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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

This is why people think HR is stupid and evil

It's that wonderful time of the year--flu season! And to add to it, this year adds in the lovely schweingrippe to the mix. So, I imagine that hospitals are putting together all sorts of plans for how to handle this. I like to have positive attitudes (ha!) towards those in leadership positions. Then I read this from At Your Cervix (she's a labor and delivery nurse):

On top of all of this, our hospital has put out the following rules: anyone with confirmed H1N1 or suspected flu must NOT work for the duration of the fever. Also, you may NOT work for at least 24 hrs of being without a fever (not using tylenol or ibuprofen to reduce the fever). All time missed at work....get this......will be considered an UNEXCUSED ABSENCE and you will receive an "occurrence" for the time called off.

What dunderhead in HR thought this up? Here are medical people who will be taking care of sick people, or newborns, or pregnant/post-partum women and we want to both require them to take time off and penalize them for doing so? I presume after a certain number of "occurrences" a person gets terminated, or suspended, or something else bad.

Now, some HR defender will say, "Hey, all the employees just have to get flu shots and they won't get sick. The punishment is because they failed to get flu shots." I agree that they should get flu shots (in my non-medical agreement sort of way). The company I used to work for gave free flu shots to everyone (on a voluntary basis, of course) because it was cheaper than having people gone for days at a time. So flu shots, yes.

However, a flu shot is no guarantee that you won't get the flu. Two years ago, three people that I know personally ended up in the hospital with the flu, even though they had previously had flu shots. No flu shot covers all possible mutations of the nasty little virus. So, you can't use that against the person.

Furthermore, this is a hospital, where you are surely more likely to be exposed to germs than the normal human. (Although I ride public transportation, so I'm surprised I'm still alive, quite frankly. I will admit, though, that the Swiss are so clean, their snot is probably sterile.)

And I hear another HR defender saying, "This was probably a decision from Finance! HR had no say in it." Hogwash I say. And even though I love to complain about finance as much as the next person, it's not finance's job to worry about people. That is HR's job. (Not saying that finance should be filled with heartless people, but they have a different focus.) Our job is to lead people. Our job is to see that the business succeeds and the best way to do that is to have the best people and take care of them.

If it was the CFO who insisted on this lame-brained policy, then the head of HR should have the knowledge and skill necessary to demonstrate how this will hurt the hospital. Because he/she obviously didn't, I'll help out a bit. (And I believe this hospital is in PA, my former home, so when we return their in a few years, I'll be happy to take this job, as I am now demonstrating that I can do it better than the current head of HR. Of course, a kindergartener could do this better, as a 5 year old would never think to punish someone for being sick.)

1. This is a huge morale killer. Even if a person doesn't get sick, she now knows that the hospital doesn't care one bit about her. People who are unhappy at work do not perform as well as happy employees.

2. There is no cost savings in this. If you end up terminating an employee due to too many "occurrences" you will need to replace her. It costs much more than one week's salary to recruit, hire, and train a new employee. It would not be unusual for it to take 6 months for a new employee to be as competent as the one you've just fired.

3. It is likely to increase the percentage of people coming to work while sick. If you have bills (and everybody does), you need your job. As long as you can hobble around, you'll be there, infecting everyone around you and lying about how great you feel. This will mean more people will get sick and your patients will suffer as well.

4. Voluntary turnover will increase as well. I know the economy is terrible. That just means that only your best employees will be able to find new jobs. Do you understand that? The BEST will be able to find new jobs. Is that what you want? To drive your best employees out? Who do you think pulls companies through recessions? It's not the slackers. It's the best employees.

5. Punishment should be reserved for someone who skips work to go shopping, or because they have a hangover. Punishments should not be given for involuntary illnesses. And yes, you can wash your hands all day long and use hand sanitizer and still get the flu.

This is just plain bad policy. I hope they come to their senses.

What's in it for me?

I work in a small creative firm and have an employee who is technically very good, but a few times now has expressed this "what's in it for me?" attitude when asked to consider contributing to something that is outside the realm of their regular job. (And don't get me wrong, it's not like we regularly ask or expect people to put in overtime, or go above and beyond the call of duty, but from time to time every company needs its people to go that extra mile).

By way of example, our company recently ran an internal contest to rewrite our phone system message to the outside world. Senior management figured that with a bunch of creatives in-house it would be a positive step to invite internal people to come up with something witty and fun. The first thing this employee asked was "What's in it form me? Are there prizes or anything?" When the contest creator explained that they'd get corporate recognition in the newsletter and the opportunity to influence the public image, this person responded that wasn't enough, and that the company was "saving money" by not hiring someone creative to do it, so they didn't feel "incented" to participate. I was told about my employee's "attitude"...

Now I hate the usual generic management-speak about "being a team player" and "can do" attitudes and all that, but it really irked me and this obviously reflects badly on this person in terms of general perception within the company. It's not like we were asking people to work nights and weekends for a month or anything. I also don't like this "what's in it for me?" attitude over the smallest things being propagated amongst my team. Maybe I'm old school, but it comes across as negative and unmotivated to me. I mean it's one thing if that was the person's internal perception, but another entirely to publicly declare that unless they are getting compensated financially, they aren't interested in participating in something as simple and silly as a phone message contest.

My problem is that I don't know how to approach this person to indicate that it makes me less inclined to promote them, and certainly doesn't reflect well on them with respect to how they are perceived by others in the company without it coming off as critical and/or confrontational

I'm looking for a non-confrontational way to explain that this kind of attitude is going to hurt this person's career, here or anywhere... and encourage them to reconsider their responses to these kinds of things. I don't want to sound like I am spouting "Successories" poster jargon, however. Can you help or am I unrealistic in thinking that I can somehow influence a person to change this kind of behavior?

You say you don't want to criticize, but criticism is actually necessary for improvement. Let me give you an example: I'm taking German lessons. My teachers correct us every time we make a mistake. This way we learn. A friend, who is also new to Switzerland, but no longer taking formal lessons said he's given up learning anything from adults: "If I make a grammar mistake, they just politely ignore it, even when I tell them that I want to be corrected. I now try to talk to children as much as possible, as they'll always point out my errors."

Now, of course, the difference between us German learners and your employee is that we know we need help and we want it. Unfortunately, for you, part of the job of a manager is to let your employees know when they need help. This is critical for everyone's success.

Use the contest issue, as it's a clear example. Often times when people go to address a behavior their minds go completely blank and they can't think of a single example, even though there are probably 482 examples.

Sit the employee down, in a closed door meeting (no listening co-workers). Explain that she is technically very good, but that her attitude is causing some problems. Use the contest example. She will complain and protest. Expect this.

Say: "The negative attitude makes me less inclined to promote you, and certainly doesn't reflect well on you with respect to how you are perceived by others in the company."

She will deny and complain and protest and reiterate how stupid the contest is. You can show empathy, but then it's your turn to reiterate what you said above. (And note, I just copied this from your e-mail. You already know what needs to be said.)

After your third iteration of this, tell her politely that the conversation is now over and it's her decision on how she responds to things, but that it does affect her career. And that's what is in it for her.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Termination Blues

I am a Superintendent in a unionized maintenance shop. I've terminated many employees over the years. Most deserved it as they had violated rules over and over.

I recently terminated a man with three kids and a wife who was out of work. He had been with us nine years. He worked third shift. He was caught sleeping twice in a three month period. He was warned the first time and suspended for a day. The next time he was caught laying inside a bus, asleep with his shoes off.

I had to sit in the mediation and tell him and all in the room why this had to stick and he could not come back even on a last chance letter. I felt like if we give him a third chance, then we have to do that for everyone and most folks will think the first two times caught are free and they will sleep at will.

Anyway, the termination stuck and he has no chance of coming back. The Union will not take this one to arbitration.

The more I think about this guy and the situation he is now in the more it is killing me inside. I'm O.K. and still working and he is now in a very bad place in his life. He begged for his job back and cried. It almost killed me to stay firm but now. . . as it is all over I can't sleep at night. I'm thinking of going to our EAP but will they tell others and will I get known as a bad manager.

I've never felt so bad. I even considered going to our G.M. and trying to have the case opened back up and bring the guy back on a last chance letter.

I'm so sorry. I really am. Terminating people is one of the most difficult tasks managers have to carry out. And it is a part of the responsibilities. At least, it should be.

When I was doing mass layoffs, it was easy for me to sit in my office and look at names on my monitor and do all the paperwork and dot i's and cross t's because I didn't personally know these people. I didn't know that Karen was a single parent and that Joe's wife was sick. I didn't know that Sue had just bought a big new house with a mortgage to match. My company was so large that I just didn't know most of the people I dealt with.

You, on the other hand, know this guy. I bet you like him as well. Which makes it all the more painful to have to terminate someone. But, you did the right thing.

Now, people can point to this and say, "see managers and HR are heartless thugs! Get one toe out of line and that's it! How come you didn't talk to the man? He probably has x, y, or z and so he needs extra sleep. What about reasonable accommodations?"

Since we got those comments out of the way, I'll respond. Sleeping on the job is not like making a minor error. Especially when he's gone to the trouble to find a quiet spot to lay down and removed his shoes. I'm also willing to bet money that the two times he's been caught are only two of many times he's slept.

He got a warning the first time. He knew the consequences. He chose to do this again. If he had problem x, y, or z he should have brought it up with the boss in the first place. Most managers are nice people who want to help out their staff. But, we can't help if we don't know what is going on.

When it comes down to serious rule violations, you have to lay down a hard line. His co-workers know that he's been sleeping on the job. They know he's been fired for it. If you brought him back, there would be resentment amongst your other staff. Sure, they may say loudly that you were heartless for firing him, but they also don't want to be working with someone who's going to run off and take a nap.

I know you feel terribly guilty--because his life is so much worse off now. But, you have to remember that he chose this. If he had problems, he didn't choose to go to his supervisor. He didn't choose to go to his union. He didn't choose to go to HR. He chose to to take off his shoes and take a nap. We all get to make choices, but we don't all get to choose the consequences. He knew what the consequence would be (if he got caught, that is) and he chose to do it anyway.

I have sympathy for him. It's not an easy situation to be in. But I would not, under any circumstances, hire him back.

I'm sorry you had to go through this. You made the right choice. The fact that his union wouldn't advocate for him either indicates that they consider this a serious problem as well. I hope he finds a new job. It will make you sleep better at night.

Monday, September 21, 2009


I work for a state university. One of the requirements for evaluating our employees is that we establish "development" competencies for each employees. We must establish at least two for every employee. The state considers that every employee can improve their performance all the time.

Here is my problem. My one employee is our 63-year-old receptionist who has been with us for over 10 years. Her job duties are to meet and greet visitors, enter routine requisitions and take care of our photocopier and other machinery.

She is incredibly good at what she does. She has been receiving our top rating - Exceeds Expectations - for the last 8 years at least. She is already exemplary in performance of her duties, and is actually the top performer in the routine requisitions - I can't remember the last time I had to make a correction on her work. She can't get better at taking care of the machinery because she already has the magic touch.

And, you've never seen anyone who is so good at greeting and serving our customers and making them feel special.

So I need to find two areas that she can "develop." One of the suggestions from the state is to have the employee read a book, so I figure I can give her a book every year. So question one:

Do you or your readers have any business books you can recommend for a basic frontline employee? I'm thinking book one can be "Who moved my cheese" but what else is out there for non-management employees?

Question two: What in the heck can I use for the second development activity that won't insult her?

I'm totally going to ignore your first question, as I'm not sure what book to recommend. Hopefully my readers will have some good suggestions.

But, as for question two, there is a very simple solution to this problem: Ask her.

See, all solved! Sit down with her and say how fabulous she is and how you can't think of areas she needs to improve in, and ask what type of development activity she is interested in.

Keep in mind development doesn't just mean "doing the same job better." It also means that you are helping to prepare the person for her next job. Don't get caught in the trap of "she's a 63 year old lady. She doesn't want a different job ever." She may not, but she might. You don't want to trap her where she is. You'd never expect a 23 year old to stay in that particular job forever.

Even if she wants to stay in the same job forever, there are probably areas she feels like she could do better in. For instance, if I was a receptionist at a university, I'd jump at the chance to take a course in just about anything. If you are an academic department, she may want to take a course in that subject matter so she can relate better to what is going on. If you're an administrative department, she may want to take an introductory class in finance, or whatever it is you do.

She may say she wants to sit in on staff meetings. She may say she wants to learn some new skill. She may say she wants to take on new responsibilities. Or she may laugh and say, "there's nothing I want to develop," in which case her job is to develop something to develop.

And I bet your department is the envy of the entire university. A good receptionist is hard to find. But, don't let her fabulous performance stand in the way of her development.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


My question is regarding a relocation pay-back clause. I accepted a postion with my company that involved moving from CA to TN in February of 2009. The company gave me a lump sum (after tax) of $10,000 to cover relocation and moving expenses. Since that time, I've decided that my long term goals don't align with my company's any longer. I'm looking to leave and actually have a new job opportunity on the table that I'm seriously considering.

My problem is that when I went back and looked at the contract that I signed for the new position, it clearly states that if I leave the company within 12 months of the hire date, I am liable to pay back all (or a part) of my relocation expenses to the company.

With this in mind, here are a few questions for you:

1) Is this for real? Would a company really demand that I pay the relocation back? If so, how much do you think I would owe them? Would it be pro-rated for the number of months I worked in the position?

2) Is this enforceable? How would HR go about collecting the amount that they deem I owe? What's stopping me from just telling them to "shove it"?

3) My company currently owes me some sales commissions that have not yet been paid to me. Should I suggest that these funds be applied to cover some or all of what the company deems to be my balance due?

Let me tell you a little story. Earlier this year my husband accepted a new job that required an international relocation. Part of his contract states that if he quits in less than two years he has to repay. Do you know how freaking expensive an international relocation is? Do you? It can easily run into 6 figures (in either Swiss Francs or dollars!). Before he signed on the dotted line, we had this discussion:

Him: We're in this for two years, no matter what.
Me: Even if your boss turns into a werewolf.
Him: Right. Because we're not repaying an international relocation.

You, apparently, didn't have this chat with yourself.

Now, the chances of you finding the job you really want and starting between now and February are pretty slim (unless you already have something lined up), so you are probably worrying for nothing.

But, yes, you have to repay it. Legally and morally. You signed the contract. You took the money. It's your obligation to repay. No whining on that. The pro-rating would depend on how it is written. My guess would be at 6 months you'd have to repay 50%.

Can they come after you? You betcha! Will they? Depends on the size of the company and how annoyed you've made them. Would I count on them just sighing and saying, "Oh well! Steve ran off without repaying!" Absolutely not. They can take you to court and since you are freaking out about repaying $10,000 my guess is they have more resources then you do. In all honesty, they probably won't take you to court, but they could and if they did they'd win.

If they still owe you money, certainly you can negotiate with them on how those funds would be applied. However, this is not a question best asked until you've already landed the next job.

This also means you will leave this company on bad terms. The company and you may have different long term goals, but you'll need the reference. Even if you were stellar employee, your boss is going to have a bad taste in his mouth about this.

Repeat after me: I will repay the money I owe. I am legally and morally obligated. I will repay the money I owe. I am legally and morally obligated.

Now, let's address another issue: This company doesn't align with your long term goals. Got it. You've only been there 7 months. If it's a goal issue, staying a few more months won't hurt. Leaving now will leave you a big black mark on your resume. You must be prepared to be asked, forevermore, "Why did you stay at Acme Corp only 7 months?" And, no you can't put: District Manager, Acme Corp 2009 on your resume. We see through that. We have special glasses that show us that years only means you didn't work very much of that year. (Exception, if you worked 1998-2009, I'll allow years only. But, I still don't like it.)

If this were a 3 year repayment clause I can see why you might want to leave sooner than that, but it's a 12 month one and it's more than half gone. Suck it up and stick it out, or pay up.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Confession and a Poll

On Friday night I had a delightful conversation with Jared from Human Resource Executive Online. He asked me what HR blogs I read regularly and I had to (gulp!) confess that I don't read too many of them. It's not because I don't love you all (I do! I really do!) it's just that discussing the nuances of the implication of card check legislation makes me feel like I'm on a tedious conference call at work.

But, I realize that most of you are much more entertaining and informative than that. I read Ask a Manager, Clue Wagon and US News' On Careers regularly. The blogs in my sidebar are looked at from time to time. But what else should I be reading every day? (Or as often as they post?)

Jared also asked me who my readers were and I had to confess that I didn't know. I mean, I know who comments, but I have a lot more hits than I do comments, so I don't know who everyone is. He wondered if they tended to be other HR folks or just normal humans. I wonder too, so take a few seconds and respond to this poll. Then we'll know!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Always Remember

Today is September 11. On September 11, 2001 I lived in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which is a short drive from NYC.

Today, I live in Switzerland, which is not quite so close and I'm ashamed to admit I didn't think about this day as I should have. It wasn't until I got home from German class, around noon my time and 6:00 a.m. East Coast Time, that I checked my Google Reader and was reminded.

I failed to remember. Please note, I didn't forget. I failed to remember. Remembering is an active thing, and I want to remember. This video was in my reader (via Instapundit and I watched it and I cried.

Please remember.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bizarre Interview

I went through the weirdest interview yesterday. I interviewed with a panel of managers. The managers had five key questions. I was told at the beginning of the interview that they had received 200 applications and that staffing used the resumes to select 25 qualified people to interview. The hiring managers were not part of the initial screening (this is an HR related job so they were all in HR) and did NOT want to see our resumes so that they had no biases towards the candidates before the interviews. They asked us a total of 5 interview questions. They had a score sheet and were checking off answers to the questions as we went along. Maybe I am inexperienced, as I have only been in the field for two years but is this normal? Does this method add value? I am curious your opinion as an experienced HR professional on this style of interviewing.

I find this utterly bizarre. The only thing I can think of that since this is a fairly entry level position (since you only have 2 years of experience and were part of a group of 200), that the final 25 must have extremely similar backgrounds.

Why would you not want to know about experience? Why would you not want to question people about what they say they've done?

I don't get it. Maybe some of my readers do. Heck, maybe one of my readers interviewed you and can explain. (Wouldn't that be awesome?)

Email Etiquette

An Auckland accountant was sacked for sending "confrontational" emails with words in red, in bold and in capital letters.

Now, I don't happen to think termination is a proper consequence for sending e-mails in all caps. I think beheading, or perhaps execution via firing squad would be more appropriate. For first time offenses, I think we can agree that the person should be put in stocks in the company cafeteria where everyone can laugh and point at the offender. I draw the line at spitting, because what if someone who spits has Swine Flu and then other people get it and then they write me whiny e-mails that say, "Dear EHRL, I lied about being sick back in July so I could go to the beach. Now I'm really sick and I don't have any sick days left, what should I do?" We don't want that, so let's limit ourselves to laughing and pointing, shall we?

All right, in all seriousness here the company made a HUGE (see, all caps, I'm shouting at you) mistake. Not in firing her, but in firing her for writing e-mails in all caps/bold/red. The reason they should have fired her is for being rude.

At the end of the day, she's still fired, but with the latter reason, I doubt she would have won her unjust termination claim. (I'm totally guessing because she's from New Zealand and I certainly am not a New Zealand legal expert.) The article also states that she was fired without warning. Another big mistake. (No all caps words--see, I've calmed down and am no longer yelling.)

She should have been informed, clearly, that her behavior was unacceptable and that she needed to change. At this point, it should be made clear that without the change termination would occur.

Now, I feel for the lady. You'd think it would be easy to fill out forms, but no matter how well you dummy-proof them, someone can't figure it out and does it wrong.

The reader who directed me to this, wrote the following:

How important is email etiquette (greetings, closings, tone, font, etc) in the workplace? In maintaining "workplace harmony", being liked, being promoted, etc? When I first started out as a young professional I prided myself on email "fluff" (do you know what I mean?) because I thought it was important to the reader. Now my emails are more to the point - I'm less interested in writing it, and I think most people aren't that interested in reading it either. What do you think?

On a side note, I've noticed that a person's use of exclamation points seems to be inversely related to their position up the corporate ladder

I think fluff depends upon the audience. Some people like it and some people hate it. But, when in doubt leave it out. E-mail is a great tool for getting needed information. People have entirely too many e-mails and even though I just said in the previous post that I thought conversational e-mails were a good idea, they are a good idea in the proper context. They shouldn't dominate your e-mails. I like the strictly business approach for most things.

I almost never write, "Dear Mrs. Doe." Rather, most of my e-mails start out, "Jane." The times I worry are when I'm sending an e-mail to a bunch of people and there are hierarchy issues and I never am sure about how to put first.

I close my work e-mails with a "Thanks, Evil HR Lady." Although I will admit that occasionally, I'll write "Thanks! Evil HR Lady." I should probably be put in thumb screws for the latter. Which brings me to my next point.

I'm in 100% agreement with the exclamation point rule. People who use excessive exclamation points remind me of Dolores Umbridge.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

E-mail Time Wasting

I work for a rather large company. A friend of mine, who was an hourly employee, got fired for inaccurate time recording. However, she had worked there for around 9 years, did a very good job and was loved by all. She got a new boss who took issue with the way she reported her time and was fired pretty much without warning. In investigating her, they found that there were 4 other employees that she emailed with on a daily basis. Two employees have been reprimanded. I was one of those employees and have received a reprimand for excessive emailing. This reprimand has been presented to me as a “first and final notice” with threat of termination. The amount of emailing that I had with this employee was approx 7-8 emails a day. The content was short – a sentence or two most of the time. I was also nailed for forwarding larger content emails (pictures etc) to others that had been sent to me by other employees.

I have worked for the company for 8 years and am an exempt employee. I work around 50-60 hours a week with only a rare lunch break. I believe that if I am going to do a job, I am going to do it well. I am not able to complete the work well in less time. I rarely take or make personal phone calls. I do, however, check my personal email, which is not against company policy. Besides this extreme warning that I got, my boss has also informed me that I would be able to get the work done if I didn’t email so much. All the effort and extra time, without pay, is completely dismissed. Needless to say, I am really upset about all this.

My question for you is about how I can be singled out and given such a strong reprimand? The emailing policies have been overlooked or not enforced for every single person I have asked. In fact, I know of nobody else that has received a reprimand, other than the one person who was also a friend of the fired employee. I also do not understand what excessive is. Clearly we should not forward things and I will not do that. But, I am scared to death now to answer any email that is even remotely personal. A coworker announced her pregnancy and sent the sonogram and I was scared to death to even respond with “congratulations.” Personally, I do not consider 7-8 emails a day to be excessive, esp if the they were very short and discussed things as simple as if they were going out for lunch if they would bring me something. Also, with the amount of time I put into that job, that amount of emailing does not account for my overtime hours as my boss now concludes. The policy is vague and I am at the mercy of my boss’s subjective evaluation. How can I protect myself from being fired? This same boss, only a few weeks earlier, launched what felt like personal attacks on a mid year review. For the time I have worked there, I was treated as a valuable, award winning even, employee, but the new boss has a different opinion. Our HR person is someone who is not someone that I want to have anything at all. I feel like asking assistance from her would be like walking into a hungry lion’s den.

This, surprisingly, is not at all about e-mail. It may seem like it's about e-mail, but it's not. It's about a new boss who wants to change things.

The non-exempt employee who everyone liked was fired because her new boss didn't like the way she recorded time. This translates into she was putting down that she worked more hours then she did. Now, I'm not there, so I don't know whether that was an accurate assessment or not. I don't know if she was eating lunch at her desk while chatting with people the whole time, but because she was at her desk she counted it as work time, or if the new boss just wanted her to clock out every time she went to the potty.

Let's assume it was closer to the latter. Just because someone is well liked does not mean they are doing a good job. Even if she was a stellar employee, she's gone now and that's her boss's prerogative. It sounds like the e-mail investigation occurred after his mind was made up to fire her. You got caught up in this.

For the record, I don't think exchanging 7-8 short e-mails a day is a bad thing. In fact, it can be a lot more efficient than standing in the kitchen in front of the coffee pot chatting. It also helps build relationships. In my last job I worked with people at all of our company sites. I only saw these people face to face rarely. E-mail and phone was how we built our relationship.

But, as I said this is not about e-mail. Your boss pulled e-mail out as a reason for you taking so long to get your work done. He doesn't see you putting in 50-60 hours a week as a positive. He sees it as a negative.

He believes that you are being inefficient. The fact that you have time to "waste" on e-mail supports his belief. Please note, I am not saying you are inefficient. I have no idea, as I'm not there and I don't know what your job expectations are.

What you need to do is lay off the e-mailing for a while because that is an easily observable sign that you are wasting time. But, more importantly, you need to sit down with your boss and discuss how he thinks you could increase your efficiency. Do this with an open mind. I know you think you are a careful and hard worker who is using every minute wisely, but he may see things that you do not. Listen and take his suggestions.

Go into this assuming that he knows what he is talking about. This may or may not be true, but if you go in assuming the opposite you are sunk before you start. He's given you a clear signal that taking 50-60 hours a week to do your job is unacceptable to him. Listen to this. And remember, this isn't about e-mail.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Our "friend" the pharmacist

I posted a little story yesterday about a pharmacist who made several inappropriate remarks. Not surprisingly, most of those who commented identified the man as a jerk and alternately asked for his dismissal, write up or behind in a training class.

The thing that concerns me the most about this story is not that the pharmacist was a jerk, but that the other employees laughed along with him.

Let's face it. Society has (for some unknown reason) determined that pregnant women are fair game and that your child bearing decisions are open for criticism. Before I had children people constantly asked when I was going to have children. Once I got pregnant, people started to ask when I was going to have my next one. (Answer: We're going to wait and see if we like this one first.)

When you're pregnant, your weight, your age, and your diet--normally forbidden topics--become the focus of strangers. (Another true story: When I was pregnant with offspring #1, a co-worker used to berate me for eating popcorn. Popcorn! Don't you know it's full of salt??? I did know it was full of salt, and I also knew that my blood pressure was on the low side and I wasn't having problems with water retention. I also knew that this coworker had smoked during her entire pregnancy. But in her mind, my salt was worse than her cigarettes.)

Women have story after story about how people have told them they are going to ruin their only child and they really need to have more kids or that they are going to destroy the earth by over-populating it.

So, it doesn't surprise me that this man felt that he could comment on this woman's family size. He thought he was being funny.

So, as for him (assuming and investigation confirmed the story), he'd get a formal warning with the clear understanding that questions of pregnancy and birth control are only appropriate when it is relevant to the prescription he is filling. He would also be informed that similar comments on someone's weight, height, age, marital status, whatever, are inappropriate as well. He would be required to write an apology letter to the woman.

But the real problem is the culture at that pharmacy counter. If the other workers knew what was going on enough to giggle at what he was saying, then they also knew that the victim was not amused and that his actions were inappropriate. And they not only giggled (I agree, sometimes you just can't help it, even if it is inappropriate), but they didn't stop the behavior either.

I would be concerned that we had developed a culture where employees are not willing (or not comfortable) stepping into a situation like this. This is a culture that is ripe for bullying.

The district manager, corporate HR, or even the store manager may be unaware that inappropriate behavior is occurring. And it appears that the only way to get truly through to a bully is through peers. The fact that the other pharmacist and the tech just laughed scares me.

One commentator, who labeled himself (herself?) as a pharmacist wrote:
the pharmacist is more educated than anyone in HR, so he can say what he wants and you won't do a damn thing.

This person is a bully. This person scares me. That culture is exactly what I want to stamp out. So, where would I start? With this person's boss. Not to punish, but to see what is going on that made this employee think this inappropriate comment was appropriate.

It's important, in retail and all businesses, to treat the customer right. But, in order to do that, you need to make sure that your employees feel comfortable doing what is right.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

What would you do?

A friend had the following experience:

This morning I took the children to the pharmacy to get some breathe right strips for my toddler. He has been a little congested at night. Anyway, I went up to the consultation window to ask the pharmacist a question about this saline nasal spray for children. I was holding my daughter and both boys were standing right next to me, well groomed, calm, quiet, and well behaved. I was having a great morning, I don't think I looked frazzled or overtired or anything like that.

Instead of answering my question about the nasal spray, he asked, "Did all of these children come out of you?" I didn't respond at all. I just stared at him.

He continued, "Wow, you just pop them out like popcorn." I repeated my question about the nasal spray. He finally answered my question. Then he asked my children how old they were. They answered (3, 4, and the four year old answered for the 18 month old.) Then the pharmacist said, "Oh, and it looks like you have another one coming, too." The four year old says smile with a huge, "Yes, we have a new baby coming!".

Then the pharmacist said, "You know, we sell birth control here".

I was so surprised that he said that! A female pharmacist behind him and a female employee (but not a pharmacist) both started laughing loudly behind him. I couldn't believe that two ladies would find that funny.

I struggle with temperance, so I bit my tongue (I LITERALLY bit down on my tongue because my children were with me and what I wanted to say was not okay to say, especially in front of them). Instead I said, "Well that would be really sad. We love children in this family and we are very happy that we are going to have a new baby soon".

The pharmacist was still holding the nasal spray, which is why I hadn't walked away before this point.

I really found his comments inappropriate, especially in front of my children. I also want to be clear that even if my children were poorly groomed and ill behaved I would have found his comments inappropriate. But it was the case that my children appear (and are!) adorable, healthy, well cared for, and happy.

She is going to be writing a letter to the store management as well as the corporate office. My question for all of you is what would you do/say to one of your employees if you got a letter detailing this story.

I'll give my thoughts on it Thursday. I don't want to sway anybody.