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Pink Slip

Definition: If there's one colour that's in fashion these days, it's pink. But don't look to Paris for why. The current ubiquity of pink has its roots in the American expression 'pink slip' used to describe the termination notices issued by employers to employees. In these times of layoffs, the job place is awash in pink.

People speculate about which company will let loose pink slips. They trade horror stories about how people got to know that they were getting pink slips (by email, by SMS, by a news item in the paper that the company was closing, by the queues of people outside the office waiting to buy the office PCs). Those who have got them go for pink slip parties where they sip pink champagne, eat pasta in pink sauce, and cake with pink frosting.

There are pink slip support groups. At this moment, there are probably laid-off dotcommers writing angry novels about how the Pink Slip Generation was betrayed.

Description: But why pink?

The irony is that while the term has hit the big time, its origins are still a mystery. Peter Liebhold, a curator at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History who heads its work culture archive, has spent almost ten years trying to find the original pink slip - with no success. The term is not a new one. The first reference to it recorded by The Oxford English Dictionary goes as far back as 1915: "And have Murphy hand me the pink slip tonight," urges one character in 'Covering The Look In Corner', a pulp novel with a baseball theme by Gilbert Patten, a prolific writer of the time.

That reference suggests it was established slang, and sometime back Liebhold thought he had nailed down its origin. He came across a story tracing the term to the Ford Motor Company, where shop floor supervisors had a crude system of recording employee performance. Those they thought were worth keeping got a slip of white paper in the pigeonhole for their work card; those who saw a pink slip instead knew they might as well leave. Unfortunately, Liebhold was not able to find any evidence to back this, so has concluded the story is apocryphal.

This lack of knowledge of pink slips is part of a wider problem. The study of the history of work has as yet paid little attention to the history of sackings or 'termination practices' as scholars refer to it. One of the few interesting bits of information is that different countries have used different colours.

In Germany, those dismissed were said to 'get the blue letter' (den blauen Brief bekommen), while in France, military dischargees were said to have got their cartouche jaune, or yellow papers.

Also See: 360-Degree Feedback, Competency Mapping, Conflict Management, Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP), Job Description, MBO, MBWA, Mentoring, VRS

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