The seven deadly sins of the workplace.

Hello again folks. My last few blogs have been pretty serious, so I wanted to give you all a break from that and perhaps bring you some light relief today. So relax, and let me lighten your day with delightful stories of serious fraud, injuries sustained through violence, food stolen from the mouths (or at least a fridge) of hungry workers, and someone’s sordid sexual misdeeds absent-mindedly revealed to the world. So without further procrastination, let us look at the seven deadly sins in the workplace!

Greed,

Desire for more of what makes us happy is hardwired into our brains. In some ways, this can be useful. Increased wages, bonuses, benefits and greater recognition are considered by some to be useful methods to motivate someone to do better in the workplace. In other ways, desire is destructive. If our desire for more overcomes our sense of morality and our perception of hazard we can do something utterly stupid that costs us everything. But sometimes tales of greed can be truly mindblowing, as is the case when “Fraud Prevention Expert” and author of the handbook “The Everyday Guide to Detecting and Preventing Employee Theft.”, Barry Webne, embezzled more than a million dollars from Block Communications Inc. For many years he got away with writing company cheques, falsifying payrolls, and other shenanigans. He actually described acts of dishonestly appropriating his employers assets as “that next rush“.

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It takes a pretty amazing amount of gall to set yourself up as an anti-fraud consultant in order to defraud, and this case gives us a powerful reminder that those who succumb to greed are thinking outside the box and working outside the rules. Whenever you recruit employees for such sensitive roles double check everything. References, records, everything.

Wrath,

Of all the sins on this list, wrath has the capacity to be the most destructive. Incidents of violence in the workplace never result in anything positive for any party involved. Depending on industry they can be surprisingly common as well. However, in some professions violence is an occupational hazard. Bodyguards for example, sometimes must face dangerous individuals in the course of their work. But rarely does a bodyguard end up in a scrap with the person he or she is supposed to be guarding, which makes Russell Crowe’s fight with his own bodyguard, Mark Carroll, noteworthy for reasons beyond it being a celebrity punch-up.

A few in the HR tribe will see some particular keywords in that story that seem to crop up frequently when we’re called in to referee someone’s foolish re-enactment of Rocky 2. “Accusation”, “took offence”, “push around”, “Friday night” and, worst of all, “drinks party”. As often happens in cases of a workplace rumble, the combatants try to laugh the thing off as a bit of “boys will be boys”. But reality, much like Russell Crowe, bites. His well known uncontrollable temper has led to what is known in showbiz as “Oscar suicide“. Workplace fights can ruin workplace relationships, bring a company into disrepute or damage a brand.

Lust,

Lust is an easy one to find examples for. We’re all human, most of us like intimacy, and most of us quite enjoy the rather unhygienic aspect of what is sometimes involved in human intimacy. As a general rule though, it should be kept to oneself and/or one’s significant others. It certainly shouldn’t be brought to work. If one is caught with their pants down, the best course of action is to immediately ‘fess up, apologise to everyone and everything, and meekly accept whatever punishment is meted out. The worst thing to do is to make excuses, as did CEO of Gearbox, Randy Pitchford, after he inadvertently left a memory stick containing pornography as well as Gearbox company files at Medieval Times. Pitchford’s protestations that “it never occurred to any of them that the reason why there was just that single porno was because of the magic trick” has been a goose that laid a golden egg to video game journalists with a comedy motif, meaning the story has gone somewhat viral in the gaming and tech industries.

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Mr Pitchford, like so many before him, has shown the folly and the ultimate cost to one’s reputation when one fails to keep one’s carnal desires under control, as well as the cost of not maintaining a healthy work/sex-life balance.

Gluttony,

Would an extended lunch break count? Probably not. I’ve had access to a fridge at work for most of my HR career, and have even been awarded a whole shelf to myself (the company in question really should have pointed out this wonderful perk before I took the job, as it would have made their negotiating position considerably stronger), but I’ve never been there when someone has been dressed down or otherwise disciplined for abuse of this facility. I think it’s fair to say that gluttony-related sins that are serious enough to warrant intervention by HR are few and far between. Perhaps this is why this gripping incident of a purloined shrimp fried rice, live tweeted by Zak Toscani, went viral and had the entire HR world on the edge of their office chairs.

Suffice to say, stealing someone else’s food is simply not on!

Sloth,

Sloth is not a sin I am particularly familiar with, as I’m fortunate enough to really love my work. But we’ve all come across the person who can’t really be bothered, or who takes a few sick days to extend their weekends a bit. But Joseph Winstead took it to a whole new level. Getting summoned for jury duty is good enough for some. The opportunity to sit in a court listening to lawyers dramatically pretending to be auditioning for ‘The Accused 2’ would be preferable to work if one hated one’s job. However, taking 144 days off, and $31,000 from the government, while only pretending to be jury duty, is something that I would describe as ‘inadvisable’.

If you really dislike your job to that extent then ramping up efforts to train for an alternative career, as opposed to finding ways to bunk off work, is probably the best way to go. Sloth has very few rewards.

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Side note: The article states that “He might have gotten away with it, court papers show, if he hadn’t repeated the scam.”, which made me imagine Scooby Doo and his friends pulling the mask of this guy as they confronted him with his rather extreme case of absenteeism. The idea of a Scooby Doo HR team is one that has merit and definitely deserves further development.

Envy,

Well, we’re going to leave envy and go with a close relative – jealousy. I could have found a straight-up case of envy, but this story I found is just so good a case for HR nerds to get their teeth into that I just have to share it. A female Service Operations Manager worked at a trucking company for nearly five years in Pennsylvania, USA. Though things were satisfactory at first, the situation became somewhat strained over time. During the latter years of the Service Operations Manager’s employment, the CEO would avoid eye contact with her, exclude her from important meetings, and she was instructed by the CEO’s assistant not to enter the CEO’s office or address him directly. There was an incident where the CEO came to her office and instructed her to do a particular task for which she was particularly suited, but upon leaving said “I was never here. You didn’t see me.”

She was eventually dismissed, rehired with a higher wage, then dismissed again. And the reason for all this? The CEO’s wife (who was also employed by the company) didn’t want her husband working with women. Astonishingly, spousal jealousy has been considered a lawful reason to dismiss an employee in the USA, if it is against a particular individual. However, it’s unlawful to discriminate against an entire gender, which this particularly insecure lady did.

Even without the legal ramifications of her failure to control her jealous resentment of other women working with her husband, her behaviour is costly enough. Among other things, precluding half of the population of planet earth from working for your company, regardless of capability or expertise, is extremely poor people management.

Pride,

Quite a few people will be reading this on an Android or iPhone, perhaps a tablet. These devices are ubiquitous today, but at one time they didn’t have such a powerful grip on the mobile device market. A Canadian company called ‘Research in Motion’ was a worthy contender for the title of titan of tech, with its own product – the Blackberry. The Blackberry was arguably once the main electronic mobile device, out before its competitors and having a large user base already by the time the rivals launched their own devices. Research in Motion should have been an internationally recognized tech giant by now, but, as successful companies often do, they rested on their laurels. Apple, Google, and Microsoft, seeing a fertile new market, went at it aggressively, pushing out new and versatile operating systems which allowed a multitude of apps and configurations. The poor Blackberry is now an endangered species as a result.

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Another result was a “turnaround plan“, which necessitated slashing and burning through the workforce as if the Grim Reaper had just taken up HR.

As Sony found out with Xbox (and then Xbox with Sony), or as Microsoft discovered with Apple, or as Blockbuster, Yahoo!, HMV, and Toys ‘R’ Us have all learned too late – success is no reason to get sloppy or believe that you can neglect your own future. If a company fails to perform at its best, even when things are going great, then there can be severe consequences for both the company and the people who work there.

Now’s generally the bit where I sum up the above wall of text for those who like to skip it, but I don’t know what to put here except – be good kids!

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