My mum always said attitude was everything with respect to an employee. And she should know, because she was a corporate hotshot in her day. (Yay mom!) I heard her, I believed her, but I never realised the full impact of what she said till recently.
Attitude is an indefinable sort of feeling for me. There may be many textbook definitions, but they don’t resonate. Perhaps because I don’t really know what constitutes the perfect attitude exactly, but I do know the subtle and not-so-subtle signs of a poor one.
We recently hired a second technical content writer, based on his technical knowledge chops and experience. His interview wasn’t the greatest, because he was absurdly nervous the whole time and he messed up his assignments. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, because I am generous generally, and I was desperate at the time.
The guy was fine, a little quiet but that’s fine too. He was nervous, for no reason because our office is a relatively benign place to work. His work was also all right. So, the only niggling issue I had was that he consistently came in late every morning, and left early every evening. I had the HR have a quiet word with him, and the latecoming stopping entirely.
So far so good, I thought, putting the experience down to teething issues. No big deal. I was wrong. So wrong.
For a few days, it was perfect. He was undergoing training, and I was happy enough to have some help. Then training slowly came to a close, and there were periods in the evening where waiting was necessary. That’s when it started to go downhill again. Every day, I got a puppy dog look asking to leave early. Not by much, 15 minutes, half an hour at the most. The trouble is that this begins an erosion. I gave in initially, in an effort to be reasonable, knowing deep down that it would come back to haunt me. And so it did.
With training finally over, work started in full flow. He had tasks, needed to get approvals, have meetings, the works in short. Always, he would finish just shy of 7:30 pm, with a good half an hour till the end of day. And I would get the inevitable request.
While this may seem perfectly reasonable to most people, my office’s culture doesn’t operate like that. People here spend a minimum of 9 hours in office, most extended well over 10.5 hours. This is due to a variety of reasons, the chief being that we don’t have enough talent to work on the projects. Seeing someone bolt early regularly is not only demotivating for everyone else, but also against corporate policy.
Then, his mum fell ill. No doubt, he needed to be at her side. But, she doesn’t stay with him; she resides with his sister. His mother’s family is around, and by his own admission, he spends a little time with her, before heading home. She has a huge support system, and he is but a small cog. Then why take so much leave?
The next nail in the coffin was his knee. One morning, he came to work, saying he has hurt his knee pulling a stunt on his bike. A whole slew of medical appointments, conveniently timed in the middle of the day, followed. And I started seeing less and less of my so-called team member.
The final straw was again the same knee. He came to work one Monday morning with a severely bad knee. He had hurt it again the previous day. It was bad, no doubt, and he clearly needed (but didn’t have) crutches. He adopted the most awful loping gait to compensate for this dearth. It was painful to watch, and finally it all became too much, so he left in a few hours.
The next four days, I received calls and messages to say his knee wasn’t better, and he would need more time off. Understandable. Friday evening, his girlfriend called me to say he was being admitted to a hospital for, I kid you not, weakness. Not for his knee; for “weakness”.
Monday of the next week dawned, and I figured this chap would come in, since I had no news to the contrary. So I walk into the office, expecting to see him. I don’t, but his company laptop is. I shrug, assuming he is having breakfast, and get started. A few minutes later, the finance guy comes up to me, to pass on a message: he came in, but had to rush out for an appointment, and would be in nearer the middle of the day.
I was initially surprised that he had asked the head of finance to pass on a message, rather than leave me a note, or, since we are in the technological era, send me a message. However, it quickly dawned on me that the head of finance was the only guy around at 10-ish in the morning, and he didn’t want to commit to a time with a message.
I waited. And waited. And assumed he would come in by lunch, or just after. But no. Nothing. Nada. Zip. No message either.
Monday was, funnily enough, the last of the month, which is significant when you think that our salaries go out on that day. His salary was withheld, till he returned to active duty. So the next day, he came running to the office, first thing in the morning, again before anyone was in. Headed straight to the finance team, and asked about his salary. And zoomed back out again, right after, making the same assertion about coming back later in the day.
Our HR is not a tough nut, but she does resent this sort of flagrant lack of commitment. She called him, and asked him to send over medical reports. He didn’t have any, he said. Not even from the hospital, she asked. Yeah, some of those.
He did hotfoot it to office after that call, even though she didn’t ask him to come in. There ensued an excruciating meeting with him, her and me. Wherein I told him that his weird behaviour over the last two days was unacceptable. Wherein I told him that the previous warning (a friendly, casual chat with the HR and me) had not been considered at all. He had just gone on his own merry way, and become a byword for absenteeism in the company.
Two months in the company, and he has racked up a formidable 14 days of leave. This is 10 over his entitled leave, doesn’t account for the latecoming nor the early finishes.
Yup, his ass got canned superfast.