The big yellow envelope had seemed ominous, even before Jack opened it. He had found it the previous day, waiting on his desk when he returned from lunch, and it was the way his name was written carefully across the front, as if whoever had delivered it didn’t want it falling into the wrong hands. Sure enough, when Jack removed its contents, Paperclipped to the front was a seemingly casual note from someone in HR he’d never heard of.

Dear Jack,

As you may know, we have been upgrading our performance standards in line with best practice. Part of that is ensuring our employment contracts are of the highest quality, and represent the best protections for you and the company. If you could just sign it and pass it to your manager at your convenience.

The HR person’s relaxed style, combined with corporate words had made Jack feel at ease. There was no rush, he could read through this contract and send it back whenever he felt like it. Heck, maybe he wouldn’t bother doing it at all. However, the perception of having time was soon shattered by an email from Derek, the big boss.

Team,

You’ve no doubt received your new contracts, please sign them and return them to your manager before close of business today.

Derek

To Jack, this didn’t seem anywhere near as friendly, and he no longer felt relaxed. Therefore, he resolved to do something he had never done – read a contract before he signed it. He had felt like a grown-up, aS he took a red pen and underlined certain key words, putting marks in margins, sometimes for no good reason, but it still looked pretty impressive.

It wasn’t until late in the afternoon that Simon, his direct manager had tried to revive the casual feel of the whole situation.

“Hey Jack, let’s grab five minutes in the boardroom. Oh, and bring your new contract.”

But Jack wasn’t going to be lulled into a false sense of security again, he picked up the contract and placed it into a sleek folder – just to add to the formality of the scenario, and when he took a seat opposite Simon, he attempted a poker face, which he had read was important in negotiations.

“Are you okay Jack?” asked Simon. “You look ill.”

“I am very well thank you Simon, and I appreciate your concern in my personal affairs, but I think it would be better to skip directly to the matter at hand.”

“Okay then,” said Simon, a little confused. “I just need you to sign your new contract. Do you have any questions about it?”

Jack opened his sleek folder, and produced his contract, encrusted in red ink. “Just a couple of things. I noted in paragraph 4.2 that I would be receiving additional sick days.”

“Yes,” said Simon. “The company has decided to increase the allocation to encourage people to stay home when they are unwell.”

Jack nodded thoughtfully. “I was also intrigued to see that in paragraph 9.6, that the company would be introducing a health program.”

Simon seemed impressed that Jack had read the contract in such detail. “Quite right, nothing is set in stone as yet, but there will likely be gym memberships subsidised, fruit in the kitchen, and discounts at local health stores.”

Jack rubbed his chin, in what he hoped was a mature and thoughtful manner. “This is an excellent contract then. It presents me with a plethora of new possibilities to be healthy, and even when unhealthy, at least to be at home.”

“I’m pleased you’re happy Jack.”

“Delighted, in that if I were going to sign this contract – which I’m not – I would only request one change.”

“Sorry, you’re not going to sign it?”

Jack ignored the question. “The change would relate to the lack of protections afforded me in this new contract as compared to my old one. Essentially, this new contract would put me in an untenable position, where, in my opinion my rights as an employee would be diminished and your core responsibilities as an employer would not be acknowledged.” Jack took the contract, turned it over and drew a big red sad face on the blank page. “I don’t know what most of those layering words mean, but in summary, this contract makes me sad.” He placed the paper back inside the sleek folder, which he slid over the desk towards Simon, and stood up.

“Jack,” said Simon. “This isn’t what the purpose of this exercise was.”

“Good, then you will have no problems sleeping at night.” Jack walked out, contract unsigned and minus a sleek folder, but delighted to have been given the chance to use such big, fancy words.