5 HR horror stories

Halloween is already tonight, so it seems the best moment to share some scary HR stories. Here are some horror stories I came across when working in HR or from HR colleagues. All of them involve HR and the workplace, and good and bad decisions that were made. But that is for you to assess, this is how they took place… These stories are real (which makes them extra scary), yet names have been changed for confidentiality. Make sure to share your own stories in the comments below.

Double trouble

Kate, in the logistics department, started complaining and gossiping about her newly appointed boss (Tom). She would be constantly challenging his every decision and opinion. Tom, the team manager would often lose his temper with her when confronted, which at one point happened nearly every day. Once it became very obvious, HR was asked to help out. The HR advisor of the headquarters mediated a meeting with both, only to realise the source of conflict actually came from a workplace romance between both that didn’t work out.

Mediation failed (yes, HR is still is not expected to be specialist in couple’s therapy…) because there were underlying issues which were unrelated to work.

This meant some changes had to be operated in-house. Kate was moved internally to work with another team and made to report to a different manager. Tom followed training on best practice management and learned how to address conflict in a team.

Team conflict

In a small team of only 2 people: the assistant (Bob) and the Director (Peter) could not stand each other. Peter was Bob’s line manager. Bob accused Peter of treating him unfairly and of making discriminatory jokes connected to his ethnicity.

These remarks were always made during one-to-one meetings so Bob decided to record one of the conversations. Bob took the recording to HR and to senior management as proof and asked to fill a complaint. The HR officer heard from colleagues that Bob was also making nasty comments about his supervisor around the office, using insults and questioning his intelligence.

Both were summoned by the HR director and a senior manager and called to order to respect the workplace values. Their behaviours improved, but the quality of their exchanges soon deteriorated again as it was difficult for both of them to hold challenging conversations. They were both asked to leave the company.

Not happy

Carol was a middle manager who had been with the organisation for over 10 years, having worked in different departments and in different locations. She considered herself to be ‘part of the furniture’ so when she was not selected to integrate a high level management programme she was not pleased with it.

She expressed her discontentment very openly, in person and by email, to her line manager, to colleagues, to heads of other departments, to the talent development manager, to HR, to other staff members and even the CEO. Although everyone considered the behaviours she displayed to show her discontentment unpleasant and unacceptable in a professional context, HR intervened to seek a resolution. She was assured a place in a forthcoming similar programme.

Troubled expectations

Alex’s boss was very open about his plans to ‘rise up’ as a senior director. His skills and performance were appreciated internally, but he was abusive and unsupportive towards his own team. He defined himself as an expert, not a manager.

When Alex’s work began to be praised by senior management and hints of a possible promotion circulated his boss suddenly became hostile. He started bullying Alex by criticising his work publicly, condemning his way of dressing too neatly and giving him uninteresting tasks for which he was overqualified.

Alex and other colleagues (who noticed the behaviour) asked HR to get involved. The two HR counsellors involved were clear a behavioural change was needed, and suggested different measures for that change to happen which included coaching, training and a closer performance management based on human interactions with the team. Alex’s boss refused the coaching and to participate in a training programme. After a 4 months tough mediation process the boss’ behaviour did not improve and after a few warnings he was laid-off.

Boozy colleague

There was a guy (Tim) who was known in the office for enjoying a few cold ones over lunch and then coming back to the office slightly drunk. Office colleagues would gossip in the corridors and halls about how difficult it was to hold meetings with him in the afternoon, and of his boozy breath that disgusted them.

No one dared to address the issue because – here it goes – he was the HR Director. He was even once escorted out of the facilities by the health and safety officer who considered he was far too wasted to work. Even so, he ended staying in the organisation for years.

How about you? What are your horror stories? Make sure to share your own in the comments below.