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A Day in the Life of Kathy Davis In 'Real HR,' Anything Can Happen

June 1, 1999
Director Mike Nichols recently observed that in the age of what he calls "the Big Soap Opera," it is hard to create fiction that can compete with real life. He probably didn’t have HR in mind when he said it, but his observation certainly is applicable. The story you’re about to read is real life, and therefore, almost completely unbelievable.

It’s based on the 848 responses to the annual Workforce survey, "A Day in the Life of HR." The survey was mailed to 2,000 subscribers chosen at random and posted on Workforce Online. The survey results were used to establish the events in a typical HR professional’s day; some license has been taken in the number and order of events for dramatic effect, and to show the breadth of HR’s responsibility. All the events in the story -- the incidents, questions, e-mails, challenges, successes and so on were reported by survey respondents. The characters and organization, however, have been invented to provide context for sharing the survey data and not intended to represent any specific people or organization.

5:45 a.m.
The alarm woke Kathy Davis with such sudden sonic violence that she sat bolt upright in bed. For a few moments she struggled to make sense of the noise, staring at the clock on the nightstand as if unsure of its function. Slowly, reality set in: Her vacation was over, it was Monday morning, and it was time to get ready to go back to work. She silently debated whether to simply turn the alarm off or to hurl it against the closet door.

"Are you going to turn that thing off?" Mike asked from the other side of the bed, pulling her pillow over his head.

"Sorry, honey," she said, switching it off. "Oops," she thought to herself. She and Mike had only been living together a few weeks, and there were fleeting moments when she forgot he was there. She always felt guilty when it happened; did other people ever do that? She leaned over and kissed his exposed neck. "Re-entry after vacation is always tough for me," she said softly. Mike mumbled unintelligibly into the pillow and rolled over. He could sleep another hour.

Kathy eased out of bed and stumbled toward the bathroom. The carpet was soft under her bare feet, but she missed the cool sand that she had stepped into each morning outside the condo they had rented in Hawaii. She missed the sound of the ocean and the smell of the plumeria blossoms. Most of all, she missed the time when she could take a two-week vacation; these days, she never felt she could get away for longer than a week at a time, and sometimes not even for that long.

In the closet, she wadded up her pantyhose and hurled them against the hamper. Somehow, it didn’t provide the same satisfaction she had hoped to get from throwing the clock, and she laughed at herself. It’s morning that makes me grumpy, she thought, not my job.

As she showered, Kathy grew more cheerful about the day. She realized that there was a certain thrill in the fact that, in HR, anything could happen and often did. When she and Mike had first started dating, she sometimes wondered if he didn’t go out with her just to hear the stories. He told her that her days were much more entertaining than the average movie.

And how could she argue? They had laughed about her efforts to keep a straight face while disciplining an employee for doing a striptease in the lunchroom, and about the plant manager using the Ouija® board to help him solve problems. The day she told him about the vice president’s wife driving to the company parking lot and deliberately crashing her Mercedes into his Porsche to protest his affair, Mike told her that someone should really make a movie about HR. And she knew she had found Mr. Right when he added that Meg Ryan should play her.

She hoped that there would be a good story for Mike that night. She loved to watch him laugh, to see the way it relaxed him. By the time she finished her shower, she was looking forward to going to work. There hadn’t been any telephone calls in the middle of the night, so she was fairly confident that she wouldn’t walk into a crisis. This morning she would actually be able to go in at a reasonable time, and even to have breakfast first. Yes, this was going to be a good day.

6:30 a.m.
Downstairs, Kathy poured herself a bowl of cereal and turned on the TV. While she ate and made sandwiches for her lunch and for Mike’s, the early news team offered updates on the Columbine High School tragedy. She wanted to turn it off and forget about it, but she knew that she shouldn’t. She was horrified by the violence, and by the fact that so many people had missed the warning signs or ignored them. She wondered if there were warning signs in her own organization that were being ignored.

She heard Mike turn on the shower upstairs and knew that it was time to leave. She wrote a short note for Mike and slipped it into his lunch, then grabbed her briefcase and headed for the car. Outside, the air felt cool after Hawaii, but it was already a bright morning.

Cher was singing "Believe" on the radio, but as Kathy drove, her thoughts drifted back to the Columbine killings. Just before her vacation, she had gone to a lunch meeting with an informal network of HR professionals that she belonged to. Even before Columbine, the talk had centered on the threat of workplace violence. All of Kathy’s colleagues said they were more concerned about it, and several had faced on-the-job incidents. One man talked about organizing counseling sessions for employees after a murder in the building. Others shared stories of bomb threats, employees being stalked, and angry employees brandishing weapons in one instance, a machete. Another angry employee had thrown a lit match into an ammunition storage room.

But the most wrenching story had been about an employee who was brutally beaten after work one night. The comatose employee was not expected to live the day, and his employer’s HR director had gone to the hospital. The employee had died during the visit. Tears had been shed in telling the story, and Kathy teared up again remembering it. She was sure that the Columbine incident had raised new fears among employees, and she believed that she needed to lead a corporate effort to minimize the risk at all the company’s facilities.

7:50 a.m.
Traffic had been mercifully light, and Kathy had made good time. As she drove into the parking lot, she determined to take the violence issue seriously, but not to let it overwhelm her whole day. She had her choice of spots in the half-full lot and chose one under a light in case she worked late.

Kathy was close to the front entrance when she spotted a man dressed in a business suit on his knees in one of the parking spaces. "What in the world ..." she wondered under her breath as she walked toward him.

"Are you all right?" Kathy asked.

"Yes, thank you, ma’am," the man said quietly in an elegant accent. "No."

"You aren’t sure?" she asked.

"I’m sure. I’m not all right. Not all right at all." He then explained that he had been at a function with the CEO the evening before and had done something inappropriate. "I’m waiting to apologize," he said finally.

Kathy had no idea what the man had done, but she found it hard to imagine that Henry would be expecting a foreign visitor to beg for forgiveness on his hands and knees, in the parking lot or elsewhere. "I think you’ll find that Henry Luker is a very understanding and forgiving man," she said. "Why don’t you come inside with me and I’ll see what I can do to help."

The man seemed reluctant, but after a moment he stood up and shook her hand. "Thank you," he said.

As they introduced themselves, Kathy noticed several police cars parked against the curb, and wondered why they were there. Already she felt her trip to Hawaii had lasted all of 10 minutes.

8:05 a.m.
There was a small crowd already waiting outside the HR department. "OK," Kathy thought to herself, "so much for easing back into this."

"Good morning, everyone," she said. She unlocked the door and turned on the lights, hoping that Sue, the department secretary, would be in shortly. In the meantime, she asked the apologetic visitor to take a seat and turned to the security guard. "What’s the problem, Bob?"

"This employee was found intoxicated in his office," he explained. "About three hours ago."

"At 5 a.m.?" Kathy asked.

The security officer smiled. "He was under the impression it was later," he said.

"I see," she said. "How are you feeling?" she asked the employee.

"Not too bad!" he said cheerily.

"All right, good," she said. "Jack, please take him to the nurse’s office. I’ll send someone up later to talk to him. Do you know why the police are here?"

"They’re looking for an escaped convict," he said. "Haven’t found him yet."

Kathy chose not to panic; these situations were almost always rumors or misinformation. She smiled at Jack. "If he applies for a job, I’ll let you know," she said.

Bob led the weaving employee out into the hall, and Kathy turned to a man who had been waiting quietly. "Hello," she said, "may I help you?"

"I don’t know," he answered.

"I’m not sure I understand."

"My supervisor sent me here," he said.

"Oh, I see. Why?"

"I don’t know. He didn’t say."

Kathy sighed. Why did so many supervisors mistake HR for the principal’s office a place to send employees they didn’t know what else to do with? "Well, perhaps there’s a message waiting for me," Kathy said. "Please give me a moment to check."

After being away, Kathy was afraid of what she might find on her desk. Predictably, her in-box bore a startling resemblance to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. "I’ll deal with that later," she thought as she dialed her access code.

"You have 43 voice-mail messages," the system told her. She winced and began to listen to them. One message was from an employee explaining that she had lost a quarter in the sanitary napkin vending machine and asking if she could get a refund. The sales director said he had an employee who had used the corporate credit card to visit brothels, and wondered how he should handle it. A doctor’s office had called to say that a job candidate sent over for a physical and identified in the paperwork as a man had shown up claiming to be a woman and dressed accordingly. There were several questions about vacation time and maternity leave. A plant manager needed help improving employee productivity. The final message was from a technical employee, explaining that he was resigning because the commute was too onerous and would not be in.

Kathy looked at the receiver in disbelief. The company had spent four months recruiting this candidate, and the job was extremely difficult to fill. The department in question had to be fully staffed if the company was going to meet the deadline and get the new product in stores. She flipped through the pages of her calendar. Yes, as she thought: He had only started on Thursday. Two days was all he could take? She cursed quietly.

There was no message solving the mystery of the waiting employee. She hoped it wouldn’t take long to figure out.

Kathy stepped back into the waiting area. Fortunately, Sue had arrived. She explained that she was trying to find out why the employee was sent there, and asked Sue to help. She also told Sue that would she need to see Linda, the staffing manager, as soon as possible. And then she explained that she was taking their visitor up to Henry’s office.

"Welcome back," Sue smiled.

9:10 a.m.
"Maybe now I can get a cup of coffee," Kathy thought as she walked back into the department,

But Sue had other ideas. "Oh, good, you’re back," she said. "There’s a man on the phone. He’s calling from a hospital. His wife just had a baby, and the ambulance company wants to be paid. He wants to know whether our insurance will pay for it."

"Why did his wife need an ambulance? Why didn’t he just drive her?"

"He wasn’t there," Sue said. "She had the baby on the production floor, in front of her machine."

"Oh, my God," Kathy said. "This morning?" Sue nodded.

"Tell him he’s covered," Kathy said. "I’ll figure it out later."

"OK. And Linda’s waiting in your office."

Oh, yes, Linda. Kathy could tell by the look on her face that Linda had heard about the technical employee. "Good morning," Kathy said. "I gather that you heard the commute was too much."

"The commute?!" Linda almost shouted. "I didn’t hear that. I just got a rather hot message from design that their new employee wasn’t in yet. He’s stuck in traffic?"

"Oh, no," Kathy said. "He quit."

"Quit?" Linda asked quietly.

Kathy nodded. She went to the other side of her desk and played his voice mail so that Linda could hear it.

There was a long silence before Linda said simply, "I guess I better call design. And then start over."

"I need coffee," Kathy said. "Why don’t you walk with me to the break room. I don’t think we should just give up."

Linda nodded. As they walked, Kathy tried to sound cheerful. "We tried for four months to fill that position, and we know how hard it was to find any candidates with the skills we need. Maybe it’s time to solve this problem differently."

"What do you mean?" Linda asked.

"Well, I know we’ve resisted telecommuting, but maybe it’s time we gave it a try. We could offer to let this guy work at home, maybe even just a few days a week, and see how it goes. We couldn’t be worse off, and it might work. At least it would buy us more time," Kathy said.

Linda groaned. "Doing that opens up a whole lot of issues, you know. The managers won’t like it."

"I know. But there are a whole lot of issues open now. We really can’t just postpone the product release. Besides, I think we’re going to have to embrace telecommuting sooner or later. Don’t you agree? So let’s learn what we can. In the meantime, we can also look into developing some new training programs. It seems to be crazier every day to be so dependent on finding the one person already out there with the right skills."

"All right. I’ll call Dave and see if I can sell him on it. And if I can, I’ll see if I can talk the candidate into it," Linda said. "If all that works, we’ll need some policies."

"Agreed. Maybe you can do some initial research on Workforce Online. And then I’ll pull the team together to help you." They were at the break room. Kathy smiled. "Am I the only one with a low serum-caffeine level, or could you use a cup?"

"I could use one, but this mess seems more pressing. I’m going to head back and start calling," Linda said.

"OK. I’ll be back in a minute. Let’s talk later today. I’d like an update on your progress filling our other open jobs."

Linda smiled wickedly. "An update, huh? Then you better have two or three cups before you come back."

9:25 a.m.
Kathy found her favorite mug in the kitchen cabinet and poured herself some coffee. As usual, there was less than a cupful left in the pot. Why couldn’t people just make more? Not for the first time, Kathy thought the company really needed to hire a mother.

A man was reading a newspaper at the table, his face hidden behind the headlines.

"Good morning," Kathy said as she made another pot.

He grunted a response. "How are things going?" she asked.

"Fine," he said.

And employees say that management doesn’t communicate, she thought to herself. "Which department are you in?" she persisted.

"Uh ... licensing?" he said tentatively.

Licensing? Kathy turned around, puzzled. That didn’t make any sense. Who was this guy? He was still hidden behind the newspaper, but she noticed the grungy overalls he was wearing. Surely, she thought ...

"Well, back to work," she said brightly. "Say hi to Jason, OK?"

"Sure," he said.

She slipped out of the room and down the hall, stopping at a cubicle within sight of the break room. "Excuse me," she said, scanning the nameplate, "Jim, but I need to use your phone. Now." Her tone left no room for argument.

She dialed the security extension. "Jack? Kathy Davis. Don’t laugh, but I think the convict you’re looking for is in the break room on two." Jim looked at her wide-eyed, but she put a finger to her lips to indicate silence. "OK, thanks," she said into the phone and hung up.

"Not a word," she said to Jim. The two of them waited silently no more than two or three minutes before a couple of security guards, accompanied by the police, entered the break room. It wasn’t long before the entire group emerged, this time with the jumpsuit-clad man in handcuffs. Kathy could only shake her head.

10:40 a.m.
Outside her office, the staff was still abuzz about the convict. The Mystery of the Waiting Employee still hadn’t been solved, and he was reading a magazine as if he were waiting for a dental appointment. But Kathy was oblivious to it all, working her way through the Tower of Pisa, one floor at a time.

After being out for a week, her e-mail box was full. Many messages were the usual nonsense:

  • An employee was requesting a one-month leave of absence so that he could try out a job at another company.
  • Someone wanted a hardship withdrawal from her 401(k) to fund a trip to Paris.
  • An employee inquired whether someone in HR could file her common-law marriage papers so that her husband would be eligible for insurance coverage.
  • A frustrated manager wanted to know, "When are we going to stop training and get down to real work?"

And on it went. Kathy answered a few and forwarded others to the appropriate people on her staff. It was rather discouraging, but it was offset by other messages that gave her hope:

  • One of the plant managers wrote to thank her for the manuals that HR had prepared to walk supervisors through performance appraisals, training sessions and other tasks. He said that his supervisors were using them, and all of them were doing better. "And we don’t have to call HR every other day!" he concluded.
  • Gary, the VP of finance, sent an update that recovery from the $500,000 embezzlement was nearly complete: All the employees in accounting and finance had been through the ethics training, background checks were being run on all new hires, and the counseling sessions had helped with morale. He was effusive in his thanks.

Kathy made a mental note to be sure and thank him for his note when they met that afternoon.

She moved on to some reports she had requested. Enrollment in the company’s 401(k) plan was up, as she had hoped work to boost participation had started a year earlier, and finally seemed to be making a difference.

Some other reports showed that, at last, the workforce had begun to stabilize. In her first couple of years at the company, working with the previous CEO, things had been chaotic; she remembered one particularly ugly incident when the company had downsized and then replaced the same jobs within two weeks. That incident had prompted her to write a resignation letter, but then the CEO beat her to it and she decided to stay. When Henry Luker was hired, she had made it plain that she felt a stable workforce was key to retaining a competitive advantage.

At first, her relationship with Henry had been rocky. He had pushed for layoffs in one manufacturing plant, even while jobs were open in others. She had countered with research showing that the severance paid in the repeated downsizings of the past had exceeded profit on most new product launches; they also affected cash flow in several key quarters.

She had argued persuasively, and Henry had agreed to some changes. The company had begun tracking employee skills, and crosstraining extensively. Kathy also had begun working with Linda to do some modeling of labor hours required based on just-in-time product delivery and the introduction of new products. All of it enabled them to move employees from one location to another as needed, rather than lay off and rehire.

The reports showed that it was working. Turnover was down dramatically. Cash flow had stabilized. Although the company’s growth meant that there were still many open jobs, the number of requisitions had stabilized. Success!

12:35 p.m.
There was a knock in the door. Kathy swallowed and called out, "Come in."

It was Linda. "Is this a good time to get caught up?" she asked. "Oh, never mind. I didn’t realize you were eating."

"No, no, come in," Kathy said, closing the issue of Workforce she was reading and setting the remains of her sandwich aside. "This is a perfect time. I have meetings most of the afternoon."

"There’s a surprise," Linda said, sitting down. "Well, at least for today everything is OK in the design department. Our commute-resistant friend had agreed to telecommuting four days a week and coming in for one day. And Dave has agreed to learn how to manage a telecommuter. Let’s hope this plan lasts at least until Thursday."

Kathy laughed. "At least. Good work! Will I be sorry if I ask how the rest of our hiring is going?"

"You might be," Linda said. "We did fill four jobs last week. The rest are still open. I don’t want to sound like I’m whining, but this labor market has really caught up with us. I think every competent person in the labor force is employed. Last week, I felt like the only people showing up could trace their lineage directly to the Munsters or the Addams Family."

"That bad, huh?"

"That bad," Linda said emphatically. "I knew it was going to be a bad week when a man, with whom I shared history’s worst blind date, showed up for an interview. It was downhill from there. One applicant had visible head lice. One fell asleep during the interview, and another one was two hours late with no explanation."

Kathy was smiling in spite of herself, but Linda continued. "Oh, it gets better," she said. "I interviewed the last person to see Howard Hughes alive; he said he needed to work for a year while he wrote the tell-all book that would make him rich. Then, get this, one of the candidates for the director of manufacturing position asked me how often we schedule potty breaks." Linda held up her hand as if she were being sworn in as a juror. "I swear I’m not making this up. And here’s my favorite: Two applicants started talking to each other in the waiting area and figured out they had the same boyfriend. One of them pulled a knife on the other one."

Kathy was helpless with laughter. "I’m sorry," she said. "I know it isn’t funny, but it’s either laugh or cry."

"I tried crying," Linda said. "It didn’t help."

"I’ll have to remember that," Kathy said. "So where does that leave us?"

"With several open jobs, is the short answer," Linda said. "But for the long term, I think we need to have some discussions about the possibility of lowering our standards. I’m not saying we have to do it, but we should talk about the implications. And if we don’t do it, then I suggest we work on helping our managers understand the reality we’re facing. They’re getting less and less patient with the time it takes to fill these jobs, but they might be a little kinder if they understood the alternatives."

Kathy agreed. "Get with Sue. The two of you can set up a meeting for later this week, OK? Anything else?"

"Yes. Just so you don’t hear it from someone else first: One of the employees we hired through the temp agency has been collecting paychecks from us and submitting timesheets to the agency. It’s been going on for three months. I’m handling it."

Kathy nodded just as Sue opened the door. "I think you better get out here," she said.

1:10 p.m.
What’s going on?" Kathy asked.

Sue pointed at the phone on her desk; the speaker setting was on. Kathy heard a woman scream "Help! Someone please help!" In the background, it sounded as if bottles were breaking and heavy objects falling to the floor. "Stop! Stop!" the woman screamed.

There was more scuffling, then a man’s voice asking, "Are you all right, ma’am?"

The woman’s voice came back on the line. "Sue, I’m OK. I’ll call you back." And the line was dead.

"What the ..." Kathy started to say, but Sue interrupted.

"You won’t believe it. On Friday, we terminated an employee upstairs. Juan sat in on the meeting since you weren’t here. Anyway, the woman came in this morning and hit her former supervisor in the head with a coffee pot. I guess there was a lot of blood, and another employee who saw the whole thing called 911. The paramedics took the injured supervisor to the emergency room, and the police took the ex-employee into a conference room for questioning."

Sue paused for a breath. "Well, while she was in there, she said she was having a heart attack, so they called an ambulance for her. They took her to the same hospital as the supervisor. She had called me to talk about the incident when the ex-employee got away in the ER and attacked her again. I was listening to the whole thing when I got you."

Kathy felt sick to her stomach; she had hoped to have time to take some steps to prevent this sort of incident. She let out a deep breath. "I think our anti-violence initiative just moved to the top of our priority list. Please set up a meeting for first thing tomorrow with our attorney and an EAP counselor," she said to Sue. "Since Juan was at the termination meeting, have him there, too. And ask him to do some research on security firms. I want a list on my desk in the morning." She was still shaking. "And be sure I get the supervisor’s name and which hospital she’s in. I’ll stop by to see her on the way home." Sue nodded, but no one could think what to say.

2:45 p.m.
To calm down, Kathy had gone back into her office to answer some more voice-mail and e-mail. A supervisor complained about an employee who refused to comply with the dress code and had worn the same dress every day for five weeks. There was an e-mail that said simply, "I have CDL." Kathy started to forward it to the occupational health nurse when it dawned on her that perhaps it meant "California drivers’ license" and was in response to an ad they had placed for drivers. And there was a request to please check the air freshener in the men’s room. Kathy groaned, but at least, she reminded herself, none of it was a matter of life and death.

It was almost 3:00. Kathy would have to hurry to get to her meeting with Henry.

She was on her way out when Andy stopped her. The young HRMS administrator was positively beaming. "I’ve done some programming to fix a glitch in our system," he said proudly.

"That’s great," she said. "You’ll have to tell me all about it, but I’m late for a meeting ..."

Andy didn’t let her finish. "Let me show you," he said, gently directing her to his desk. "Here," he said, pointing a field on the screen. "This field was only accepting letters, and I reprogrammed it to accept numbers. It didn’t make any sense as it was. You can’t enter salaries as letters."

"Salaries as letters?" Kathy asked, confused.

"Right. Every time I tried to enter salary in this field it wouldn’t work. It does now!"

Kathy looked at the field. It was labeled "SAL." "Andy," she said evenly, "that field is for the salutation, not salary. Salary is on the next screen."

Andy gulped. Kathy hadn’t seen such an expression on anyone’s face since her mother had told her little brother that goldfish couldn’t survive in Alaska and he had run screaming to the refrigerator freezer compartment.

"Oh ..." Andy said.

"It’s OK," Kathy said. "We’ll talk about it tomorrow."

On her way out, she waved at the employee whose presence was still a mystery. He was working a crossword puzzle.

3:10 p.m.
Henry greeted Kathy warmly. It was clear that the CEO was glad to have her back. They talked briefly about Hawaii, but as usual, Henry got down to business quickly.

Kathy told him about the supervisor being attacked twice by a terminated employee, and told Henry that she thought it was time to take action in response to the threat of violence. He agreed, and told her that any program she developed would have his full support. Kathy was thrilled. The days of having to fight for everything were behind her; she had earned Henry’s trust and respect.

Next she shared the information she had seen earlier in her reports about staffing levels. She thanked him again for his support of the efforts to stop the downsizing cycle. "No need to thank me," he said. "You showed it was good for the business."

"Speaking of good for the business," she said. "Do you remember that about a month ago you asked me what my biggest surprise has been as VP of HR?"

Henry nodded.

"I told you that I was surprised how little training our managers get that we just throw them into their jobs and hope they succeed."

"I remember," he said.

"I still think that’s true, and I’m developing a training plan to propose. But I think there’s another issue here, too. I started to wonder about the jobs that managers do, and whether they were too big. I did some research on span of control. I found out that our managers have many more people reporting to them than in the average organization. Given that, I don’t think training is enough. I think we need to do some work in job redesign and probably compensation, too."

They discussed the issues for some time, and Henry filled her in on the discussion at the executive management meeting that had happened while she was away. The big item on the agenda was a proposed acquisition of a company based in France. If it happened, it would be the company’s first venture into global business, and would mean a slew of new challenges for HR.

Kathy reassured Henry that she was ready. "Any challenge that can be pondered over a café au lait and croissant can’t be all bad," she said.

4:35 p.m.
Kathy’s meeting with Henry had run longer than she had planned, and she was late for her meeting with Gary, the VP of finance. She decided she didn’t have time to go back to her office first and went to the end of the hall to run down the outside stairwell.

At the bottom, she rounded the corner to go inside and did a double take. Just outside the shipping department, several employees were standing inside a trash dumpster. She walked over to them.

"Gentlemen," she said. "What are you doing?"

"Nothing," they said in unison.

She wasn’t inclined to believe them anyway, but the sickly sweet smell in the air removed any doubt. "I see," she said. "It’s a little late for a break, isn’t it?"

"Busy day," one man said simply.

"I see," she said. Without another word, she went inside to Gary’s office. "Sorry I’m late," she said. "I was up with Henry. I need to use the phone for a second."

She dialed security. "Jack? Kathy Davis. Yes, again. There are several men smoking marijuana in a trash dumpster outside the shipping department. Can you send someone over and call the police? Thanks."

Gary arched an eyebrow. "Interesting day?" he asked.

"You have no idea," she said.

She and Gary had been working together for several weeks on a project to establish a center to track corporate costs. The idea was to consolidate data about costs in a single place so that the true cost of production and distribution could be determined, rather than having the costs tracked in several different places.

Kathy was supplying him with data about salaries, training, recruitment, benefits and other costs related to employees. She was also taking advantage of the time she and her staff had spent shadowing employees in production facilities to estimate productivity and time requirements of each task. All of the information would then be added to information being compiled by the sales and marketing team, among others.

Gary used the time to update her on progress made during the previous week, and to show her some minor discrepancies in the most recent set of numbers she had given him.

She promised to solve the discrepancy by the end of the week. She started to discuss some other elements of the program, but Gary interrupted.

"First day back from vacation, isn’t it?" he asked. She nodded. "Then go home. The glow should last at least 24 hours."

5:35 p.m.
Sue was just packing up to leave when Kathy got back to the HR department. Everyone else except the employee who had been waiting all day to see her had left. "Do we know yet why he was sent here?" Kathy asked. Sue shook her head.

"Maybe tomorrow then," Kathy said. "Have a good evening."

"Thanks," Sue said. "You’re not staying are you?"

"No. I’m going home to salvage what’s left of my vacation bliss."

"Good. See you in the morning," Sue said.

Kathy had only one voice-mail message. "How do you ever expect me to get married if the company insurance plan won’t pay for breast implants?" a woman asked.

Kathy decided that the question could be answered in the morning. She hit a speed-dial button to call Mike.

"Hi, honey," she said when he answered. "I’m leaving now. I’m going to stop briefly at the hospital, and then I’m through. I thought maybe we could meet somewhere for dinner. I have a few stories to tell you." Mike laughed and they made a plan. It would be a good, long dinner. Fortunately, "Ally McBeal" was a repeat.

On her way out, she apologized to the man who had been waiting so patiently. "I’m sure we’ll straighten it out tomorrow," she said.

"OK," he said. "You know, I’ve been watching things around here all day. I know a flight attendant who would be perfect for an HR job. Do you have an opening?"

Kathy just laughed.

Workforce, June 1999, Vol. 78, No. 6, pp. 34-52.