Managers face many common problems in human resources during the course of their careers. Some have problems that belong in a separate class because they are wildly unique.
Common problems include absenteeism, sexual harassment, under performance and interpersonal conflicts. Unique problems don’t appear in any HR manual or book about management because they are rare. They are true tests of leadership and creative problem solving.
This former manager with decades of experiences has had direct or interdirect experience with:
- Physical threats
- Blowup sex toys in the office
- Blatant boss-subordinate affairs
- Security cameras filming employees having sex
- Security cameras filming a nude employee
- Dying employees
- Employees drunk or high on the job
- Illegal gambling operations
- Police arrests in the office
Management horror stories
I must quickly point out that I did not cause any of the above, especially the murder. My bad behavior is usually limited to going five miles per hour above the speed limit. As a manager, I was either solely or partly responsible for creatively solving many of these problems instead of causing them.
These experiences aren’t simply war stories (maybe horror stories is a better description). They are examples of how human resource policies and standard management practices don’t always cover every situation.
A leader and manager who is confronted with these break-the-mold experiences might respond with three principles:
- Flexibility, or how to react in the spur of the moment
- Objectivity, or how to keep emotions under control
- Creativity, or how to solve unique problems with unique answers
Murder Certainly Creates a Problem
When we walked into our office building one morning, we were blasted with a horrific stench. The stench was a decaying human body.
A heating and air conditioning employee had murdered his wife and stuffed her into a barrel. He got another employee - who didn’t know what was in the barrel - to help him take it up to the seventh floor and bury it under concrete next to a new building-wide air conditioner.
After her disappearance, police quickly suspected and broke him after several days. They unearthed the barrel and of course opened it - right next to the new air conditioner, which sucked up the decaying body fumes and spread them throughout the building. The terrible odor lasted for three days.
Needless to say, my staff didn’t enjoy the experience. They demanded to know why police had to open the barrel next to the air conditioner, how the employee was able to get a barrel with a murder victim into the building, etc.
Management needs information fast in a traumatic situation, must anticipate many questions and should have open and honest answers for employees.
Fistfights and Blowup Sex Toys
High-stress situations often lead to arguments, shouting matches, sometimes to fistfights and occasionally to bad judgments with good intentions.
Keep in mind that a real-life office isn’t necessarily what appears on TV. Some offices have loose cultures that permit and even encourage informality in dress and behavior. That informality has downsides when behavior gets out of control.
One day I was sitting 10 feet away from my boss’s office when a resigning employee threw a punch at him. It started a fistfight between the two. An unfortunate co-worker stepped between them to break it up and got a fist in the eye.
The resigning employee was escorted out of the building. The boss was reprimanded and had to regain some lost respect and trust from employees, including the one with the black eye.
Management books and HR policies don’t teach managers how to hold their temper or respond to a punch. But these highly charged situations do show how managers need to control their emotions, remain flexible and stay objective.
Blowup sex toys
The fistfight was a shameful moment for my former boss. I have one of my own.
I took over a disastrous operation that was in total meltdown. Employees were quitting left and right, morale was at the bottom.
One day I walked into the office and discovered someone had brought in a giant blow up sex toy as a joke to lighten the mood. I immediately thought it should go, but the employees lightheartedly pushed back. I thought, well, maybe it’s good for a few laughs for a few days. I was looking for any way possible to rebuild morale. So I hesitated.
It didn’t take long for someone higher up to find out about it and order it removed. I remain ashamed to this day of my bad judgment with good intentions.
A blowup sex toy in an easy-going office is something you might see in movies or on TV, especially 20 years ago when this happened. But if your gut in a unique situation says it’s wrong, go with your gut and not with what your employees want just to keep them upbeat. You are a boss and they are not for two important reasons among others: objectivity and good judgment.
Other Unique Experiences
I have had to deal with employees who were drunk or high on the job, employees who were mentally ill and suicidal, employees who were caught on camera either nude or having sex and so many more situations.
The employee who got arrested by police in our office in front of my staff for having more than 30 outstanding parking tickets made a dumb decision. But he did so in his personal life. He didn’t lose his job over it. He did disrupt the office when the police walked in, handcuffed him and took him away.
The employees who were filmed nude or having sex - sorry, no details to protect privacy - made dumb mistakes at work rather than outside of work. In both cases, they were good employees who only got reprimanded. In both cases, the reprimand was embarrassing to discuss but necessary. (The face of the nude employee was scarlet red during the entire conversation.) Staying objective and focusing on the situation and not the person made the discussions easier.
Drunk, high and gambling
Employees who are drunk, high or gambling on the job are making more than just a dumb decision. They are putting their jobs, co-workers and company at risk. On the flip side, a dying employee or one who is going through an agonizing, job-disrupting divorce simply call for compassion.
For the most part, these are one-of-a-kind experiences for a manager that need a wide variety of responses. They require flexibility in the manager for dealing with these unique situations, a strong control over any emotional response, and creativity in how to solve them.
What they also require is something books and policies can’t teach about the character of a leader and manager: integrity, responsibility, discipline, good judgment and common sense.
Each situation is not only a lesson in character for the manager but a lesson about the character of the employee. They are opportunities for growth for both the manager and the employee.
That murderer was an exception. He didn’t end up with much career or character growth in prison.