‘The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.’

- Robert Burns

Despite everyone’s best efforts, the well-oiled machine of the workplace can sometimes break down entirely. Unlike machines, humans are unpredictable, emotional and irrational. There are few greater stages for our slipups than the office, where we’re trying to navigate a roster of different personalities and responsibilities. When it all goes wrong at work, it can really go wrong.

Here are 5 workplace horror stories to learn from, balk at, and excitedly recount to your co-workers.

1. No such thing as a sick day

There are plenty of reasonable ways to manage medical time off at work, but one Dickensian Domino’s franchisee missed the boat entirely and possibly encouraged a pizza-borne plague.

According to Reddit commenter enigmazweb24, the (apparently Victorian) boss considered sick days a thing of fiction, and he’d fire anyone who took a day off for illness. This resulted in workers arriving in varying states of disrepair to prepare food for the public. As enigmazweb24 fondly remembers:

‘I once witnessed a co-worker begin to make a pizza, stop to go puke in the bathroom, then continue making the pizza.’

What can we learn?

Don’t take your HR cues from Ebenezer Scrooge. 

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2.    Data insecurity  

The arrival of GDPR brought with it a new age of data security and privacy for the public. Unfortunately for the customers of one pharmacy, GDPR doesn’t help much when your prescription information, address, phone number and name are left lying on the counter.

NeoQueenSerenity, another Redditor sharing workplace horror stories, writes that someone came into the pharmacy and stole all of the sensitive information from its decidedly un-secret hiding place.

Instead of frantically springing into action to protect customer privacy, her manager decided that the incident should not be reported. Thankfully, our storyteller thought otherwise and called HR the same night, triggering a ‘full on investigation.’

What can we learn?

Much like leaving pie on a windowsill to cool, forgetting to take the right data protection steps might lead to things like theft.

To take things to the next level with data security, you can also deploy more advanced strategies like penetration testing.

3.    Put it on the card

There’s always an element of trust when it comes to expenses in the workplace, but employers have an equal responsibility to make their expense policy clear to their employees.

The perils of neglecting your expense policy – and of not having an automated system for approving claims – could cost your organisation tens of thousands of pounds, as exemplified by this cautionary tale on Ask a Manager’s Q&A blog.

An employee that wasn’t made aware of his organisation’s expense procedure managed to rack up $20,000 USD in personal expenses on the company card, quickly finding himself unable to pay them off. Because the company didn’t have a system for monitoring claims, they were none the wiser until it was too late.

What can we learn?

Don’t set employees loose with the purse-strings if you haven’t explained your policy.

4. How to get rid of a great employee

It costs thousands of pounds to hire and train a new employee, so it’s always a good idea to treat those that you have with respect and understanding. Or not, if you’re this tone-deaf manager…

In another Q&A post on Ask a Manager’s blog, a reader wrote in and detailed the loss of their best employee, who had ‘never missed a day of work in the six years she worked here.’

The employee asked to come into work two hours late so that she could attend her college graduation ceremony. When the manager – a living, breathing definition of a ‘jobsworth’ – said no, the employee quit on the spot. Whoever you are, we at Turbine salute you.

What can we learn?

A little flexibility and common sense go a long way, as does a time-off system that keeps everyone up to date on absences.

5. A trusting environment

55 percent of CEOs surveyed by PwC said that a lack of trust was ‘a foundational threat’ to their businesses. How do you address this? By openly spying on your employees, of course!

That’s what one CEO thought, at least. It’s what led him to set up the company email to automatically copy him on every message sent, and to install ‘security cameras that also include audio’ in each employee’s office. As one staff member put it,

‘I feel very strange knowing that I have someone invading my personal space to that degree, even if they are paying me.’

What can we learn?

Don’t treat your employees like maximum-security felons. Hire people that you believe in, and build a trusting relationship over time.  

While it’s unlikely that you’ll ever make mistakes of this magnitude, each is a valuable reminder that HR doesn’t manage itself. Next time you’re considering cutting a corner on data management, keep the pharmacy blunder in mind. If your time-off system hasn’t gotten much attention in a few years, reflect on the plight of the incapacitated pizza cooks.

Not sure whether you’ve been handling expenses properly? Getting it right will cost you little, but it could save you 20,000 dollars – you can bet that the debt-ridden employee’s company now has a robust expense policy.

As the saying goes:

‘Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.’

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