A Day In The Life: Valentine’s Day And The HR Manager

The Bullard Edge’s first annual “workplace fiction” contest is over and we are pleased to present the winning storyette (under 1000 words).

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In it, you will meet an HR Manager named Reba who arrives at work anticipating that she may have to deal with a number of personnel issues that are magnified on or around Valentine’s Day. Enjoy.

Reba slipped in the backdoor and paused to listen to the workplace. Silence, save for the low hum of the ventilation system. Mid-Town Notions would soon swing into action and the low hum would be replaced with a white noise roar of ringing telephones, shuffling feet, hushed voices, and whirring copiers.

Reba, alone for now, stepped into her office, past the “HR Manager” nameplate on her door. She set her coffee and bagel on her desk, hung her coat on the back of the door, and settled into her comfy chair. She needed about 45 minutes to steel herself for the commotion to come. Valentine’s Day always runs fast and hard.

First out of the box she assumed Drew would pop in just like last year. Drew meant well, but he did not think deeply. Last year’s conversation about the fraternization policy went nowhere.

“Reba, you have a minute?” Drew had asked.

“Sure. What’s up?”

“You know. It’s Valentine’s Day and I am wondering if our ….”

“Fraternization policy is up to snuff,” Reba finished his sentence.

“Yes. Yes, that is my question. Do we need to think about banning office romance?”

“Drew, we talk about this every November at the management summit.”

“I know, but you know that” [insert two employee names] “are now dating.”

“Our policy is clear, Drew. There is no ban on dating relationships generally. We simply restrict conflict of interest situations. No supervisors dating subordinates, for example. Plus, we have an open door policy that allows any employee to quietly bring any concerns to my attention. It works. Remember Denny and Dena? We moved him to accounting in June.”

“Ok. Yeah. You are right. I just wanted to make sure.”

Folks who don’t work in HR don’t understand. Valentine’s Day in the workplace is about so much more than fraternization policies. Reba thought about the “Vince incident” from two years ago. Vince is a great guy; everyone says so. Although he is nearing 50 he exudes the vitality of the collegiate tennis player he once was. More importantly, at least as far as the job goes, Vince is sales with a heart. His numbers appear ruthless, but he is just nice. Really nice.

Nevertheless, two years ago, an inconsolable Vince sat, and sobbed, in Reba’s office. The specifics seemed elusive. Reba gathered something about every Valentine’s Day being a slap in the face. Other people had their relationships and their happiness and every balloon or chocolate or card just seemed to mock him. Seeing Vince hurt that deeply shook Reba. As an HR matter she helped Vince take an OFLA/FMLA covered leave of absence for what later was diagnosed as depression. In the weeks following, Reba learned to her surprise that Valentine’s Day is known to trigger episodes of depression.

Reba sipped her coffee and made a mental note to say hello to Vince later in the morning. Absent mindedly she opened her email inbox. The sheer number of Valentine’s Day junk email messages took her aback.

“LAST CHANCE. 12 Roses for $4.”

“Still time. Send a Valentine’s Day greeting today.”

“Nothing says LOVE like a diamond heart pendant.”

All of the commercialization surrounding Valentine’s Day surely would make Mid-Town Notions a less productive business today. Reba anticipated one or two complaints about that from supervisors. Liz, who seemingly can complain about anything, is a top candidate for that. Valentine’s Day is not like the first two days of March Madness, but it does distract employees. As always, Reba would encourage supervisors to be consistent with employees in their management style and production expectations.

— The expectation to be productive in your work applies equally to Joe and Jane. Differential treatment would open the company up to some form of protected class discrimination. Reba does not want female Jane to be able to complain that she was written up for tracking down Valentine’s Day gifts, but male Joe, who did the same thing, was not.

— A rule on January 12 is a rule on February 14. There is no reason to be more aggressive today. If a certain amount of time is allowed for personal phone calls on January 12, there is no reason that should change on February 14.

As she quickly deleted these junk email offers, except for the intriguing one from Zebra Grill (not a menu description), Reba reluctantly decided she needed to make the rounds today just to keep peace and maintain pace.

A glance at the clock let her know that Valentine’s Day in the workplace would start momentarily. Reba savored a last sip of coffee and finished her bagel and took a deep breath only to be interrupted by “Rrrinngg.” The telephone shattered the quiet and the day was on.

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