Some managers believe that the rules are meant to be manipulated to fit their goals, which keeps the employees guessing and trying to figure out the best way to handle a sticky situation. But what's really surprising is when these managers are rewarded by the company for such actions.
Back years ago when I was a newbie just learning the ways of the business and ignorant about labor laws, I turned in my first time card. My supervisor, "Phil," looked at it briefly and handed it back to me.
"We can't have overtime in this department. It's not allowed," he said.
I was surprised and thought this was odd. Other departments had overtime, sometimes -- or so I had been told.
But this was my first job after graduating with my tech degree, and I felt the pressure to do well. I had decided to do whatever I had to do to make this situation work.
I wrote a new card and turned it in: 40 hours on the button. I kept the old one and looked up the fine print in my employee manual. The policy was plain and both allowed and compensated for a certain amount of overtime. It was also plain that our department was not following that policy.
Phil had become department manager fairly recently. He had hired me soon after, along with a couple of others, to produce documentation for the software product the company sold. He was new to the company, just as I was, so we were all finding our feet.
After awhile, I learned that Phil was doing whatever he could to stick with the department's budget -- no matter what. It's as if that's the way he was measuring his own success as a manager. If we had to work extra hours without pay, that's the way it would be. From what I could tell, nobody challenged it.
I was with the company for only a year. Some weeks I worked 40 hours, some weeks were longer. But I always wrote my time card just the way Phil wanted it: exactly 40 hours.
Except for the overtime issue, I enjoyed working with Phil and learned a great deal. But I knew the job for me was temporary and had been sending out resumes. Eventually, I got an offer from another company that would mean a promotion, better pay, and increased responsibilities.
In my exit interview, HR asked me about my year with the company. They wanted to know what I liked most, what I liked least, and what I would have changed if I could.
I mentioned in passing that I thought it odd that I had turned in time cards for 40 hours every week, while in reality the hours had varied a great deal. My interviewer took notes.
About a month into my new job, I got a call from one of my old co-workers. She said she had been interviewed by HR and that it seemed likely that everyone in the department had been also. They wanted to know how many hours of overtime we had been working, without noting this on our time sheets.
As we talked, I remembered my exit interview. "I think this all might be my fault," I said and told her about my conversation with HR.
"I'm not sure what is going to happen. I think Phil is in trouble," she said.
"Have they told you anything? What are they going to do?" I wanted to know.
"I have no clue," she replied.
I was curious about what would happen with the situation, but I certainly didn't expect a check from the company to arrive in the mail. There was a letter with it, explaining there had been a mistake in calculating my pay, and that with this check they expected to make up the difference. I was surprised at the amount. How had they figured that number? I had no records except that first time card. Maybe this was their best estimate.
I called my friend. She, too, had received a check. She couldn't justify the amount -- it seemed random to her. It seemed to me that the company, as best they could, had paid back Phil's employees the extra hours worked.
"So," I asked her, "What happened to Phil?" I wondered if he was he fired? Disciplined? Had she talked with him? Was he angry?
But I was surprised one more time by the situation. She replied that Phil had a new job, with the same company: Director of IT.