Employer should not tolerate poor work habits or behavior


June 26, 1994|By Niki Scott | Niki Scott,Universal Press Syndicate

A frazzled executive wrote this week to ask, "Where, oh where, have I gone wrong?

"I've hired three secretaries in the past three years and had to fire all of them because not one had a clue about what is and is not appropriate workplace behavior.

"All three were in their late 20s -- old enough to know a thing or two -- had reasonably good references, and interviewed well," she wrote from Atlanta.

"But once I hired them, they fell apart -- came to work when they felt like it, dressed in clothes that would have been appropriate lTC for a camping trip, spent a good part of every day drinking coffee and discussing the latest movies they'd seen, or hanging on the phone for an hour talking to their boyfriends.

"I talked to them. I warned them. They ignored me -- then had the nerve to act shocked when I finally had to fire them!

"Is this the caliber of employee we employers are going to have accept nowadays, or have my usually good intuition and managerial skills deserted me? In other words, where, oh where, have I gone wrong?"

Just as it's often not a parent's fault when a child fails in some way, it's often not an employer's fault when an employee fails to measure up.

Some years ago, a secretary informed me during her first eight hours on the job that she didn't hold with married women taking jobs away from men and single women, would never put a child of hers in day care, and believed that any woman who had an abortion -- for any reason -- was guilty of first-degree murder.

She didn't know where I stood on these issues -- and I certainly hadn't asked her views on these intensely personal issues -- but it was clear that she wasn't interested in a dialogue anyway; she just (as we used to say in the permissive '70s) wanted to express herself.

The rest of her first week on the job, she spent a good part of every day filling me in on her unhappy childhood and her no-good former boss who (it turned out) had given her a chance to resign about 40 seconds before he planned to fire her.

During week two, we covered her no-good tramp of a sister, her two failed marriages, her first, second and third sexual experiences, and how abusive her current Significant Other could be when he drank more than his usual two six-packs a day.

She clearly had no idea about what were -- and were not -- appropriate topics of conversation in the workplace, or how distracting and unprofessional her constant chatter about personal matters was.

Talking to her didn't help.

"Marge, I find it difficult to concentrate when you interrupt me so often. Let's set half an hour aside at the beginning and end of the day to chat, then attend to business the rest of the time."

"Marge, I can't write -- and you can't answer correspondence -- if we spend time talking about our personal lives. I want you to save this sort of conversation for after-work hours."

"Marge, I care about you as an employee, but I simply can't spend time during my workday listening to your personal experiences and problems!"

When I finally gave her two weeks' notice, she, too, vacillated between being absolutely incredulous and being absolutely furious.

"But I was just making conversation! I wanted you to get to know me," she said. "I had no idea I was being a nuisance -- why didn't you tell me? You did? I don't remember that.

"Besides, if you're so cold and stuck-up that you don't care about people, I don't want to work for you, anyway!"

I still feel bad when I think about her, but what I know is that she's the one that messed up -- not me.

I also know that we women must stop blaming ourselves for the failings of our children, spouses, friends and, yes, our employees, and start putting the responsibility squarely where it belongs -- on their shoulders, not ours.

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