Colborn’s Corner: Looking back

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Quentin Colborn
Quentin Colborn takes a look back at his HR experiences this week and reflects on the situations, good and bad that have helped shape his view of HR.

Our current view of HR is often shaped by our experiences in the past. Some of these are funny, some are incredibly exhilarating, and all of them give us the opportunity to learn. My first eye-opener occurred when I was a young Personnel Trainee and was handed down responsibility for ‘Bernard’ from a more senior Personnel Officer.

Bernard worked as a Postman within a traditional, paternalistic, engineering company which has long since closed! He was never the full shilling and so my responsibility included looking after his finances.

This meant collecting his pay (in cash) from payroll on a weekly basis and filling in bank paying in slips for the weekly visit to the mobile bank to help him keep on top of his bills. I was also charged with keeping some money back from Bernard so that after the weekend he would still have some cash available.

This system generally worked well until one day there was a visitor in the office, a bailiff wanted to see me about Bernard’s finances. Apparently he had been told by Bernard that I dealt with his financial affairs and I would sort everything out.

It turned out that Bernard had received a utility bill and simply ignored it along with all the reminders. Having overcome my surprise at a visit from the bailiff, Bernard’s finances were hastily rearranged and he found himself with no spending money left for the weekend and none for the following week either!

Bernard went to great lengths to remind me that this meant all he would be able to do over the weekend was walk his dog, however, I was in no mood for sympathy following the surprise visit. Bernard was also the guy who had two days bereavement leave, after attending a funeral one day apparently his uncle fell in the grave resulting in a second death!

Problems, however, are not just associated with the more junior employees. After the successful completion of a business sale back in the 1990’s, I was faced with recovering the Finance Director who had a significant stake in the completion from a pond, post-celebrations and duly locking up the supplies of champagne in the HR filing system!

There are also times when you wonder what colleagues really expect of you. On one occasion I was relocating with my family after an internal promotion. The removal firm were in action emptying our house when I received a phone call from a senior manager telling me that he thought a certain work group were about to walk out on strike.

No forewarning, no preparation and all this happening over 200 miles away. My response? Simply to go and talk to the people concerned and see what the issue was. A little bit of discussion and the problem disappeared!

A final incident that made me smile was a dismissal appeal that I heard recently. An employee had been dismissed, completely falling foul of the statutory procedure, and had appealed against the decision. The expectation was that he was looking for a payment to ‘go quietly’.

The appeal was duly heard and he was told that he would be reinstated. This threw the individual completely; he didn’t want reinstatement. What ensued was a fascinating discussion with an individual who had appealed against dismissal, was reinstated, but remained unhappy as he didn’t want to return to work – he wanted a wedge (that is a cash payment) – but he couldn’t really say so. Later that day he simply resigned and the matter was closed.

What more offbeat stories of life within HR do you have? When have you had to act beyond the normal call of duty? Let’s hear your stories.

Quentin Colborn is an independent HR consultant based in Essex who advises management teams on operational and strategic HR issues. He does not offer personal financial counselling! To contact him T: 01376 571360 or e-mail him at [email protected]

Colborn’s Corner: series articles


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