I have found that any time 2 or more HR people are gathered, sharing war stories, someone is always bound to mention that based on things they’ve seen or done they’d like to write a book. I am also guilty as charged and probably would write one but can’t decide the genre. Here are some of my favorite stories. Some are hilarious (although they didn’t seem like it at the time) some are horrifying and some just make you roll your eyes. They all definitely have a lesson embedded somewhere. Names and identifying information have been changed to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent and although I’m writing them all first person, some of them maybe happened to a friend, or a friend of a friend.
1) “I Spy”
I will never forget the time a local manager called me to ask for advice on a situation. In this facility the male and female restrooms were separated by a wall. Apparently, the men had drilled a hole in the bathroom wall and were attempting to spy on the women. They were unsuccessful in the attempt, as the women a) noticed the 2 inch hole in the bathroom wall and b) heard the giggling. These were grown adults, mind you! The manager called me about a week or so after he had discovered the incident with a question. His solution had been to rent a porta-potty and forbid any males to use the indoor facilities going forward. He might never have told me about the incident but one of the men was confined to a wheelchair and the manager wasn’t sure whether to make an exception for this employee, or have him use the female’s restroom.
Lesson: Be very explicit about expectations and when overt harassment occurs, investigate thoroughly and deliver consequences to (only) the offending parties.
2) “Fight it Out”
We had a production manager whose crews were having personality conflicts. The manager told me his solution when people couldn’t get along was to make them partners, riding and working together, until they could resolve it. It wasn’t until months later that he also confided the second part of his magic formula. If they still couldn’t get along, have them fight it out behind the equipment shed after hours.
Lesson: Ensure management understands and is compliant with your workplace violence policy.
3) “But my girlfriend is my best assistant.”
I found out that one of our Directors was having an affair with his direct report after his wife phoned to complain about it. I confronted the Director with the information and he admitted that the information was accurate and acknowledged that he had not shown the best judgment. He was quite contrite until I informed him that the ‘love interest’ would no longer be able to report to him, at which point he became belligerent, insisting that she was necessary to his success and it would be a hardship to have her off the team. I stated the obvious and moved the assistant (who then proceeded to have an affair with our client). At this particular company, I eventually learned that nearly half the senior leadership team was engaged in similar behavior.
Lesson: Ensure management understands and is held accountable to your sexual harassment policy.
4) “The broad got knocked up”
In a management meeting one time, a senior manager asked me for permission to fire one of his account managers, because she had just disclosed she was pregnant. I informed him about her legal rights and why he couldn’t do that. His response was “I get all that but I asked her point blank in her interview if she was going to have kids and she said no and now the broad got knocked up so I want her gone.” This, by the way, was a highly educated business owner.
Lesson: Train all levels of management on legal interviewing as well as discrimination laws.
5) Best Leader Ever
We’ve all seen examples of true leadership potential and we’ve all seen the powerful effects a leader can have in an organization, regardless of his level of authority. The best example I ever saw of a natural leader was a field installer. We had been grooming him to be a trainer, but he had no management or supervisory authority, although we had high hopes. Our hopes, sadly were dashed one day when we received a call from the police. Apparently, while working overtime on a construction site one day a group of framers from another company had cast aspersions of one type or another on one of our employees. Our leader in the rough jumped to this person’s defense and organized THE ENTIRE CREW to come back to the jobsite to challenge the framers. A full on ‘rumble’ ensured, the police were called, a gun was found and we had to fire the best natural leader I’ve ever encountered.
Lesson: Identify your leaders and channel their influence for good. Also, see the workplace violence point from point 2.
In conclusion, I’ve found that what is legal, what is moral and what is good common sense rarely intersect completely. When you add a bunch of people in high pressure situations to the mix, who knows what may happen. Do you have a great HR story? Please share (but don’t use names!)