It has dawned on me in recent years that many experiences I have had over my 21 year career in HR, that I thought were simply part and parcel of being in HR, were highly unusual and unique, some slightly sad and sometimes they were funny, and I often found it difficult to keep a straight face!
I realised this when I was delivering a recent workshop on Employment Law for our clients. In many of the workshops I run I share some of my experiences by telling stories, usually to make some key learning points about managing people or employment law. The reactions I get from people made me realise that these things haven’t happened to other people.
Considering all the serious things we have to deal with as HR professionals, and the seriousness of the world we are living in right now, I thought I would share some of my funniest HR moments with you! It goes without saying that all names have been changed to protect the “innocent.”
The Man Who Was Dismissed but kept on coming into work!
An employee working in Finance raised a grievance about one of their colleagues as they were “sick and tired of having to watch him watch porn all day and get paid for it”.
The usual investigation, disciplinary process took place and the employee was fairly dismissed for Gross Misconduct – this was my first ever dismissal and I will always remember the employee saying to me “what am I going to tell my wife?” I genuinely didn’t know how to answer this question, so I said nothing.
What was the unusual part of this story was that the next day, the gentleman turned up for work, and I was called to go and have a “chat” with him. He explained that he couldn’t tell his wife that he had been dismissed, and that until he found another job, could he just come in and sit in reception while he used his laptop, our Wi-Fi and coffee machine each day?! It was sad, but ultimately, we couldn’t have him coming into work each day and despite various discussions with various more senior members of staff, he eventually stopped coming into work after about a month and the involvement of the police! ( he was of course trespassing)
Lesson learnt – don’t avoid answering the difficult questions – they will come back and bite you! I would now answer that question the employee raised “what am I going to tell my wife?” and would have sat and discussed this with the employee, as having this discussion with the employee could have avoided the issue of him continuing to come into work.
Customer wants to swap his red car for a white car – how is this even an HR issue?
In an automotive retail HR role, a customer had bought a very expensive red car from us and wanted to bring it back because he now wanted the same car in white, as he didn’t like it in red anymore.
The car retailer was having problems calming the customer down, so I was asked to go and have a chat with him – not sure why this is an HR issue, but apparently, we have a way of dealing with people that makes them talk to us and listen to reason……. sometimes.
I had a chat with the gentleman and felt quite smug, when I managed to calm him down and make him see sense about the fact that what he was asking was unreasonable and that there was nothing wrong with his car, so we couldn’t just swap it for another car.
Anyway, at about 4:55 the same day, I get a phone call from the dealership again, and they ask me to come over and have a look at what’s been delivered for me. Now I was thinking a bunch of flowers maybe for helping them sort out their problem! Instead, there was a flatbed lorry offloading a huge pile of horse manure which was blocking the staff car park exit. The message that the van driver had been asked to deliver was simply that “you’re a load of s***t”.
This did become an HR issue when I had almost 100 employees all trying to leave work on a Friday evening, not able to get out of the car park. Luckily, we had security and workmen on site who all rallied round and literally shovelled s***t to help us clear the exit and allow people to go home.
Lesson learnt – don’t assume that a problem is resolved or isn’t an HR issue as often things that don’t necessarily fit into the “HR” box can become an HR problem! Being part of a team means people often rely on your strengths as an HR professional to help out, even when you may not think its an HR issue, and that’s what has helped me over the years to build good relationships with the business and become a true partner.
The female who went commando at a Christmas party and decided to show everyone her Brazilian!
I don’t go to work “do’s” anymore and this is the reason why! It was a posh Christmas party, black tie for the gents and evening dresses for the ladies, so this was full on glam at a very swanky hotel. I didn’t witness this event at the party but when I walked into the office on the Monday morning after the party, a very embarrassed senior manager sat down with me to tell me what had happened.
A young, female member of staff had been telling everyone how she had gone “commando” in her evening dress due to the fit of her dress and not wanting a “Visible Panty Line” Someone in the senior leadership team then asked, “what does going commando mean?” and she promptly showed them!
As the senior manager told me this, I’m not sure what was funnier, him squirming as he told me or what had happened!
We agreed that we would talk to the person together and would ask them “what do you think we want to talk to you about?” in the hope that they would volunteer what happened at the party to save the embarrassment of having to relay the story.
So, when we brought them into meet with us and asked them “what do you think we want to talk to you about?” they then reeled off a load of other potential HR issues, before finally getting to the Christmas Party incident!
- Is it about my timekeeping? As I know it’s not been great recently.
- Is it because of my relationship with John? We’ve been trying to keep it secret and have been discreet at work
- Is it because of my recent bust up with Joanne in the office, as I’m really embarrassed about our slanging match in front of everyone?
- Is it because of what happened at the Christmas Party? Finally!
Lesson learnt – be specific! By asking very generally “what do you think we want to talk to you about” – lead us down several different, but potentially helpful other paths before we got to where we wanted to! However, by asking an open question we did get them to talk about what happened in their words, whether they were remorseful about any of their actions and what they intended to do about the incident – they owned it and they apologised to the people personally who they exposed themselves to, and they received a final written warning for their behaviour.
The Fun Doesn’t Stop There
These are just a few of the highlights, and there are many more stories I could share, and I think it shows that despite the difficult situations often have to deal with, it’s about approaching them in a pragmatic way and with a sense of humour too!
All of these things actually happened, and all have taught me some invaluable lessons. If you want to know more, perhaps you could book me to come and deliver a workshop and I will share some of the more colourful HR things that I have experienced, or maybe I could talk to your managers or your leadership team about the importance of HR and your people to your business? If none of these are of interest, then I hope that I have made you smile and perhaps put some of your people issues into perspective!