Karen expected her long-time boyfriend to pop the question at a special Valentine’s Day dinner. Instead, he dumped her with the dessert. Karen drove home in shock and drank a whole bottle of red wine while she tried to figure out where it all went wrong. She dug out her secret stash of dark chocolates, but some things can’t be fixed even by chocolate.
Karen awoke to a hangover and a feeling of being watched. She rolled over to find her cat observing her with lofty disdain. She briefly contemplated calling in sick, but bosses should lead by example, or so she’s been told. So she dragged herself out of bed, swallowed several aspirin, and trudged out the door to work.
At the office, Karen ran into Sherry (literally) when they rounded the same corner from opposite directions. Sherry’s hot herbal tea splashed generously over both of them. Karen snarled and pushed past Sherry, who tottered back to her cubicle to have hysterics.
Jim glanced at Sherry across the cubicle wall, thinking that he ought to do something. But he wasn’t any good helping his wife when she cried so what could he do for a co-worker? He dropped to the floor and crawled on hands and knees toward the exit.
Meanwhile, Sue vaulted a low cubicle wall to evade Karen and ran down the hall to the HR rep’s office. Teresa, the HR rep, was sitting quietly at her desk, feeling good about life, when Sue caromed off the door jamb, bounced against the bookcase, and dropped into a chair gasping for air. Teresa studies her in gathering alarm. Sue’s shin is bleeding and one shoe is missing.
Sue says Karen has finally had the big mental break with reality that her subordinates have been betting on for months. Teresa listens helplessly. Her HR training didn’t really prepare her for these sorts of emergencies.
What should Teresa, the HR rep, do next?
- She can hide in her office and hope the situation resolves itself.
- She can join Karen’s subordinates in texting alerts to each other warning when Karen leaves her office to search for victims to criticize.
- She can go down the hall to investigate and to assess whether Karen needs some personal leave to recover her composure.
Unfortunately, the personal dramas of employees and employers spill over to the workplace. When the soap opera involves a supervisor, the damage can spread rapidly as subordinates are sucked into the emotional morass. HR can help by taking swift action to intervene and mitigate workplace disruptions.
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