What's your problem?

MY NEW JOB COMES WITH TOUGH TERMS. I've been offered a job with an American company based in the UK. I've just been sent the contract, which is terribly restrictive.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

It includes clauses saying that I must not smoke during office hours, I shouldn't drink, even at lunch meetings, and I should never get romantically involved with another member of staff. It all seems very dictatorial - but if I tell them I can't accept these terms, will I be labelled a troublemaker before I even start?

I stand in awe of an HR director who'd forbid you to experience lust or love, confident that his instruction will outweigh millions of years of spontaneous reproductive urges. What a silly contract.

But you've been a bit silly yourself. You should never sign a contract without getting to know some of the people who work in a company. The people you meet at interviews aren't typical - and they're at least as anxious to create a good impression as you are. You should always try to glean a bit of background gossip, a bit of pub talk, a bit of the real feel of a place - often far removed from the shiny brochure that's offered on the web site.

Your contract, for instance, may simply be a magnificent multinational edifice, constructed at immense expense by a team of multinational lawyers, and designed to cover any conceivable eventuality should the smallest dispute arise with the lowliest employee in any of 53 nations for all eternity. Or it may be a precise and monitored inventory of obligatory behaviour.

You need to know which; and you won't find out by asking the CEO. Nor will you achieve anything by refusing to sign it. The corporate mechanism contains no provision for refuseniks: it can't. Only by getting to know your potential colleagues will you find out whether a glass of white wine at lunchtime is an accepted cultural habit or grounds for immediate dismissal.

Jeremy Bullmore's responses to work dilemmas in MT are collected in his new book Another Bad Day at the Office? (Penguin, pounds 5.99)

Please address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: Management Today, 174 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7JP.

Or e-mail: management.today@haynet.com Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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