I love Louisiana and, in particular, Baton Rouge. I love LSU even though our governor, Bobby Jindal, seems dead set on stripping all its funding and turning it into a Diesel Driving Academy with a football team. I gripe about mosquitoes the size of handbags and how I can’t walk outside my door in the summer without my hairdo going full-on Kotter in two seconds, but the music, the art, THE FOOD, and the culture all make up for that, especially our culture of collaboration. People here help each other and look out for one another.
In that spirit, here are two blogs from other Baton Rouge HR gals that I’d like you to check out today in addition to mine. These ladies have helped me and taught me things. They have made me laugh on bad days and been happy with me on good ones. Their blogs are interesting and funny and educational. You’ll love ‘em. They’ve collaborated with me here on the #BRHRCarnival. Today we’ve talked about our worst day in HR. I think a counter-post about our best day will probably happen too. Mine revolves around turkeys, so there’s a teaser.
Also in the spirit of collaboration, Robin Schooling is attending the National SHRM Conference in Chicago soon. A kickball game has been organized with prominent social media personalities playing to raise money for Share Our Strength: No Kid Hungry. Robin will be representing Louisiana and we want her to raise lots of money! If you’d care to, please check out the link and sponsor her.
Now, onto the blog. Thanks for sticking with me through the housekeeping!
The Worst Ever, No Good, Very Bad, Horrible, Awful Birthday
My worst moment in HR was Friday, June 20, 2008 around 3 p.m. How do I remember the exact date and time nearly 5 years later? For starters, I have an awesome memory. Also it was just a SUPERBLY terrible day — that just so happened to be my 29th birthday. The first one. The real one.
I had started work at this company on a Monday, and you can see here that my first day was pretty bad. The whole week was like that. In the past, I had done some HR assisting and payroll at a small organization with less than 300 employees. When we first took payroll in-house and I began doing it, it was a difficult transition that often took me a few days to process. After a few years I had made the process so efficient that I had streamlined myself right out of a job.
I started this new job with Huge Corporation X on a Monday. I didn’t get a computer till Tuesday. On Wednesday, I was given a huge stack of folders, each containing info for a field office around the nation and told to pay around 900 people with vastly different pay structures…some hourly, some exempt salary, some non-exempt salary, some with shift differentials, and some who were paid per project/visit. I did the best I could and had minimal help from others to make sure I wasn’t paying anyone millions of dollars, but for the most part – I was thrown to the wolves.
On Friday, my birthday, the results of my wolf-toss would become clear. I was told that for an organization with around 15K employees, half of whom were paid one week and half the next and so on and so on, that payroll was never perfect and Fridays were more like working in a call-center where people would call to complain about their checks. Sometimes they would speak to their actual payroll processor, but we were also required to help others that we did not personally pay. Sometimes they had legit concerns and a visit or their OT had been left off. Sometimes they were just new and didn’t know how to read their statement. With all these pay structures, it wasn’t hard to sympathize with that.
This one lady, though, she was different. I can’t remember her name, so I’ll call her Susie. She was a branch manager in South Carolina. She was one of my 900 people. When I got to work that morning, I had a voicemail from Susie. Being an hour ahead of us, she’d already been in the office and was astounded and PISSED that her check had only been for $87. I called her back and tried to work out what happened but, not fully understanding the system, I mostly just sat there while she yelled at me. I told her I would move Heaven and Earth to try and help her. I got my boss — even she couldn’t figure out what had happened.
Then more calls came in from other branch managers in South Carolina, and I noticed a few other people taking calls and looking at me. My 900 people were largely paid incorrectly (mostly little errors, but a few biggies, like Susie) and that was due to a lack of training. Susie and these branch managers, though, no one could figure out where I had gone wrong. She called repeatedly throughout the day alternately yelling and crying that her mortgage payment would be automatically withdrawn from her bank account in 2 days and she couldn’t believe this was happening. I was devastated and she was WELL BEYOND devastated. Eventually I discovered the problem. Susie was salary, non-exempt, and did not fill out her timesheet correctly. Huge Corporation X required all salaried employees to do a timesheet and automatically fill in 40 hours. Non-exempt employees, hourly or salary, filled it in exactly and were paid for overtime. Susie had received her overtime only.
When I told Susie this, she protested that she was not a salaried employee. She insisted she was hourly. Turns out the company had made her salary that same week and not told her, so she filled out an hourly timesheet that was overlooked by the computer because she was now a salaried employee. Not my fault, but that doesn’t matter to the woman in South Carolina weeping about her mortgage and utility bill. My heart was broken. We cut her a check and overnighted it and everything was ok but still, I felt her stress. I was going through some financial troubles of my own at the time and I sympathized with her and felt so guilty, even after I found out this wasn’t my fault.
The first week at a new job is mentally EXHAUSTING in the same way that driving a long distance is exhausting. Sure, you’re just sitting there, not digging ditches, but you’re tired when it’s over. You’re on alert and can’t relax, ever. Plus this place sucked. Plus I was super-PMS-ing and turning 29. I know it’s cliché but 29 and being a payroll specialist and having people screaming at me was NOT part of my life plan back when I was so bright-eyed and fresh-faced at a boarding school for gifted kids and going to be the world’s first supermodel/astronaut/vibrator-tester. My life was not supposed to turn out this way! We got Susie all squared away and then it all just hit me, all at once.
So then, I start to cry. Just little tears at the corners of my eyes, lump in my throat, biting my tongue to distract myself and not lose my shit completely. I’m doing ok. I WOULD HAVE BEEN TOTALLY FINE, but then the super sweet girl across from me notices and “Awwww…what’s wrong?” and I’m all “I’m fine. It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. I’m ok.” and thinking to myself that this is like when you’re nauseated…don’t make me open my mouth or I’m gonna lose all control. She goes and gets a supervisor. By the way, the ENTIRE DEPARTMENT was female. What do girls do when someone is crying? Huddle and focus and make it a million times worse, that’s what. I became an ugly, tear-stained, snotty and blubbery mess. “Everyone’s been *hiccup* screaming at me all day and *sniff* I don’t know what *sob* I did wrong and *hiccup* it’s my *hiccup* birthday and *sob* I just need *sniff* a minute. I’ll be ok.”
By this time it was 3:30 and they let me go and clocked me out at 5. Thanks Huge Corporation X. Twenty something dollars totally makes up for a day of abuse that will haunt me forever. When I showed back up on Monday (my next mistake), everyone was all “We didn’t think you’d be back.” and I was all, “Me either.” and they had no idea how serious I was with that response. It was one of those moments when you summon all your personal strength and courage and persistence and apply it in the completely wrong direction.
I was, by no means, in charge of anything on the day HR became real for me. I didn’t even work in HR; I was in payroll. This wasn’t me firing someone or announcing layoffs. This wasn’t about giving bad news or any other ways in which HR can be terrible. This was when I learned that HR was a big deal — because when it’s done so blatantly wrong, it can really destroy a company’s image and an employee’s self-esteem. I learned on that day that EVERYTHING Huge Corporation X did was the total opposite from what I wanted to do in my career. The interviews, the hiring, orientations, training, everything was so glossy and pretty and sparkly on the outside and it was a box full of crap on the inside.
HR is not about the bows on the package. It’s a transparent box. You might not like everything in the package at any job, but it’s clear and it’s straightforward and it’s not a pile of shit hidden in a Tiffany box, you know?
I called my mom that afternoon from the grocery store and told her how I had screwed over the entire state of South Carolina and countless others. It was kinda funny by that point, since I knew it wasn’t my fault. I’ll never forget. She asked, “Well, what are you gonna do the rest of the day?” and I answered, “I’m going to buy a frozen pizza, a key lime pie, go home, fall into a food coma, watch TV and go to bed.” That was exactly what I did and it was awesome. Not a huge birthday spectacular, but definitely the most memorable birthday of my whole life.
Would you like to share your HR horror stories in the comments? I’d love to read them and so would the others from #BRHRCarnival. Check out their blogs and them come back here and wallow in the comments!
Have a great weekend! Zumba on Monday at 7:30 — think happy thoughts for me! – HRGF