has the front row, center seat, in the reviewing stand of the
parade. The parade moving by, sometimes at warp speed, sometimes at
a crawl, is the parade of human behavior. Certainly, this parade is
centered on behavior at work. However, issues of families and
off-duty behavior increasingly manifest at work.
several examples about what happens when public employees appear to
periodically lose their brain cells and cant remember where they
put them. Most of these have been issues in which the HR Doctor has
been personally involved. Others have been contributed by colleagues
in public service.
In one case, a
firefighter, i.e., a true hero, reported for work. It was noticed
by his supervisor that the chap smelled of alcohol and displayed
some other symptoms of possible impairment. In this case, unlike in
others, the matter was not brushed off amidst comments like thats
just Joe or covered up by buddies in the station. Rather, it was
reported to the chief.
followed agency protocol by ordering the firefighter to report to
the countys medical facility for testing to determine if drug or
alcohol impairment was present. Thats the good news. Unfortunately,
the chief went on to order the employee to get in his car and drive
to the Hospital Emergency Room for the test.
The car in
question was, of course, not just any car, but a bright red one
complete with official markings, red lights, sirens, etc. In this
case, only by the most amazing of miracles and a temporary
suspension of Murphys Law, did the employee arrive at the hospital
without killing innocent people. The employee failed the test
however, the fire chief should have also been ordered to immediately
report for a brain scan to determine whether, in fact, his was
working at the time he gave that order.
case, a recreation employee working with senior citizens and
children had an auto accident in an agency truck. He was sent for a
routine post-accident substance abuse test. He tested positive for
marijuana. He repeatedly and vehemently denied that he ever used
marijuana or any other drug. Having said that, however, he went on
to state that in this case he used it to purge his
position in the pre-disciplinary hearing was that the employee
should not be disciplined because the public agency had an
obligation to be culturally sensitive. In this culture, the clever
union representative asserted, the use of marijuana for bowel
purging purposes was common.
thanking the employee and union representative for their input, the
HR Director, sitting alone in his office and shaking his head in
amazement, put on a CD and listened for several minutes to the theme
music to The Twilight Zone.
Then there was
the case of the two cafeteria workers who violated the
organizations workplace violence policy by getting into an
altercation in the middle of lunch, amid a very crowded group of
hungry staff members waiting to be served. The altercation
deteriorated to the point where the weapons of choice for cafeteria
workers were brandished and used namely, food.
The food fight
which erupted, complete with rolling around on the floor, was
apparently a sight to behold since it took a while for any manager
in the room to finish eating before intervening to separate the
combatants and implement the agencys policies.
No matter how
much energy an agency puts into distributing and conducting training
on critically important policies like workplace violence prevention
and intervention, there appear to be some managers, as well as
employees, who are in a state of permanently being out to lunch
even when the training was repeatedly provided.
case, a public works employee got so mad at the director of the
agency that he threatened to go out to his car and get his gun. This
well-trained and thoughtful manager responded by saying, Oh yeah,
Ill go out to my car and get my gun! Of course, guns are banned at
the workplace, and guns in cars on agency property are also banned.
This management employee represented the agency brilliantly by not
only failing to defuse the threat and contact law enforcement, but
by participating in the escalation of the incident to the point
where other management personnel intervened and delivered a
three-pound bag of sanity back into the situation.
in a quiet residential neighborhood and finding a large 40-passenger
county bus pulling into the area at night and stopping in front of
one of the houses for about 40 minutes, while leaving the engine
running and the lights on in the bus. Needless to say, this was not
the normal route the driver was supposed to take. Nor was the brief
poker game at the friends house an appropriate thing to do while
passengers were waiting to be picked up.
Heres one more
incident, this time involving an elected official who served on an
interview panel for a management position in county government. The
interviewer repeatedly fell out of his chair while attempting to
roll it around the room during the interviews. After twice
interrupting the process to help pick up the elected official, the
HR Doctor suggested a brief recess in the interview while everyone
in the room composed themselves, including the candidate, who was by
now thoroughly impressed with county government.
In this case,
there appeared to be no substance abuse problem, no medical problem
and no defective chair. This elected government leader was simply
displaying an unfortunate combination of being excited about the
process and being terribly clumsy. This is, of course, a dangerous
combination for anyone serving in a strategic nuclear missile
installation or making decisions about the future of a community and
its county government.
Sadly, the HR
Doctor could continue with other examples including the sheriffs
deputy who turned off his radio whenever he received a call that he
did not like, or the two county employees disciplined for misusing
agency property in the form of the county picnic table used for
their sexual trysts while on duty. However, I wont do that. You may
submit similar amazing tales to the HR Doctor at
of these examples is to demonstrate the clear need for continuous
vigilance on the part of management, and especially human resources
professionals, to be on constant guard against an outbreak of sudden
agency lunacy syndrome. The best treatment for this increasingly
prevalent administrative disease is prevention.
The tools of
prevention are clear policies, clearly and repeatedly communicated
in multiple and ongoing ways. One memo, posted on some remote
bulletin board in Antarctica doesnt do it! To be effective, this
policy vaccination must be coupled with supervisory and management
acknowledgment of their responsibilities to lead constant
anti-lunacy patrols, which keep good watch on the delivery of
As with other
human disease syndromes, prevention does not stop every occurrence.
However, without the elected officials, the city or county manager,
and every employee understanding their individual personal
accountability for effective behavior, the results will be wasteful
and lingering, if not also sometimes tragic, funny, or just plain
From time to
time, all of us forget where we put our reading glasses, but also
where we left our brains at that moment. The trick is to make sure
you find your brains prior to taking actions in matters of
government management. In case you have trouble locating your
brains, try a phone call or visit to human resources or to the HR
Doctors Web site. A great HR staff is a source of counseling advice
as well as occasional brain transplants.
The HR Doctor
wishes you all the best.