Ode to Employer Ignorance (Or the Perils of an Inbred Hiring Strategy)

29 Jul, 2019 Bob Wilson


An interesting thing happened when I was walking into the gym the other day. It was a reminder of the constant peril that employers face regarding the less than stellar behavior of their employees. That peril is multiplied when combined with the improper hiring and training of front-line supervisors.

Now, I know what you are thinking. Bob, in a gym!? I know it is hard to believe, but a body like mine doesn’t just happen. It requires significant effort to get in this sort of shape. In my case that significant effort involves consuming lots of pizza and copious amounts of alcohol. Hence the need to drag my fat ass into the gym.

Anywhoo, I walked in the front door and approached the check in desk. There were 4 employees behind the counter. Two women were looking at a computer terminal. Two men, who appeared to be personal trainers, were engaged in a wrestling match. It appeared to be a relatively jovial affair, as they were laughing while they scrapped with one another. They were both bent over, with one of them seeming to have the other in a partial head lock. They spun around, swaying back and forth as they laughed and careened wildly about behind the counter. I had an initial reaction that will no doubt be familiar to many in the workers’ comp industry.

I thought: One of these dumbasses is going to hurt themselves, and then file a claim.

It did not come to that, as one of the young women, apparently a manager, took note of the situation and issued corrective action. Well, kind of issued corrective action. Her head snapped around in response to the cacophonous sound of the scuffle and yelled, “Hey! Not behind the front desk!” The two men untangled themselves while apologizing for their transgression, but it didn’t really matter. Just as fast as she had engaged, she disconnected from the affair. Her attention had already returned to the monitor before her. 

With the exception of a brief smile from the manager, no one acknowledged me throughout all this. I meekly scanned myself in using the membership card feature of my convenient fitness center iPhone app. I couldn’t help but think during this process about her instruction; “Not behind the front desk!” I naturally wondered, “Ok, then where?” The admonition clearly implied that it was the location of the horseplay that was the problem, and not the actual horseplay itself. So where, in this gym, could two testosterone infused leviathans tussle about while on the clock? The fitness studio? The personal training area? The locker rooms? 

Clearly, not in the showers or sauna. That is how ugly rumors get started.

This particular fitness facility is part of a large national chain. I don’t want to identify them, so for purposes of this article we will just call them AnyCityOtherThanLA Fitness. That should be sufficient cover to keep their identity secret. Suffice it to say they are a big company. The incident I witnessed, however, is a common problem for all employers, both big and small. Employees not following rules, screwing around on the job, and management that doesn’t really get the problem, instead treating a mere component of the issue at hand. 

Training is probably an issue here. But a bigger problem beyond the example I provide is that some companies, especially those in certain industries, do not necessarily excel at hiring the right people for the job. Their hiring practices can sometimes be described as hiring their really good customers. What do we mean by that? Allow me to ‘splain…

Many years ago, prior to my life in Human Resources and workers’ compensation, I worked as a Food and Beverage Director for a chain of recreation centers. Well, we called them recreation centers. They were really all large bowling centers with bars, game rooms and the like. Coming from outside that industry, bowling center management practices were a real eye opener for me.

More than one time I had conversations with location General Managers who would be really excited about a new Assistant Manager or Supervisor they had hired for their center. I would ask, what is their experience and qualifications? The answer would always be something along the lines of, “Well, they can bowl a 290!”

Ok, then. The new Assistant Manager may be a psychopathic alcoholic who has his pants on backwards and can’t spell his own name, but damn if the bastard can’t bowl! What could possibly go wrong with that picture?

My wife worked for years as a personal trainer, and she has told me that hiring practices in gym and fitness centers can run on a very similar parallel to my bowling center experience. They often hire people who are good consumers of what they sell, and that means they may not always be getting people wholly capable of doing the job they were hired for. 

Just because you can use the product in a skilled and impressive manner, doesn’t mean you can manage the people providing it. This type of “inbred hiring” is a mistake that employers in many industries can easily make. I am not saying that fitness buffs and great bowlers cannot be great managers, merely that proficiency in the product should not be the only criteria. And in the example I provide today, all of the people involved may be perfectly capable for the position they hold; they just might not have been properly trained.

Many times we’ve discussed the fact that employers are their own worst enemy when it comes to workers’ comp. Many front-line managers and other supervisors simply don’t know anything about it other than they have to call a number or fill out a report when someone says they are hurt. Even when safety and prevention techniques are competently provided, the often-harsh realities of placing an employee into the workers’ compensation system are never fully discussed or considered. 

It is that lack of singular focus that results in the enormous difference between, “Knock it off!” and “Not behind the front desk!” Properly trained, even an improperly dressed psychopathic alcoholic bowling prodigy could probably understand it.


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