Friday, August 04, 2006

SOUND OFF: SECOND CHANCES

Let's say that you manage a team of highly talented consultants who travel far afield to work with clients. You find out that one of your most talented team members has missed a critical meeting with one of your company's largest customers. The company ends up losing $100,000, half of the fee you anticipated from the job.

Several days pass before you can locate the employee through one of his family members. You find out that he has started drinking again, after having been sober for many years.

Do you fire him for not showing up and for costing the company significant revenue? Do you ask him to agree to enter rehab and give him another chance? Or do you do overlook the episode and chalk up the experience as a cost of dealing with a highly talented individual who in the big picture has made your company a great deal of money and will probably do so again?

Send your thoughts to rightthing@nytimes.com or post them here by clicking on "comments" below. Please include your name, your hometown and the name of the newspaper in which you read this column. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business" (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of http://jeffreyseglin.blogspot.com, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," New York Times Syndicate, 609 Greenwich St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10014-3610.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

From my experience as a manager of a field service team: Fire him immediately. It has happened before, it happened now, it will happen again.

Anonymous said...

First of all, you have quite a bit of money and time invested in this person. Secondly, he has a disease, called alcohol addiction. Finally, he as been sober for many years. Alcoholics (and everyone else) realize that actions have consequences, and that applies here.

Firing him, as the other
anonymous said, throws away your investment, and if he regains sobriety may result in a competitior picking him up, to your disadvantage.

Ignoring the issue simply reinforces the lack of consequences for his "slip".

Conclusion, Insist that he go to rehab (your medical coverage should cover the cost) and that he understand that this is his first, last and only chance. Another "slip" and he is terminated. This should also be in his personnel file, signed by him. Result, you keep a valued emplyee and he keeps his life. You might also suggest he start attending meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, get a sponsor and work the 12 Steps of AA.

Anonymous said...

Jeff - it's worth one major try to salvage a top producers from Alcohol
issues. We've tried it and usually it's an insurmountable

Anonymous said...

You asked:
"Do you fire him for not showing up and for costing the company significant revenue? Do you ask him to agree to enter rehab and give him another chance? Or do you do overlook the episode and chalk up the experience as a cost of dealing with a highly talented individual who in the big picture has made your company a great deal of money and will probably do so again?"

The last choice -- to "overlook" an action that has consequence -- serves no one. Not the alcoholic, and not the company, and not the rest of the team. the only person it would serve is the person who must make a tough call who gets to feel "off the hook" in the short term. This is not ethical or profitable in the long run. It is self centered -- and doomed.

The second chance option requires far more work. It requires meeting with the individual and asking him many questions.

First -- "why did I have to track you down?"
Second -- "what do YOU think the consequences of this should be?"

If he has been sober for many years, it is almost certain he was in AA. if he was he knows what he needs to do. If he is committed to doing that -- all 12 steps -- and keeps that commitment, all will benefit from this, and he can be on probation at work for a period of time.

BUT -- it may (will!) be necessary to meet with the team -- including the errant member -- and consult on this so everyone is in alignment. The "offender" MUST make amends as part of his "recovery" so this should not be a problem. the model exists.

If the team member is not in AA nor in recovery, firing him is the consequence which serves all concerned.


E. Carroll Straus
Attorney, Counselor, and Healer at Law
CA Bar Number 110028

Anonymous said...

In your column you stated:
“Sound Off: Second Chances”

“Let’s say that you manage a team of highly talented consultants who travel far a field to work with clients. You find out that one of your most talented team members has missed a critical meeting with one of your company’s largest customers. The company ends up losing $100,000, half of the fee you anticipated from the job.

“Several days pass before you can locate the employee through one of his family members. You find out that he has started drinking again, after having been sober for many years.

“Do you fire him for not showing up and for costing the company significant revenue? Do you ask him to agree to enter rehab and give him another chance? Or do you overlook the episode and chalk up the experience as a cost of dealing with a highly talented individual who in the big picture has make you company a great deal of money and will probably do so again?”



This is my take on this question:

Cause and effect being a reality, to either let the employee go or to give him the option of going to rehab would be reasonable. Cause and effect states that for actions there are consequences; for irresponsible actions these translate to negative repercussions. However, rehab isn’t necessarily a negative, since it is compassionate to help a person in our life who has a problem. By allowing this employee the freedom to say whether to go to rehab or not affords them an active place in this decision, and gives them an opportunity to make right on a mistake, gives them a chance to save their dignity.

Under no circumstances is overlooking the right choice in this matter. To overlook this episode would be negligent to the company, to the employee, and would mean that I am avoiding a big problem on my team. Obviously this problem is current and ongoing for this employee, and for it to be ignored is inviting it to reoccur, most likely in a more exaggerated form down the road. To bring the issue to the employee’s attention is necessary no matter what the choice I make as manager, since this is more than just a missed opportunity for my company – this is a health issue for this employee, and will impact their performance in the future, as well as their position on the team.

Anonymous said...

Dr./Mr.(whichever is appropriate) Jeffrey Seglin:

In my opinion the CEO's priority should first be the welfare of the organization, and secondarily the welfare of the employee. To achieve these dual priorities it is my opinion that this can best be accomplished by having the CEO and the employee's immediate supervisor confront the employee with the consequences of his dereliction. Then give him the choice of the termination of his employment or to enter a responsible residential treatment center and to satisfactorily complete their program. The company paying a certain percentage of the cost. Then, upon completion, remain free of all mood altering drugs and alcoholic drinks for the duration of his employment. He would also be required to join a support group and to attend meetings on a regular basis (a means of verifying this would have to be established). If the employee has even one alcoholic drink, or consumes any other non-prescription mood altering drug, then he would be terminated. (This "one drink" provision is based up the truism of Alcoholics Anonymous that for the alcoholic "one drink is too many and 100 aren't enough.")

This is probably more than you want for an answer, but I didn't know how to shorten it. It is based on the well known Employee Assistance Program's regimen for dealing with employees having substance abuse problems.

Carpe diem,

Morton C. Nickell
Charlotte, NC
The Charlotte Observer

Anonymous said...

Mr. Seglin,

Thanks for another enjoyable column. I think my response to the consultant situation would be to get him to my office as soon as possible for a closed-door discussion. I would ask him to explain what happened and, if he appeared to be honest and remorseful, I would tell him that what he did was a firing offense. In view of his excellent work history, however, I would tell him that I was putting him on two weeks of unpaid leave and that if he swore it would never happen again, he could then go about his business as usual. (If he agreed to go into rehab, he could use accrued sick days for that purpose and stay out longer.) He would understand that he was "on probation," so another misjudgment that cost the company money or reputation would result in immediate termination.

Phil Clutts
Charlotte, NC
The Charlotte Observer

Anonymous said...

As much as it hurt financially, I wouldn't fire a loyal, productive employee
over a single episode. However... if the problem isn't addressed in an
assertive manner, it will likely happen again.

So for the best interest of the employee, and of my business, I would
require the employee go for treatment. I'd make the effort to give this
employee more local work in the short term to better monitor the situation.
And I would also make it my business to keep better tabs on that employee -
I could be partially to blame for things going this far south before
realizing there was a problem.

Tom Gebell
OEM Sales Manager
OFS - leading optical innovations

Anonymous said...

I would require the Rep that caused the $100,00. loss to describe to me: what happened, why it happened, and does he plan to do anything about it. When I have those answers, I can decide what to do. If the answers are not positive, discharge is probable. Who can afford this behavior and stay in business. He has to be a full partner in any real soution.
Vaughn Brink, Mission Viejo, Ca. , The Orange Co. Register,

Anonymous said...

I DID use to manage a team of talented people. Here's the story,
details deleted.

I was in charge of half a dozen people. One of my people began to be
out of contact for long periods, and his work began to be not done in a
timely fashion, and someone tipped me that he was playing video poker
instead of working. I went to my boss, who wanted to hush it up and
just talk to him, but he was spending a lot of money at that place and
not doing us or himself any good. I went over her head, and our
manager met with me and my man to confront him about the problem and
refer him through our EAP to get help.

I'm very very glad I did. The man burst into tears when we confronted
him, and told us that he was desperate to stop, didn't know how, was
drowning in debt, scared to death and had even considered suicide.
Counseling through EAP was made a condition for him to keep his job.
The EAP people kept us informed that he was meeting his counseling
obligations, though they didn't give us details. The counseling worked
for this very good employee. He worked for us for several more years
and never gave another bit of trouble.

Wendy Hagmaier said...

Company management's first obligation is to the company.

Losing $100,000 is not a minor indiscretion which should be ignored.

Had the employee blown the contract due to a car accident or family emergency I could understand that. Alcoholism is an elective disease. When he started drinking he knew the possible ramifications and elected to disregard them.

This employee is not worth trying to save. It will be a long and difficult battle and the chances of failure are high.

If company management is to support their investors they must place the needs of the company first.

Carroll Straus said...

RESPONSE TO POST:I'm very very glad I did. The man burst into tears when we confronted
him, and told us that he was desperate to stop, didn't know how, was
drowning in debt, scared to death and had even considered suicide.
Counseling through EAP was made a condition for him to keep his job.
The EAP people kept us informed that he was meeting his counseling
obligations, though they didn't give us details. The counseling worked
for this very good employee. He worked for us for several more years
and never gave another bit of trouble.

THANK YOU whoever posted this. is is so rare for people to even try to deal in truth that very few people ever hear of stories like this.
I used to deal with large companies which paid us large sums to assist them with employee problems. Too often when they told them what to do-- which they had asked us to tell them-- the reply was "that would never work."

Thank you, and thank the many people who posted really sound responses to this very realistic scenario.

Anonymous said...

My vote is a variation of all of the above. I think you 1) confront, and say that you are inclined to fire the person, and that it would be a firing for reasonable cause; 2) say that you also care about the person, and are willing to consider keeping them on if they come up with a plan for treatment; and 3) offer resources (an HR person, a physician) to help that person develop a plan.

Some might see not firing the person immediately as being borderline enabling, but I don't view it that way. I see it as an opportunity to spur a person to take action. To mortify, with a clear path on how to rebuild.

If he or she refuses to come up with a treatment plan, and/or screws up because of alcohol or drug abuse again, I would fire them immediately.

Anonymous said...

Re: Mr. Clutts's comment:

Be careful about accepting an agreement where "if he swore it would never happen again" then the situation is over. Most (if not all) alcoholics who begin drinking again promise/swear that it will never happen again.

Unless he actively chooses to do some kind of work -- inhouse or outpatient rehab, recommitment to daily AA meetings -- this promise is not be realistic and should not be accepted at face value.

As the title of one very good book on the subject of substance abuse puts it, "Willpower Is Not Enough."

It takes a certain amount of bravery and commitment to get real treatment for alcohol abuse. An employer is in a good position to encourage treatment after this kind of offense. The person, though, has to be committed to take action.

Anonymous said...

I would take him out to a field, and put a bullet through him. Then, take his credit cards and spend as much as I could.

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