That's why you don't send in IT to do HR's job

A techie's slip of the tongue exposes shaky HR and IT practices at a travel company with a high turnover rate

As IT pros, we deal with the tech side of a company, but the line between those tasks and personnel issues can be very faint. Here's a story of when I made an assumption based on established patterns and kicked up a mess of an employee departure.

At the time of this story, I worked in IT for a 150-person wholesale travel company. The majority of the employees were reservation agents in their early- to mid-20s, most of them female, and office romances were not forbidden. You can imagine the drama that ensued on a regular basis, which was a source of vicarious entertainment for those of us doing routine IT tasks.

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A revolving door

But I digress. This story is about those of us -- well, yours truly -- who managed the tech side of these employees' comings and goings. Due to a combination of youth, mediocre pay, low work ethic (of some), and office romances, we saw significant turnover from month to month. It wasn't unusual in a two-week period to add five or six new employees, while also removing just as many from the various systems.

Our department was in charge of such tasks as imaging the computers and setting up email. Our main reservation system ran on an IBM AS/400, which meant we were blessed -- or stuck, depending upon your point of view -- with the Lotus Notes suite. We took advantage of the built-in databases and created a New/Departed Employee database to ease the process of tracking user setup.

There were unspoken rules about how this worked. When management notified us on a Friday to take someone off the system, you knew that person was getting their walking papers. On the other hand, when you got a request several days in advance of when someone was to be removed from the system, you knew that the employee had found another job and was moving on of their own accord.

A seemingly routine request

One Tuesday, I opened my in-box to find a user delete request from management. It was set to take place several days later on Friday, so I knew this employee was off to better things. I didn't know this particular user well -- we'll call her "Matilda."

Friday came along, and I was in the server room working on a typical maintenance issue: low drive space on our Notes mail server. Back in the days of smaller, expensive SCSI drives, Notes had an odd default behavior of automatically including attachments with every email reply. Meanwhile, our young users would constantly forward huge video clips to each other and to people outside the company.

Despite our repeated pleas, upper management had no backbone to put a lid on this type of behavior or even institute email quotas -- perhaps in part because the CEO was the biggest offender. With every video sent and the requisite "That's cool!" reply, the massive attachments showed up multiple times per user, and the drives regularly filled up.

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