“Do you have any questions?” I asked him.
“Yeah,” he paused. “What’s this ‘no loose jewelry’?”
I shut the new employee production orientation guide.
The manufacturing company where I work as a Human Resources Manager is a packaging manufacturer. We make paper and plastic bags. On the plant floor, hairnets are mandatory. Another rule is no rings, loose jewelry, or loose clothing.
He added with dismay, “My dad made me take my nose piercings out and they have already closed.”
Large black circles were stretching his earlobes. He had post piercings under his lip.
“Usually, the Production Manager, decides what’s acceptable,” I said. When I saw the look on his face, I quickly added, “But, since that’s your dad, I’ll have the Quality Manager come down and look at you. She’ll tell us what’s okay.”
He sighed with relief.
“I’ve got long hair but I keep it under my stocking hat.”
“When you’re around the machines you need to keep it tucked in. Just like if you’re wearing a hoodie you can’t have the strings dangling. It’ll pull you into the machine,” I warned.
He shuddered. “I need to use my hands to do crafts.”
While we waited for the Quality Manager he told me that he would be turning 19 next month. This was his first manufacturing job. He wanted to make sure that he understood the rules because he wanted to do everything right.
“You need to be here on every scheduled work day,” I said. “No lates, no absences.” I repeated again for emphasis, “You have to be squeaky clean for your first 90 days. Is there anything you have scheduled?”
He thought for a moment, then said, “I’d like to have February 14th off. I’m old fashioned like that.”
I shrugged. “Fair enough. I’ll make sure they have it down that you are approved for that day off.”
The Quality Manager came in the room. She looked him over.
“What other piercings do you have?” I asked. Then I shook my head quickly and put up my hands. “I don’t need to know about any of the piercing you have under your clothes, just what would be showing.”
“I have a piercing on my eyebrow that I’d like to keep on if I could,” he said. He pulled out an Altoids box and opened it. He reached for a straight pin.
The Quality Manager asked him to put it on. She studied him for a moment, then determined that it wouldn’t be in danger of falling into a machine and that his safety glasses covered the piercing.
She explained that it wasn’t just about the piercings falling into the machines but also the customers that came through the plant.
I spent 5 hours in orientation with this new employee. He changed me. If I would have passed him on the sidewalk – he adorned with his tattoos and piercings and dressed in all black – I would have been anxious.
But this young man was courteous, respectful, caring, and wanted to present his best self. Underneath all the ‘stuff’ he was gentle.
I told his dad the next day that sometimes it takes a few years for our outsides to match our insides. I know it did for me.