If You Break it, Speak up!

A Point of View

David H. Fauss, M.S.M.

On February 28, 2019

Category: Business Frustrations, Careers, Common Courtesy, Employment, Getting the Job Done, Magnus, Magnus Insights, Magnus Research, Managing Employees

When writing these posts, Melissa and I work from a list of ideas that have come to mind over time. We often do not write them, however, in the order in which they are added to the list. This post is one of those. Knock on wood, with our current staffing, the issue I’m writing about has not been an issue recently, but some issues are difficult to forget. Over time, unfortunately, we have had several occasions when an employee broke something and never bothered to mention it, hoping no one would notice, or that, when it was noticed, they would not be the one “holding the bag.” For example, an employee accidentally, or carelessly, broke the connection to one of the cables that sends the video/audio feed from the camera to a television in the observation room for focus groups and mock trials. Fortunately, it occurred at the end of a research day and did not interrupt that day. But, it did interrupt the next research day when someone else attempted to set up this connection and the tip of the cable was missing due to having been lost when it broke. Fortunately, as noted in other posts, we’re compulsively prepared for the worst and we usually have at least one backup to use in emergencies. Of course, that incident brought the problem out into the open and it was not hard to figure out who broke the cable, or at least, who failed to report the broken cable. Another time, it was a silly accessory on the trailer hitch of a company vehicle. The employee dropped something heavy on the accessory (which looked like a boat propeller) and broke it. He “didn’t bother” to mention it, perhaps, in part, because he knew he was already on thin ice. But, what he failed to realize is that he made the ice thinner by not accepting responsibility, instead of“fessing up” to what he had done. The strangest broken item was a toilet seat. A heavyset employee broke the toilet seat in one of the office restrooms. Rather than report it and help get it replaced, she set it back on the toilet in a way that the break (of half of the seat) was not obvious, therein setting a trap for the next restroom user, who just happened to be Melissa. Come on – setting the boss up for a splash down is never a good idea! In all of these instances, taking ownership of the problem and reporting the problem is much, much wiser than hoping one does not get caught. In the case of the cable, that could have jeopardized an entire research project. Accidents happen – intentionally covering one up, well that’s worse than the accident, by far!

My mom used to enjoy browsing in antiques stores. I remember one store that had annoying little signs all around that said, “You break it, you bought it.” As annoying as those signs were to me, I learned, as a young child, not to touch anything, lest I break it, due to the fact I had no money to buy it. Now that David and I have been co-owners of Magnus for over 25 years, those annoying signs in the antiques store have taken on new meaning for me. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on one’s perspective, employers are not allowed to require their employees to pay for things they break. Instead, when an employee breaks something, it is “the cost of doing business,” “all in a day’s work,” etc. and the employer is forced to absorb the cost of repairing or replacing the broken item. Whether or not this is fair is debatable; what is not debatable, however, is that it is the business owner, not the employee, who must bear the brunt of the employee’s mistake, carelessness, negligence, or malice. (Yes, we have had employees intentionally destroy company property, including resigning without notice, then destroying our computer, apparently by running over it with a car.) Mistakes happen, accidents occur, and things break. These are facts of life and David and I accept full responsibility for our employees’ actions. This being said, we will never understand why an employee who breaks something we worked hard to buy fails to “own up” to his/her mistake, and instead, attempts to cover it up, thereby setting up the next person who comes along with a broken piece of equipment or worse, toilet seat. (Imagine the words that were exchanged when yours truly sat on the broken toilet seat, knowing, of course, “who dun it”!) Words to the wise: If you break something that does not belong to you, admit it, apologize, and offer to reimburse the owner for the item you broke, especially when the owner is your boss.

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