Your Way

Years have passed and I have seen moments where being myself didn’t always pay off. Now and then had I been a bit more formal in some settings and a bit less formal in others it would have suited my agenda a little better but then I noticed this. The places that I might have faked my way through it by NOT being myself might have worked out in the moment but would have eventually come back to haunt me. See even when you try not to be yourself, the little voice inside finds a way to push itself out.

I recall pretending I wasn’t in the room when someone I was working with was doing something he shouldn’t have done. I didn’t want to “rat” on him but I didn’t feel right about him getting away with it either. When he was found out and I was asked what I had observed I lied and said I hadn’t seen anything. The supervisor said nothing but came back to me a day later and said, “You were on the clock on that shift. The bathrooms were being cleaned at that hour so you couldn’t have been in there. If you left the building you would have had to clock out and you didn’t. So clearly you were somewhere other than where you were supposed to be.”

“No,” I said shamefully. “I was here.” He nodded, knowing I’d seen everything, and I could see he would never fully trust me again. I knew I’d “lost points” but rationalized that I was in an impossible situation albeit that I handled it poorly. It was hard to “be myself” because I was so out of my element. But no matter what excuse I came up with the voice inside said I was an employee of the company and the fact was if I saw someone doing something they shouldn’t have been doing, I owed it to the people that were paying me to let them know.

I wrestled with this dilemma for a few sleepless nights and then I made an appointment to talk to the supervisor. The employee that had violated the rules had already been let go. As I began my discussion with the supervisor I started to realize they were considering letting me go too. After all, I’d sided with the offender and not with the company.

The supervisor was a good man. To this day I have a mentor/student relationship with him.  He told me directly that he was saddened to hear the excuses I had made but he was glad to see it was eating me up. My discomfort since the incident was clear to him. He cited my youth and inexperience and said he felt I had the kind of conscience that would take this lesson to heart and react differently the next time. I thanked him and left his office humbled, grateful and smarter. That night as I ate my TV dinner in my little one-room efficiency apartment, I asked myself if I really could do it differently the next time. Could I basically throw a fellow employee “under the bus” if I saw improper behavior? Yeah, it was the right thing to do, but it was so hard to do.

I didn’t have to wait long to test my mettle.

It was about 6 months later. I’d moved on to another company as the previous job began to stagnate. I was in charge of the petty cash drawer at the new job and the company was a small one. Things ran rather informally and the petty cash drawer previously hadn’t been “kept.” The boss merely looked in once in awhile and when it was low, he added a couple twenties, tens, fives and singles. Well within the first week I could see that everyone had their hand in that drawer; cup of coffee here, some compensated gas mileage there, all that had been needed was a note dropped in the box saying what had been taken. Over time, the vouchers had become so vague no one could be called out on anything. Instead of saying “Gasoline compensation for job at 1470 Fair Street,” the note would just read, $20 – gas.” Since everyone needed a little reminder to be more specific, I put out a general memo about a new procedure for petty cash. Everyone seemed to understand but one guy reacted differently; it seemed he took great offense. He was an employee that had been there for decades and dropped the crumpled up memo on my desk saying, “we USED to trust each other around here.”

Time passed and as I changed a few other accounting processes the firm started to show a marginal increase in profit. Clearly the tightening of procedures was proving that someone had had their hand in the cookie jar for some time. The savings was enough for me to suggest to the boss that he could take the staff to lunch for the Christmas holiday and afford a $50 gift certificate for each. He was elated and thanked me at the lunch in front of everyone for making such an impact.

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