Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how I choose to look at it, I have many personal examples when I hold employee meetings or talk with my children regarding undesirable behavior.
This past week I met with employees in Grand Forks, North Dakota to discuss profanity in the workplace. In meetings, I first try to establish that I’m not much different from who they are. My position today as a Human Resources Manager was not where I started. I began my career more than thirty years ago, running an inserting machine on the night shift, was promoted to lead person, then Supervisor.
I told the employees that when I was a supervisor, I would say,“What did you f..k up now?” when I dealt with a challenging employee who was constantly making mistakes. My boss informed me that my language was not appropriate. Even so, the next night before I even knew it, before I could stop myself, I said the exact same thing to the exact same employee who once again had screwed up. This time, my boss made it clear that I would be fired if it happened again.
I had heard that profanity was a sign of a limited vocabulary. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. What I do know is that it took me concerted effort to stop swearing. It certainly was embedded behavior.
Recently, our employee meeting was focused on hygiene in the workplace. Our manufacturing plants are Safe Quality Food certified, meaning that we are held to a high standard when it comes to conditions on our manufacturing floor. I used the example of my father coming to one of my brother’s football games without changing from his farm clothes. They laughed watching my face turn red at the memory. “Whatever you are doing before you come to work, change into your work uniform and your work shoes. Don’t bring the dirt from the fields in here.”
“It happened like this,” I said, to Juan Jose and Crystel, when I was teaching them about why bullying was wrong. I began by telling them how I bullied a kid mercilessly and often was in fights in middle school. “Did you ever run away from home?” Juan asked. “Once,” I said. “I was going to hop a train. I can’t imagine you or Crystel ever running away. Even parents want to be adopted by me and Mama Jody.” I paused. Well, unless it’s drugs, alcohol, or sex, I thought but didn’t say. Then again, if that happens, we’ll deal. I’ve got examples of that too.