Cutting Tool Engineering
May 2012 / Volume 64 / Issue 5

A 'they did what?!' moment

By Keith Jennings

Working as a manager in a large shop is an interesting and challenging profession, even enjoyable on some days. But, in spite of my good intentions, trying to understand an employee’s logic for engaging in certain behaviors can be bewildering. Eventually, an incident occurs that has nothing to do with making parts or the management thereof, but one that makes me question their motivation in a not-so-friendly tone: “They did what?!”

Undoubtedly, if I opened the floor for a discussion about your most bizarre and unexpected incidents, an array of experiences would be revealed. I recently had such a situation at my company and it made me appreciate the value of shop automation and the corresponding headcount reduction.

One of our company’s core values is the belief that, as owners, we don’t want our employees to work in a facility where we wouldn’t desire to work ourselves. It’s never perfect, but we work hard and allocate the resources necessary to ensure the shop is as close to ideal as we can make it. This includes not only the production areas, but offices, break rooms and employee restrooms, with a cleaning staff to maintain it all. Most employees seem to appreciate that effort, but not all.

When an employee relieved himself on the restroom floor in the most distasteful manner imaginable, intentionally leaving a disgusting mess for someone else to clean, it was definitely one of those maddening moments. To make the bizarre incident even worse, large amounts of toilet paper were missing and discovered to have been jammed into the plumbing system, making it unusable and causing a sizable repair expense.

When the incident was brought to my attention, I was perplexed and outraged at the same time, especially because we couldn’t identify a culprit. It brought back memories of a similarly troubling event a few years ago when an employee repeatedly vandalized the restroom, which eventually stopped after we more closely monitored usage.

While I wasn’t aware of any recent conflict between an employee and shop management, perhaps it signaled a disagreement. Regardless, spending so much time and effort to provide a safe and professional work environment, only to have it trashed in this manner was very frustrating. I considered this to be an extreme example until a family member told me about an identical situation at her company in the ladies restroom.

It’s impossible to monitor every employee activity and, sadly, the reality is some employees just don’t share your ethics and values and don’t find a clean shop or a good benefits package to be important.

Because robots can’t yet duplicate the value of a good shop employee and won’t for a long time, dysfunctional, classless and plain-crazy people will have to be dealt with. They will cause you to question why you should even bother creating a good working environment.

But even in these circumstances, you can’t lose sight of the fact that the majority of employees don’t and won’t engage in such behavior and, like you, find it reprehensible.

While I knew in the back of my mind this was the case, it didn’t stop my initial, reactionary thought about saving this expense, scrapping the benefits and keeping things minimal.

Unfortunately, we didn’t find the culprit, but we’ve repaired the damage and haven’t abandoned the concept of nice restrooms and work spaces. But, on days like that, the idea of fewer people and more automation is very appealing. CTE

About the Author: Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, metal fabrication and metal stamping. Contact him at

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