravestone on which he could just
make out the inscription. It said: The job.
'So it's true,' said Scrooge
who emerged from the haunting a wiser man. Renaming
his business Scrooge Management Consultancy, he
passed on the accounting work to Cratchit Systems
Inc, took time out, wrote a book, became a guru,
joined the lecture circuit and lunched on other
people's expense accounts. 'Work?' he said. 'This
is what I call work.'
© 1994 The Financial Times
Ltd. All rights reserved
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