Horrendous Hires: The Common Denominators? They were all nuts and I hired them!
This month represents the 23rd anniversary of In's & Out's, LLC, also doing business as Brands That Stand. In reflecting on that with a former employee, she reminded me of the oddball hires I've made over the years. My attention was more focused on some of the very best people with whom I have ever worked anywhere who gave their services to this company and helped to offset the many mistakes I've made in keeping this baby afloat. Although much of the work was done by freelance help and subcontractors, the glue that held us together was the employees. The best among them, in somewhat the order of their employment, to whom I feel most indebted are, Stacy, Pat, Ginger, Michelle, Brad, Evan, and Bryan. a larger number of employees did adequate work but were just passing through. Unfortunately, there were a number of hires who didn't work out as well. Curiously, four of the most notable were people who functioned largely as receptionists/phone assistants. Apparently, I am really bad at hiring people for this role. To avoid needlessly embarrassing anyone, but myself for hiring them, names have been changed.
Abbey: She often let the phone ring excessively. We instructed her to try to answer each call within two rings. If we heard a third, one of the rest of us would grab it. Abbey never seemed to get calls in time. I should have suspected something was amiss when on the first day we opened, with the first call we received, Abbey yelled to me, "Someone is on the phone, I think he wants to talk with you." She didn't catch his name. She gave no indication of who he represented, leading me to ask myself who else did she think a caller would want to speak to on our first day of business? It turned out to be a colleague from another business interest of mine and he'd given her his name three times. After about a week of this, I pressed her for a reason why her phone skills were so bad. She revealed she is totally deaf in one ear and has minimal hearing in the other. The rest of us hadn't picked up on this because she was so very good at lip reading.
The next day, while trying to determine how to handle the situation, I came into the office unexpectedly and she wasn't at the front desk. Other colleagues informed me Abbey went to her car to smoke a joint. Sure enough, parked right by the front door, there was her car, the interior of which was so cloudy I couldn't tell if she was in there. What made this even more interesting was the fact that the FBI's Chicago western suburban offices occupied the entire floor directly above us in the building. Agents and other assorted law enforcement officers were constantly streaming in and out of the building within in inches of her car.
I invited Abbey to join me in my office where I promptly fired her.
Later that day, her father called me in a rage and threatened to sue me for violation of the Americans WIth Disability Act. He denied his daughter was smoking pot, offering it was merely herbs. He also demanded payment of $20,000 for them to go away, which I declined.
Two days later, a mail carrier dumped a pile of envelopes on our reception desk. All of it was addressed to Abbey. There might have been 50 envelopes strewn about. When I called her to inquire why she was receiving so much mail at my place of business she told me it was personal. A quick check of her company email account and Internet use revealed she was providing online sexual favors to strangers during her "slow hours" and being paid through the U.S. mail.
Her father called back a couple of days later to appeal again for the $20,000. When I informed him of his daughter's "side job" he stated that what she did with her "personal time" was her business. I pointed out that she was doing it during business hours at my place of business. He insisted it was still her "personal time" and issued an idle threat about hearing from his lawyer.
That was not the last I would see of Abbey. A few weeks later she barged into the offices with a long object, wrapped in a brown paper bag, tucked under her arm, scaring the crap out of the new receptionist, and stormed straight into my office. She pulled a set of fancy juggling sticks out of the bag and began a spellbinding routine. When she finished, she tossed the sticks at my feet and demanded that I pick them up and attempt to use them. Her therapist had suggested the stunt to help her regain her self-esteem, which I allegedly had some role in destroying. As Abbey explained to me, this demonstration and challenge were intended to prove she was good at something that I was not.
As fate would have it, a casual friend had introduced me to juggling sticks just a few months earlier and even gave me a set. I picked up the three colorful sticks and began using them as intended, if not as elaborately as had Abbey. Seeing her plot fail, she snatched the sticks from me and ran from the office, never to be heard from again.
Then came Liz. She had been going door to door in office buildings trying to sell phone systems. She happened to have walked in at a moment when Abbey was struggling to manage our system. She promptly swung around the desk and gave Abbey a quick tutorial, which I happened to observe. She left her card and suggested that if I ever needed additional help to let her know since the door-to-door thing wasn't her calling.
Again, I missed all the signals. During the interview, her boyfriend called her cell phone and insisted she hurry up because he was getting hungry and waiting in the parking lot. I have some severe allergies that are triggered by certain fragrances and her perfume was one of the worst I've encountered. It not only gave me an instant headache and clogged my sinuses but the smell literally made me nauseous from across the desk. I hired her anyway. She lasted a couple of weeks. After jamming a ballpoint pen into a disk drive so badly that the repair person thought it had to be a deliberate attempt to destroy the machine, and then asking if she could change her schedule to come in late (after 9:00) and leave early (3:00) to better accommodate the schedule of her young children, and wanting to take a rotating day a week off. I knew something more than her perfume stunk. The fact that our normal hours of operation were Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 5:00 were of little concern to her. When I declined her request, we mutually agreed it would be best if she moved on. She spent a couple of months trying to convince unemployment she was entitled to benefits, which they denied. Occasionally, I cross paths with someone wearing a similar fragrance and a gag reflex reminds me of her.
Marcy followed Liz into the "chair of bad hires." But Marcy was a great employee. She was conscientious, hard-working, attentive to details and thorough. She also happened to be a very pleasant person. She arrived one morning and made a big show of placing a stuffed animal on the corner of the reception desk. This cute little bear had bands of paperclips secured tightly around its neck arms, legs and midsection. I guess you could say it looked like bondage. Actually, it was.
Marcy revealed to me that she was part of a lesbian bondage community in Chicago where individuals were considered the property of others and she placed the bear on her desk under the instructions of her "master/owner." She also showed me her arm, around which was wrapped a lengthy electric blue, nylon dog leash coiled around a good deal of her forearm. At home and in public, the dog leash was attached to a dog collar around Marcy's neck. The other end of the dog leash was controlled by her master. She was instructed to wear it to work so as to remind her and others to whom she belonged.
I pointed out to Marcy that what she did on her own time was fine with me, but in the office, her ass belonged to me, not her other master (literally, in those terms). She seemed very accepting of this and agreed to remove the bear and the leash but insisted I had to call her master to inform her of my rules. Because Marcy was an otherwise outstanding employee, I agreed to be on the call. Her master was not pleased with my edict but agreed to accept the terms of employment.
It wasn't long before the master insisted Marcy needed to be at home more to tend to their fledgling online leather and vinyl specialty (S&M) apparel business and Marcy left my employ. Frankly, I missed her cheerful disposition, work attitude, and efficiency.
Rounding out the cast of bad choices, was Donna. She was a matronly lady, who took a series of temp jobs to support herself and her husband who had been out of work for years. She was pleasant, presented herself well and needed the job. Everything seemed to be working out fine for the first few weeks until one day when I came into the office unexpectedly and noticed she barely looked up from the Skyping she was doing with her daughter and new grandbaby. It seemed a little odd to me since they lived nearby, but I wasn't too concerned - until the next day and the next day when I found she was answering the phones and doing her work while maintaining an all-day Skye session with her daughter in the background. Admittedly, there were slow periods for her so I understood she was trying to keep herself occupied and I didn't mind if they connected once or twice a day.
Basically, I was happy with her performance. As a means of encouraging her, I gave her a washer and dryer we were trying to sell from home since I'd heard her say more than once that she and her husband spent a lot of time at the laundromat because they couldn't afford to buy machines. We seemed to work out an acceptable balance of work and Skype time at the office until the day she presented me with an ultimatum. She wanted a defined list of her exact duties versus mine, or she intended to quit. I reminded her that she was presented with and signed an employment agreement that clearly delineated her responsibilities and tasks when she started. Donna wanted more time to Skype with her family and suggested that as long as she completed all her tasks each day/week she should be free to spend the rest of work time as she pleased without worrying if I was going to challenge her Skype time. She also made it clear that she would not be doing anything that was not on the agreed upon list.
She left for good that very afternoon.
It wasn't long before I heard from unemployment. In addition to pointing out she left voluntarily, I'd learned she had already taken another position for pay under the table. Her claim was denied.
Don't get me started on the Account Executive who literally begged me to hire her. A month later she and husband agreed over dinner that she was capable of taking the company to greater heights than I could and felt she deserved to be a 50/50 partner with a 300% raise. She took a 100% decrease instead.
For a company that has used the brand name, Brands That Stand, the question has to be asked, "How the hell is this company still standing?"