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June 12, 2009

GM and D.F.: Two Insane Approaches to Unexcused Absences


I have been inspired by General Motors and the United Auto Workers. Their insanity is fueling mine. So from now on, when my employees blow off work, I am going to let them off the hook – provided they thoroughly entertain me in their efforts to explain themselves.


Then again, it would be hard to come up with business brilliance more comedic than what comes out of GM and the UAW themselves. A case in point is their new contract rules regarding unexcused absences.


Let’s say, just for the sake of discussion, that you have an employee who inexplicably fails to show up for work one day. Doesn’t call. Doesn’t e-mail. Just plain isn’t there for no apparent reason.


The first time it happens, you might just fire him, but most of us would keep trying to reach him – out of concern for his safety, if nothing else – and once he was finally located, would look for an explanation.


Now, let’s say he really didn’t have an explanation. He just didn’t feel like coming to work that day, and couldn’t be bothered to call. At that point, I’d be surprised if half of all employers would give him a second chance, but assuming he was at least someone apologetic, I imagine a significant number would give him the stern don’t-let-it-happen-again routine, then tell him to go back to work.


At some point in the future, it happens again. Now what? If this is a very important and productive employee – someone whose contributions are vital when he shows up – you might face a tough decision. But my guess is that fewer than 20 percent of employers who gave him a second chance are now going to give him a third. And for that small percentage who will give him a third chance, well, once it happens a third time . . . you get the idea.


I’d put myself in the group that gives him a second chance only if he convinced me he really understands the seriousness of what he did, and I would not be that easy to convince. On the second offense, I would be done with him, no matter how important he was. Even if he is productive when he shows up, I can’t run my company if I can’t feel confident an important employee will show up on any given day.


But that’s me, and it’s probably you. If you want to know why General Motors is now in bankruptcy, get this: GM’s recent big triumphant new contract with the United Auto Workers stipulates that an employee who helps himself to an unexcused absence can be fired – once he’s done it six times.


Six times!


It’s hardly breaking news that the inmates are running the asylum at GM. This has been true for generations, as the UAW insists on lunatic “work rules” and files a litany of grievances any time the company tries to get people to actually get some work done. It is an indication of GM’s relationship with reality that it announced proudly employees will now have to work 40 hours a week before they get overtime pay.


So every time I think I’m the last person who should be running a business, I look at what happens at GM and realize I’m actually quite sane by comparison. And that bothers me. So here’s what I’m going to do:


From now on, whenever one of my employees blows off work, I will not ask for a reasonable explanation. That would be silly, as I am sure none would be forthcoming. Instead, I want an entertaining one. The more far-fetched, the better. The more twisted your story, the more I will enjoy it. Creativity is everything.


“You see, D.F., I was on my way to work, when suddenly a deer ran in front of my car.”


“Did you hit the deer?”


“Well no, the deer stopped in front of my car as if to summon me. She wanted me to follow her into the woods. I felt strangely moved to accede to her summons. In the woods, she led me to a clearing where a group of renegade deer where smoking Camel cigarettes and discussing a counter-offensive against the many hunters who would soon be descending upon them.”


“Is that so? And what did this have to do with you?”


“I had been chosen to witness this cabal so that I might warn my species not to proceed with hunting season – for the sake of all specieskind. I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting by cool water and trying to find my way back to civilization, and once I made it, I visited every sporting goods store in town posting flyers. I was going to show you one, but I ran out.”


Now this is good stuff. I got no work out of you, but I got entertained, which saved me the effort of trying to entertain myself. You’ve just bought yourself a second chance.


GM doesn’t even demand that much. If you blow off work, they just shrug their shoulders and remind themselves that they have no idea what you do for them anyway.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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