The 12 Blogs of Christmas #5

12 blogs cover

nik2Our fifth blog of Christmas comes courtesy of Nikki Wilkie. Nikki has worked as a recruiter for some of the largest corporations in NZ and is a strong believer of lean, simple and customer-centric sourcing. With experience in both agency and in-house roles, including the sole Resourcing Specialist for New Zealand’s largest private employer for over five years, she’s had a year that has challenged her strength of character.

When s%#t gets serious

As a fellow Blogger, Recruiter or HR enthusiast, you’ve no doubt had minty moments like these, when you really want your blog, ad or employee comms to stand out from the rest ….. To GRAB attention! To make an IMPACT! To ENGAGE!

After a few vinos, a night suffering writer’s block whilst trying to create a totally cool yet gimmicky, pun-filled blog; I woke slightly jaded and re-read in cold harsh reality of a new day (actually it was a beautiful hot clear Auckland morning … Like always … Unlike Wellington). Surprisingly, I realised that I’m not as funny as I thought. In fact I’m a bit of an egg …. So I’m giving it another crack.

This one time at band camp …..

After years of working for a large corporate, who didn’t appreciate my passion for beautiful shoes; I took the plunge and embarked on a new career working for two owners in a Start-up Consultancy business. From Day 1, I loved every minute and enjoyed wearing my shoes unrestricted!

KaPOW out of NOWHERE ………… S%#T JUST GOAT SERIOUS!

IMG_4982
Friday @ 8am only 8 weeks after starting, there was a new face in the office. Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! ENTER THE LIQUIDATOR!

Liquidation SUCKS!

All those HR principles we use in corporates goes out the window. What happens is the LIQUIDATOR (aka Chartered Accountant), takes you to a room, sits you down, says the business is no long operating; therefore you’re out of a job as of RIGHT NOW! In some cases the LIQUIDATOR may require some of the team to stay on for a few days to finish off some work at a reduced pay rate so that the LIQUIDATOR can collect revenue. However in our case that was not so.

Feeling like a possum in the headlights at this point……

possum
I took a swig of water ….. I took a deep breath …… I was struggling to defog my brain and then suddenly some questions popped into my head.

Me: Um…. Well …. When will I receive my final pay? I take it you will pay that out today seeing as it’s the last day.
Liquidator: No. Liquidation means that there is no money for employees wages / salaries, or holiday, or bonuses or (as in my case) mileage expenses for all those off site visits.

Me: That’s not legal! That’s not fair and reasonable. Where are my employee rights?
Liquidator: You have none when a business goes into liquidation. As far as it goes from here, we will review all accounts and make an assessment on financial state of business. Should there be any money available this gets paid to secured creditors first, then IRD, then employees and lastly unsecured creditors.

Me: I want a copy of my employee file then as I will need information from it should I need to go to WINZ and for my records?
Liquidator: You can’t have them they are now owned by us and we won’t be releasing any company property.

Me: Well that’s sucks. I want to talk to the Directors.
Liquidator: No you are not allowed to talk to them at all now that they have put the business into Liquidation.

Me: What about my clients? What about my other team members?
Liquidator: You are not allowed to contact clients or other team members.

Me: Guess that’s it then.
Liquidator: Yes.

In a total state of shock, I leave the room and walk to my desk. I feel a presence behind ….. Damn LIQUIDATOR again ….
Me: What?
Liquidator: I need to review what you are removing from your desk and escort you off site.

At this point I confess I start to cry …. I’m feeling like a fired / terminated employee. I’ve never had to escort an employee off site before however I heard and seen it. Not a happy state of affairs when that happens! So I pack up and leave ….. Whoops I neglected to mention previously that we were going out for work drinks to celebrate end of month … so I had walked to work in order to train home later. So without a car, unsure where my next pay cheque was coming from and still in shock …. I did the 2 hour dirty walk of shame home.
dog2

>>>>> FAST FORWARD 3+ months >>>>>>

After 100’s of jobs applications both in my chosen field (Internal Recruitment) and for Xmas jobs in retail, petrol, hospitality and admin, being rejected from all + the LIQUDIATOR finally confirming that there’s no $$ for outstanding wages = my colleagues and I are on the bones of our asses.

Still with me? Keep reading …. WIIFM’s below!

You might be wondering at this stage why it is that out of anything I could have written about I chose to blog about Liquidation (instead of my usual drum banging about candidate experiences).

Well……

My colleagues and I have experienced some very strange feedback from Recruiters, HR Managers and Line Managers around their perceptions on Liquidation. These perceptions in most cases have not been favourable … In fact they are very similar perceptions that I know exist around people who have been made redundant (e.g. They’ve been made redundant therefore they mustn’t be any good at their job. I hope the GFC has helped to dispel this belief). My realisation has been, that these perceptions come from lack of knowledge and education … I mean before it happened to me I had no idea what Liquidation actually meant or what the process was for employees.

Additionally, my view on the current Legislation surrounding Liquidation needs challenging. I mean:
• How can employee rights go out the window?
• How can Liquidator’s not deliver the communication to employees in a more humane manner?
• How come employees aren’t considered first before secured creditors?
• How come the law is on the side of the LIQUIDATOR, who in my experience was horrible and belittling to deal with?
• How can the Directors go into Voluntary Liquidation only to be in a position to start up a new similar business with similar IP a week later?
• And so much more!

So I’ve set a goal for 2014 to find a way to challenge the Legislation surrounding Liquidation (lucky I’ve got a cuz high up in Parliament 🙂 ) Who’s with me?

Go on mate, give it a crack!

THANK YOU for giving me your attention….. THANK YOU for taking the time to read my blog…… I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and /or gained some insight into those unemployed Kiwis due to Liquidation. Remember we are not lepers …. We just real people, everyday people who are trying hard to get our careers back.

Merry Christmas!cat xmas tree(yip that be a scary cat Xmas tree …. Those eyes just freak me OUT)

Merry Xmas to my twitter Crazy Cat HR ladies (you know who you are!) ….. You’ve all helped me so much in the past 3+ months and I am truly grateful and blessed for having met you all (other than you Hilary – our meeting outstanding – Xmas vino?) …. Even though I don’t really like your cat pics 🙂 I feel privileged that you include me. Also a special shout out to Adam N for letting me take the piss, even though he doesn’t get my humour, and to Rebecca C, Phillip T, Andy H, Mark (Cuddles), Paul J and Sean for being instrumental in helping me reconnect with #nzrec #nzhr.

Final note
For those that struggle with the correct use of IRONY (as I often do)…. Here’s an example = Directors / Owners operating a business where they are Strategic Business Consultants helping NZ SME’s grow their business; however after 4 months of operating get liquidated owing creditors & employees over $650K. Just saying …. 🙂

For information about Liquidation go here:
http://www.insolvency.govt.nz/cms
http://www.business.govt.nz/
http://goo.gl/R3b2ej

The 12 Blogs of Christmas #1
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #2
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #3
The 12 Blogs of Christmas #4

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35 thoughts on “The 12 Blogs of Christmas #5

  1. A good post. Wish you all the best and thank you for posting. Corporates spend lots of time and energy on HR initiatives, engaging staff etc. Then bang – it all goes out the window. Liquidation may be the extreme end however it is amazing that just when things get tough and just when you you really do need that extra effort, commitment and magic from staff how often many organisations throw the baby out with the bathwater. Gen Y often gets criticised for being the ‘me’ generation and lacking in corporate loyalty but perhaps its a sensible approach in today’s labour market. I have seen lots of very capable and hard working people get caught out with redundancy or been laid off with companies going broke. Sadly too many organisations still have the bad perceptions you mention when actually in many cases it is an opportunity to get hold of good staff who would not otherwise be on the labour market. In my experience many of the people I have seen so affected have done very well when they finally secured themselves a new position. Hope you get support and best wishes to you and anyone else so affected.

    1. Thank you George. I agree that the sensible approach for business owners is to act with some moral integrity and ensure that their business is commercially viable before hiring team members. In this case the total amount of employees and contractors impacted was around 40. So far, only 2 people impacted have gone on to secure permanent employment.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience with us Nikki as it’s not one many HR practitioners will have experienced. Until the legislation is changed, what would be your top tips for others to minimise the risk when looking to join a SME?

    1. Thanks Anna – you are correct that there is a greater level of risk to people joining Start Ups or SME’s & that candidates should use due diligence when considering joining one. I would recommend doing research on the marketplace the SME is operating in (e.g mini SWAT analysis), leveraging off your network to check out the reputation of the business owners (LinkedIn & water cooler chats) & doing a company ownership checks on business owners via http://www.business.govt.nz (include doing a check on their spouses if you can track down who they are). I did the first two & still got caught out so its not foolproof. I learnt the company check after the fact & would have noticed a red flag there if I had known about checking there previously. Even though my experience hasn’t been the greatest I wouldn’t hesitate to go work for a either a SME or Start Up again.

      1. Great hints thanks Nikki. My cousin works in construction and it is a frequent occurrence for property developers to set up companies that are placed in receivership at the end of the development. As unsecured creditors the sub-contractors are the last to see any money.

        I think another thing employees could do is to be employed on a casual basis so that they get their holiday pay each pay-period. If they work regular hours and days they’ll still be entitled to sick pay for what would otherwise be a working day. I’d also recommend making reimbursement claims post each trip.

  3. Unfortunately, Nikki when a company goes in to liquidation employees just become another group of creditors waiting for some kind of payout….Maybe after a few years to-ing and fro-ing you could get a couple of cents in the dollar owed to you. Maybe not. It’s sh*t but that’s how companies work. There have been moves in Australia under past Labor governments to enact legislation to protect employee entitlements, but it tends to get blocked or repealed by the conservative side of politics. Good luck with your endeavour!

    1. Thanks …. if we could even get the law changed to reflect the need to protect employees from an emphatic point of view that would be a win. Funding for EAP or financial advice etc would have been super helpful for some of our team. And some directive for Liquidators to be more responsive to employees information requests (such as confirmation of liquidation) so that they can easily access government support like the Job Seeker Benefit again would be good too. Easy low hanging fruit stuff really however the value they add to employees would be significant.

      1. The problem is much more acute in professional services firms (eg recruitment) where labour can account for 75%+ of the overheads. The issue with government covering employees entitlements is that it can effectively be exposed to an open-ended millions of dollars. Better to create a compulsory ‘insurance scheme’ that companies must subscribe to that will cover employee entitlements in the event of liquidation. Similar to Australian workcover provisions.

  4. Great Post Nikki – It would appear the owners were not as transparent as they could have been. While it can be hard to keep everyone in the loop I do think Owners have a duty of care to think ahead in terms of their staff. We have had good & bad experiences. Good Liqudators that were open & helpful and ‘Door slam shut in face’ ones. Recent experience where we along with other Recruitment firms ‘out South’ supplied temps to a business that gave no indication they were in trouble – When first invoice wasnt paid , then second we had cause for concern. Our temps were paid by us ! We wont be.. as Business folded .. owing to a large number on companies..This creates a domino effect that could send a number of small business to the wall to join them…. and the impact is wide for a number of employees – Shame on a number of levels.

    1. Totally agree Fiona & thanks for kind words. I had the businesses clients who had pre-paid for services track me down via LinkedIn so upset by lack of communication & concerned about what would be the impact on them. The consultancy services were not cheap & all were NZ SME’s so the pre-payments were a significant cost to their business. As most of them said – why would they want the services to be delivered as how can you trust a business consultant who went under. I really felt for them as much as I felt for the employees & contractors. Thanks for sharing your experiences as well …. Think liquidation is a dirty secret that needs sharing stories about to help everyone who is impacted by it in some shape or form.

  5. The whole word “liquidation” dates from another era; an era when businesses generally made things, factories etc. They often had so many assets in terms plant, equipment, work in progress and finished goods that if they did get into trouble they could “liquidate” their assets (ie sell them) and use that money to pay off creditors (including employees). Applying liquidation to a professional services firm where the only assets are a few PCs, some furniture and often some insubstantial IP is a no-win for everyone concerned. You are right, the old-fashioned liquidation approach needs a re-think for the modern economy.

  6. Good read Nikki. Liquidation is too common these days, not just in the southern hemisphere but also the Northern….(…and maybe an easy ‘get out’ for some businesses) . Your experiences have sadly happened to my baby sister twice. Good luck!

    1. Aww thanks hunny & sad to hear that your sister has experienced a similar journey twice. You are right it is more common than people realise & it really does impact all involved in a significant way emotionally & financially… .. Pleased you’ve also got to see what the KAPOW was about in my Facebook status few days ago …. Hope I didn’t disappoint 🙂

  7. Oh man, this cuts right to the bone. Went through this on the other side with my family’s business, but it was very deliberately done so that all employees were paid out redundancies before the company was wrapped up. So much respect for my family for going through that and working themselves to the bone to give their employees a dignified exit. For all involved, company closures are absolutely heartbreaking. It took a bit of therapy for me to understand that companies can become like people to us – goodbyes are hard.

  8. Thanks for putting the other side of the equation Sarah and good to hear that your family put their staff first in the process. It would be interesting to hear from anyone else who has had to liquidate a company and how they handled it – Richard

  9. Loved this Nikki. I was made redundant last year for the first ever. Scary year in a market I knew nothing about so I started my own business and never looked back. I love your sense of humor

    1. Thanks very much Lesley. Scary market indeed at the moment and well done on starting your own business. May 2014 be an awesome and fulfilling year for you and your business.

  10. At the end of Richard’s great 12 guest blogging series …. I feel I need to finish off by expressing how grateful this experience has made and how very thankful I am to Richard for giving me this opportunity.

    The support I’ve received from those of you who have read this blog has blown me away. Also the feedback I’ve received from the HR / REC industry has made be feel even more proud to be part of it.

    Today I’ve been asked by a couple of my fav peeps to do abit of an update ….. Here it is!

    My Christmas Miracle (which left me speechless and those that know me, know that just NEVER happens) …

    KaPOW …. Out of nowhere …

    Enter the LIQUIDATOR (just as I thought I got rid of the bugger) …. He flashes up in my inbox …. Just like the red lights on KRd (Where I live) ….

    With frustration boiling up inside … Click …. Open …..

    WTF ….. SHUT THE FRONT DOOR!

    LIQUIDATOR:

    “I am now in a position to make a first distribution to employees, being of 25% of the outstanding gross wages and holiday pay due to all employees.

    …..insert stuff I can’t share….

    I also expect there will be a further distribution, most probably by the end of February 2014.”

    Now suddenly …. I’M BATMAN ….

    I’ve called all the employees & they’ve received same email. Making it a good outcome for us at a time of year when we all need that extra bit of money.

    Reflection time ……

    Does this change for me though that:
    – I think the process needs review?
    – Employees are treated terribly throughout the process?
    – Business Owners need to be more accountable and act with more integrity and morals?
    – The perception of a liquidated person is often an incorrect one in the employment market?

    NOT AT ALL….

    Thanks I say for the 25% of what I’m owned …. And here is to 2014 being a great year….. One where I still intend to dream BIG and get the legislation challenged.

    Thank you everyone ….. You’ve made me really feel very grateful 🙂

    MERRY XMAS & all the best for 2014!

  11. Been waiting for this to hit the media …. Another example of mistreatment of employees within the realms of liquidation & business owners acting without morals or integrity. This owner is also good friends with owners of business I was liquidated from …. So just goes to show … Flock together…. Really happy with the outcome for employee & fact that an employment case has challenged the liquidation process – good stuff.

    On another note – way to give recruiters a bad name. People like this need to leave our industry.

    http://i.stuff.co.nz/business/9557904/Big-fine-for-recruitment-company

  12. Thanks for posting the update Nikki. Again this demonstrates how employees can unwittingly lose out as a result of the liquidation laws. This is actually a shocking case and I hope the relevant authorities have taken note.

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