Getting Layd by Enron

Updated: Feb 19 2002, 05:30am hrs
Meet Tim Dalton, a corporate security specialist, and one of the 4,500 Enron employees laid off in December 2001. Within two weeks of being retrenched, Dalton created an online platform for venting spleen against the company. The website www.thecrookede.com had two simple missions: to create a rave, rant and rage forum for ex-Enron employees, and to sell anti-Enron T-shirts at $14.95 to people who sympathised with their plight.

Soon, Dalton found himself inundated by orders. More significantly, his website became a rallying point for ex-Enron employees. People wrote in to share their despair, and sent appeals for financial help. Ms Adams wrote in to say that she was a single mother with four children and by the end of February 2002 would have no means to feed or house them. Mr Ihrig e-mailed frantically for help in raising grocery money and funds to pay his electricity and water bills. Every day, Dalton receives dozens of such e-mails. Each a story of a proud breadwinner begging for assistance, simply because (s)he trusted Enron. By mid-January, Dalton had set up a donation fund to help ex-Enron employees tide over their financial difficulties.

Last week, as one after another of Enrons top management copped the Fifth Amendment, Dalton threw an open challenge: he invited executives like Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay to donate $50,000 to the fund. My goal now is to raise $1 million for the fund, says Dalton, pointing out that he has managed to raise $3,000 in the last four weeks. The most touching moment was receiving $5 from a couple in Colorado, who said they could not afford more than that, but wanted to do their bit.

Witness then, the small but significant power of informal social networks. For, thecrookede.com is not alone. Theres www.kenron.com. in Europe while www.Enronx.orgs purpose is to be an information forum and valuable networking resource for ex-Enron employees, as well as ex-employees of companies impacted by Enrons domino effect. Whether you are in need of a new position, legal counsel, health insurance, or simply want to voice your thoughts with other fellow former co-workers in your same situation, please use this site as a resource to recover. Similarly, www.1400smith.com urges Enron employees to focus on the positive and not lose touch. Enron has been home to many amazing and talented people, and the great things we did at Enron are not the last great things well do. Run by Brandon Rigney, Enrons webmaster from 1997 to 2001, the site offers a cornucupia of resources: contacts at Merrill Lynch and First Union giving free advice on financial planning, names of headhunters, and even a link to a restaurant in Houston that is offering free desserts to ex-Enron employees.

Ten years ago, retrenched employees would have drifted apart within days. Each would have had to tend to their wounds in private and have had no access to the power of united action. Now, thanks to the Internet, its not just customers or suppliers who are being strengthened by the muscle of free information flow but even ex-employees. Says Dalton: Theres been a lot of empowerment thanks to the Net. Im able to reach out and get my message across to so many people.

That social network is now helping ex-Enron employees heal faster by sharing their angst. They are able to lend a helping hand to each other, set up platforms for meeting prospective employers, and list job leads. Above all, the Internet is helping these people create a sense of community, where all new developments are instantly shared, everyones pain can be heard, and there is an outlet for all the despair. The main thing is you dont feel helpless, you have communication, says Dalton.

The mistake organisations make is to not utilise such networks when the times are good. For, such social networks exist in every organisation, and are better known as the office grapevine. What Enrons erstwhile employees have done is show that the grapevine is not just a vicious, gossip-mongering mechanism, but also a strong, positive force. Ex-Enron employees have also shown how investment in human resources never goes to waste and far outlives the corporation. Consider www.laydoff.com, a website set up by John Allario. He worked at Enron for six years, before he was laid off by cell phone while at lunch on Monday, December 3, 2001. Allario now sells $14 T-shirts, the first product in his line of active angrywear. His best-seller is the one that says I got Layd... by Enron.

Today, John represents the kind of stuff Enron should be proud of. John told me that he was so inspired by the laydoff.com experience that he is now planning to create a community-based site for all laid-off workers in the US. I asked the 38-year-old John what exactly these sites set up by ex-Enron employees had achieved. His answer was deeply touching. I think they are a team-building tool. Team-building is what our sites accomplish.

Ironic, isnt it Even after Enrons body corporate is all but dead, its team spirit lives on.