The A-Z of bad hr

first_imgIf you thought you had it bad, pity the teacher who gathered she had beendismissed when her name failed to appear on the work roster, and the man passedover for promotion because he ‘didn’t smile in the company photo.’ Paul Simpsontakes us on a terrible journey through…You would think from the billions of copies of management books on thesubject of emotional intelligence that have been sold, that we’d all be workingfor fabulously enlightened bosses who were sensitive to their employees’ wantsand needs. Sadly, the evidence of our own experience and that of books such as BrutalBosses by Harvey Hornstein, suggests these renaissance managers are theexception, rather than the rule. Examples of truly spectacularly bad humanresources practice can be found, daily, in the press or on the internet. Andhere as in so many areas, it is the good old US of A which leads the trend. This A to Z compilation includes the edited lowlights of truly bad HR. Andby bad, we don’t mean the casually awful, such as the manager who left his confidential– and unflattering – employee appraisals on the laser printer for all the staffto see. Nor do we mean the merely miserly, such as the Woolworths branch whichfired a couple of staff for eating two two-penny sweets. We couldn’t find room for the US electronics manufacturer run by a chiefexecutive officer, who decided to simplify the management structure byappointing himself director of marketing, head of finance and head ofengineering, but probably upset his staff most with his habit of using theirwaste baskets as a spittoon for his chewing tobacco. To be included in this alphabet of atrociousness, companies and managers hadto demonstrate a higher level of idiocy. If nothing else, this compellingcompendium of the truly awful suggests that when management guru Peter Druckersaid in 1973, that the ideal of the professional manager had become reality, hewas probably being a tad over optimistic. A is for American Express, which doubly deserves entry in thisrogues’ gallery. The first HR error was a computer glitch: one in 200 employeesin the US were sent info on other staff’s social security numbers and taxsavings plans, rather than their own. This simple technical error seems asirrelevant as Anthea Turner when compared to the furore surrounding the caselast year of Vanessa Brennan, one of its British employees. She alleged herboss Michael Rutter was so abusive, she almost lost her baby. Brennan claimed that Rutter made her work 80 hours a week, and said her maternityleave present would be a book called 1,010 Things To Do With A Dead Baby.Rutter denied these claims although he was found guilty of sex discrimination,and Christine Robinson, the firm’s vice-president of human resources, admittedwith masterly understatement that she’d had “problems” with hisleadership style. Rutter later vanished abroad. B is for Burger King, the fast-food giant whose advertising makes abig virtue out of the fact that its burgers are flame grilled. A dozen BurgerKing marketing execs were also flame grilled, while walking over hot coals in ateam bonding exercise in October 2001. Despite suffering first and second degree burns, the vice-president ofproduct marketing, Dana Frydman (pronounced Fried-man and no, we’re not makingthis up), insisted the pain was worthwhile: “It made you feel that youcould accomplish anything.” Anything, presumably, except banning the useof naked flame in team bonding exercises.C is for computers that have begun to confirm sci-fi authors’ worstfears and started sacking people. Carl Filer, an 18-year-old cashier at aB&Q store in Bournemouth, had hoped to become a supervisor, but failed aGallup-designed automated telephone interview. Filer’s managers were notunhappy with his work, but felt obliged to follow the results of thecomputerised test. D is for Debbie, an employee at a small business which sadly, forlegal reasons, must remain anonymous. In 1998, her mother and sister diedwithin six months of each other. To most bosses, such a double blow might seemgrounds for compassionate leave, but not so for Debbie’s. When she returnedfrom her sister’s funeral, she was called into her boss’s office and told:”If any more of your close relatives die you’ll be fired.” Debbieshould have a lot in common with Robert Stennings, a SupaHeat driver for 10years, who booked a holiday so he could attend his daughter’s birth. WhenStennings got the call that his wife was in labour, his boss told him:”Don’t come back.” Stennings won £1,375 for unfair dismissal. E is for Enron, of course. It is not simply the fact that on the eveof its bankruptcy, the corporation found the time and money to pay $105m inretention bonuses to key employees, compared to an average redundancy paymentof $5,000 for the other staff. Nor that Enron’s ex-CEO Jeffrey Skillingdeclared that he couldn’t remember a key meeting because “the room wasdark.” Or even that the company adopted a ‘rank or yank’ system, by whichit fired the worst performing 15 per cent of its workforce every year. No, itis all of that, plus the way managers tacitly encouraged office affairs, gavenew sports cars to favoured employees with reckless abandon and allowed thecompany to become the ultimate bonfire of the vanities – a symbol of acorporate America which even investors are beginning to suspect is spinning outof control. F is for the Federal Aviation Administration, which last July wasordered to pay an air traffic controller $2.25m after firing him for notworking on his sabbath. Don Reed was adjudged to be a victim of religiousdiscrimination. He is a member of a non-denominational church, whose sabbathruns from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. Two FAA managers hadallowed him to miss work on those days, but a third had told Reed his beliefswere “a scam” and fired him. G is for getting engaged, not advised if you’re working for an RAFnursing home. Care workers Richard Shepherd and Denise Keddie got engaged inspring 2001 while working together at an RAF nursing home in Brecon. Afterbeing initially congratulated on their happy news, they were told theiremployment would be terminated as their relationship might make it harder formanagers to fill the 24-hour shift schedules. H is for Her Majesty, currently basking in public adoration, but wholast June finally agreed that her staff had a point when they complained theirwages were ‘medieval.’ Pay was held back by a grading system of labyrinthinecomplexity which saw, for example, three different grades of dresser. The Queenfinally approved pay rises of up to 16 per cent for her domestic servants andmade more staff eligible for free meals. Not before time, either. A probationary kitchen porter at the Queen’s Sandringham estate wasdismissed in February 2000 after joking about putting cyanide in Her Majesty’sfood. That’s what you get for employing staff on a starting salary of £9,000 ayear. I is for the Indian Army which, recognising that morale among its 1.1million soldiers and officers isn’t quite what it could be, has come up withthe novel solution of offering troops inflatable penile implants. High altitude living and stress are reputed to be sapping soldiers’ sexdrives. Colonel P Madhusudhanan, an army urologist, says the surgery costs£3,500 a time, so the army sees “this very much as a last resort forsoldiers reporting marriage problems”. The treatment has been modifiedafter earlier attempts to insert ‘semi-rigid rods’ left soldiers with painfullyperpetual erections. J is for Japanese civil servants who must suffer at the hands of someseriously unfit managers as, when asked to pick their ideal boss in 1998, theyvoted for Mr Bean. Shipping Rowan Atkinson’s elastically limbed creation to therelative obscurity of the Japanese bureaucracy might be a very tidy solution, certainlypreferable to having to endure another TV series or movie. K is for kidnapping, used by Tony Toms, Field Marshal Montgomery’sformer bodyguard, in a bizarre bid to raise morale at the perennially troubledSheffield Wednesday football club. Toms joined the Owls during Len Ashurst’s1975-1978 managerial reign and soon impressed the players with his personalcredo: “If you’re not tired, you’re not working hard enough.” He tookall 20 players on a night of survival training – in January in Yorkshire, withsleeping bags and, he boasted, “practically no food”. Throughout the night, he interrupted their sleep with army-style roll callsand then kidnapped one player, Dave Cusack, to see if the other 19 noticed.Astonishingly, they didn’t. Toms later forced most of the squad to go throughthe ‘black tunnel’, a pipe filled with jet-black water. One player was soscared, his colleagues heard him shouting for his mum L is for lies. Your mother probably told you they could come back tohaunt you, but alas, so can the truth. A US project-management company asked anemployee during a performance review, whether he liked pie-charts. The employee confessed he didn’t like them at all. At his next review, hewas criticised by another manager for his refusal to do pie-charts. Theemployee pointed out that he’d never been asked to do pie-charts and had merelyexpressed an opinion about them, but his alleged refusal to do pie-chartsremained part of his personnel file. M is for ‘mea culpa’, which Andy Pearson, previously labelled one ofthe 10 toughest bosses in America, was big enough to say when confronted withsome of his more neanderthal managerial habits. When he ran Tricon GlobalRestaurants (which owns Pizza Hut and KFC) he liked to walk into a meeting andsay: “A room full of monkeys can do better than this.” Pearson hasnow realised that as a motivational method (let alone as a decent way tobehave), this had its limits. N has to be for Neal Patterson, who is still head of the Cernerhealthcare company, despite berating his staff last year in an e-mail which,when leaked, wiped 22 per cent off the value of the group’s shares. Theforthright Patterson had e-mailed managers to complain that: “We aregetting less than 40 hours of work from a large number of employees. Asmanagers, you either do not know what your employees are doing or you do notcare. In either case you have a problem and you will fix it or I will replaceyou” [emphasis as original]. His e-mail ended with the parting shot that”hell will freeze over” before employee benefits were increased. Thee-mail, posted on a Yahoo financial message board, sent the stocks plummeting.Cerner had, the year before, been voted one of the 100 best companies to workfor in Fortune magazine. O just happens to be the round but insignificant number of games (iezero) that Peter Cormack was allowed to prove his worth as manager of Scottishfootball club, Cowdenbeath. This football manager’s 10-day reign isn’t theshortest – Scunthorpe United’s Bill Lambton lasted just three days in 1959,although he left of his own volition. But few exits are as painful as that ofFulham manager Jimmy Hogan, sacked while in hospital in February 1935 havinghis appendix out. P is for ‘poor English’, the reason Michael Jones, who worked for aUK sushi firm, was fired by his Japanese boss. A tribunal awarded Jones £20,000after deciding that one of Jones’ superiors had “very poor writtenEnglish” and that his immediate boss “could barely converse inEnglish at all”. Murray Ingram might sympathise. He lost a temporary jobon a telephone helpline because he had a “harsh and aggressiveaccent” – ie he sounded Scottish. Q is for questionnaires, especially the self-assessing variety thatcost Mike Davies his £70,000 a year job as head of a Marks & Spencer storein Warrington, Cheshire, two years ago. The retail giant, which later admittedunfairly dismissing Davies, said that his scores were in the bottom 10 and thatDavies “was too passive and not proactive”. These scores were givenmore weight than the fact the store Davies had managed had been one of the mostsuccessful of its kind for four years. R is for Robert Huskisson, a dyslexic banker with the Abbey NationalBuilding Society who, earlier this year, was awarded £95,000 after he wastaunted by colleagues (he says his boss called him “Trebor” – hisChristian name spelt backwards) and fired for failing to meet sales targets. A tribunal decided he was not given a proper time to meet the bank’sstandards and his disability was ignored by his employer. Abbey National isappealing against the award. S is for Sam Goldwyn, the legendary foot-in-mouth Hollywood moviemogul, who once famously declared: “I don’t want yes men around me. I wanteverybody to tell me the truth even if it costs their jobs”. Staff whotook Goldwyn’s advice, usually found that it did cost them their jobs. T is for timetable, not of the semi-fictional railway variety, butthe timetables schools and colleges set out for staff for a forthcoming term.When Margaret Crump, who had taught art and design at Bristol’s Clifton Collegesince 1982, spotted that her name was not on the staff timetable for the termthat started in September 1995, she began to fear the worst. Six weeks later, she received a P45 with no accompanying letter at home.Nine days after that, she got a letter from her headmaster, saying heremployment would be terminated from the very next day. After a tribunalcondemned the college’s actions, the employer agreed to pay an undisclosed sum,believed to be £25,000, in compensation. U is for unsaid, as in ‘some things are better left’. The mostspectacular example being the remark in the October 2001 issue of theAssociation of Lloyd’s Members newsletter, that 11 September represented a”historic opportunity” for insurance underwriters to raise theirprofits. Whatever happened to such high falutin’ ideas as ‘corporatereputation’? But U is also for underwear, which Disney tried to issue to itstheme park employees last year. Workers were told they would have to wear company-approved underwear on thejob and have it laundered by company employees. After complaints that thelaundered undergarments contained scabies and lice, the company relented.Employees must still wear company-issued underwear, but they can at least takeit home to be washed. V is for vulgar, which is what bosses of the previously discreet NewYork equity investment firm Carlyle thought of this (edited) e-mail sent byPeter Chung, its new recruit in Seoul, in April 2001: “So I’ve been inKorea for about a week and a half now and life is good. I’ve got a spankingbrand new 2000 sq ft three bedroom apt. with a 200 sq ft terrace running theentire length of my apartment with a view overlooking Korea’s main river andnightline……Why do I need three bedrooms? Good question the main bedroom isfor my queen size bed,…where Chung is going to f*** every hot chick in Koreaover the next two years (five down, 1,000,000,000 left to go)…. the secondbedroom is for my harem of chickies, and the third bedroom is for all of youf***ers when you come out to visit.” Chung went on in similar fashion:”After I learn a little bit of the buyside business I’ll probably go outevery night. I have bankers calling me every day and they cater to my everywhim – you know (golfing events, lavish dinners, a night out clubbing). Whatcan I say,… life is good,… Chung is King of his domain here in Seoul…..So…. all of you f***ers better keep in touch.” His bosses got in touchvery quickly indeed, to inform Chung he was no longer king of his domain.W is for weather forecasting. Not normally a stressful business,unless – like BBC weatherman Michael Fish – you famously assure the nation notto worry as the worst storm in decades rips the countryside to smithereens. ButSean Boyd, a weatherman for a Californian radio station, earned the order ofthe boot for refusing to change his forecast on the afternoon of his station’spublic picnic from ‘partly cloudy’, to ‘partly sunny’. X has traditionally signified the unknown and analysts, investors andex-employees, still don’t know why 45 executives at Polaroid felt they had theright to claim $19m in ‘stay bonuses’ after the company had filed forprotection from its creditors under Chapter 11, sacked one in four of itsworkforce and ended healthcare benefits for retirees. (The bonus would haveworked out at $422,000 for each exec.) Rather than take responsibility for thecompany’s failure, they decided the most appropriate response was to try andtake a bonus. But then giving bonuses to execs at bankrupt companies is one ofthe hottest new crazes in corporate America. Enron tried it and so did PacificGas & Electric, which ‘only’ asked for $17.5m in bonuses for itsexecutives. Y is for ‘You’re not a team player’ – what a manager at a US companytold a software engineer who asked at the start of his performance review whyhe’d been passed over for promotion. The engineer then asked why he was notconsidered a “team player”, and was told: “You didn’t smile inthe company photo.” Z is for Zimbabwe, which isn’t big on HR acronyms, whether they arehuman rights or human resources. Robert Mugabe’s regime celebrated the end ofthe millennium by announcing pay rises of up to 90 per cent for public sectorstaff, and the immediate dismissal of 20,000 of the same staff to save $75m andkeep the International Monetary Fund off its back. Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article The A-Z of bad hrOn 2 Jul 2002 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos.last_img read more