Where There’s Smoke

By Kit Goldman, President of Workplace Training Network, Inc.

Annette: a supervisor at a fictional company or government agency
Jeff: an employee in her department

SCENE: Annette is in her group’s work area. Jeff enters. He’s late.

A: (checks watch) Nice of you to drop by.

J: Hey, I’m sorry. You know, it’s amazing. We can explore distant galaxies, but we can’t get the elevators to work. I was 15 minutes early until I hit every red light. Then I get here with no time to spare and the elevator parks itself on 2 for 10 minutes.

A: You could have taken the stairs.

J: I can’t do stairs. I have acrophobia.

A: Acrophobia?

J: Fear of heights.

A: (disbelieving) One flight of stairs triggers your fear of heights?

J: It’s an illness. If you don’t have it you can’t understand.

A: Actually, that’s one of the more imaginative excuses I’ve heard for being late. I’ll give you style points for that one.

J: Sure, treat it like a joke. Everyone else does. It’s a medical disability. Believe me, there’s nothing funny about it. (looks around) Where is everyone?

A: Training. On the new system. Started at 8. You were scheduled for that.

J: What? Today? I didn’t know about that.

A: Sure you did. I sent out a notification 3 weeks ago and 2 follow-up emails. Anyway, you’re here now. I’ve been meaning to talk with you. Now’s as good a time as any.

J: I’ve been meaning to talk with you, too (has coughing spasm).

A: Nice cough. You sound like my old VW on a wet morning. You OK?

J: Sure. I work hard. I play hard. I cough hard. I’m fine. I’m asthmatic. So’s my kid. I was at the hospital with him ‘til 4 in the morning. That’s another reason I’m late.

A: I’m sorry to hear that. So, Jeff, I’m concerned about you.

J: “Concerned”. I believe that’s a euphemism for “you’re in trouble”?

A: Can I be straight with you.

J: Probably not, since you came to the Halloween party as Wayne Newton (sings a little “Danke Schoen”)

A: Stifle the jokes, Jeff. We’ve got a problem.

J: We? You have a mouse in your pocket?

A: Ok, fine. You’ve got a problem.

J: What problem? Coming in late today? I told you, the problem was the elevator, and my sick kid.

A: The elevator didn’t make the other employees late. Do you think it knows who you are and is out to get you? And we all deal with family issues and still get to work on time. The problem is your attitude, your conduct.

J: What attitude? What conduct?

A: To start with, you’ve been hostile and aggressive with me and everyone else around here.

J: Oh really? Since when?

A: Actually, I reflected on that this morning while I was waiting for you to show up. It’s been going on for a while, maybe 6 months, but it only just recently became something I felt I had to act on. I’ve gotten complaints about your behavior, Jeff…

J:…complaints from who?….

A: I’m not going to name names. Who is irrelevant. It’s what that’s important. There’s also the chronic lateness, the missed deadlines. You were a top notch employee when you transferred in here. What’s happened?

J: Oh come on, Annette. You know what’s going on. First off, I’ve been passed over for 2 Project Leader assignments this year which I absolutely should have had. You gave them to Rich and Vicki, who also get perks I deserve just as much they do, but I never get…

A: …hold on, hold on. My decision about those assignments were based strictly on performance. As I mentioned, yours has been going downhill for a while….

J: …Really? Then how come my last performance evaluation was so positive?

A: I was trying to be supportive and motivate you, so I gave you the benefit of the doubt. The fact is, your performance has been deficient.

J: That’s the first I’ve heard about it. But tell you what, if there are problems with my work it’s because of what I have to put up with from other people…

A: Again, blaming problems on everything but yourself. And as for the perks you mentioned, are you implying there’s some sort of favoritism going on?

J: Not implying it, I’m saying it straight out. I don’t get the perks they get, but my workload keeps increasing. I’m pretty much doing a 2-person job, which would be hard enough in a positive situation, but stuff goes on here, which I know you know about, Annette, that would affect anybody’s performance. The constant put-downs, jokes about my acrophobia, innuendoes about my sexual orientation – and by the way I am not gay, I’ve been married 20 years and have 4 kids — that’s a rumor Vicki started and of course the rumor mill’s the most efficient system in this place….

A: Did you say something to Vicki? Let her know you were offended?

J: of course I did

A: Well, I wasn’t aware of any put downs or rumors. If I had been, I’d have put a stop to it.

J: Are you kidding? You’ve been right there when it’s happened. Then again, you’ve made it clear your focus is strictly on the bottom line and you don’t want to get involved in “personal conflicts”. In fact, I figured one of the reasons I didn’t get that last assignment was because I made the mistake of coming in and complaining about Vicki getting to go to the conference in DC instead of me.

A: That’s outrageous. Nothing could be further from the truth….

J: ….In fact, right after I complained, Vicky upped the ante on her offensive behavior. I figured you 2 were colluding to make things so miserable for me I’d leave.

J: I’m going to ignore that insult. You need to take responsibility for your actions, Jeff. I’m giving you a verbal warning about these ongoing problems with your work, your attitude and your conduct. I need to see improvement.

J: (rising, angry) A warning? When I’m busting my…doing a 2 person job? Nobody could handle my workload and what’s going on in my personal life and show up on the dot every day looking like a happy face! I’m so wiped out I can barely get out of bed in the morning. But what do you care? That’s not your problem. All you care about is the bottom line looks good and we don’t bother you with complaints, even about things that clearly violate our policy and probably the law.

A: (rises) You’re stepping over the line. This meeting is over. I’ll document the warning and give you a copy.

J: Look, Annette…I’m sorry…for the way I spoke to you. I was probably out of line. I’m under a lot of pressure in my life right now. A lot. My kid’s asthma is going crazy. We’ve been to emergency twice this week. I’ve got my own medical problems. Norma lost her job. It’s tough. So I don’t need more problems when I come to work.

A: Well, I’m sorry you’re having such a rough time. Truly I am. Everyone’s got personal problems. Me included. But we all have to leave those problems outside the door when we come to work.

J: Thanks for being so compassionate.

A: Believe me, I’m trying to be, but you’re making it very tough.

J: (rises, moves to door) Tough? Watch. It can get a lot tougher. This is hopeless. You don’t want to listen? Fine. I’ll go talk to H.R. Or maybe just take things into my own hands….

A: Jeff…Jeff!…wait! (To audience) Not the outcome I wanted. Obviously. What could I have done? What do I do now?

©This script is the property of Workplace Training Network and may not be utilized for any purpose without express permission of WTN, La Mesa CA