When no employee is better than a new employee



Whom you hire matters. You always want the best staffers on your team [1], but both the job market and overall economics factor into personnel decisions too. Perhaps you’ve seen it for yourself in the current tech boom [2]; I’m reminded of a story from the dot-com years when demand was fierce, and it seemed that anybody with a pulse could get hired to work in IT roles — sometimes to less than ideal results.


Back then, many startups — whether or not they had a practical business model — vied for job candidates with certain skill sets. Employers often paid big bucks to tech personnel, even ones just out of college and with no experience [3]. In this gold rush, many people left their existing jobs to seek positions with higher pay; at the same time, recruiters and companies actively tried to hire employees away from their current positions — offering as much as 50 percent higher salary and truckloads of perks.


[ For more IT stories, read InfoWorld’s “Stupid user tricks 7: True tales of extreme brain fail [4].” | Get your weekly dose of workplace shenanigans by following Off the Record on Twitter [5] and subscribing to the Off the Record newsletter [6]. ]


Such offers were tempting, but I didn’t change jobs because many of these new startups didn’t have viable business plans, which I found to be a red flag. Also, I liked my job and my manager. I worked at a traditional tech company in the department that fielded support for our customers. Like many businesses in the tech field, we too had to hire more people for the increased volume of service calls.


But competition for employees was red-hot. Our more traditional company couldn’t offer as much as these startups, but unlike many of them that required 12-hour days seven days a week, we had more normal work hours. At the same time, many people wanted the bigger bucks, so it was difficult for us to hire and keep talented staff. We were supposed to double the number of field support engineers in our department so that we could add even more customers — easier said than done. It was a very slow process.


Thanks for the help, but stay out
I was the senior engineer at the company, and normally my manager would ask my opinion before hiring a new person. But one time, a new tech was hired when I was on an extended offsite project. When I got back, my manager introduced the New Guy to me. My first impression of him was not positive, but I hoped I was wrong. After all, it was another person to share the workload.


One of my duties was to train the new hires and get them up to speed as quickly as possible. We normally didn’t send new hires out into the field at first; instead, we had them fix issues in-house for at least the first weeks.


I soon noticed the New Guy was very sloppy in his work habits. For example, he’d grab memory modules barehanded when not at the ESD workstation and walk across carpets with them as if it wasn’t a problem. His resume indicated he’d graduated from a local tech school, so I expected better.


More and more new computers started coming back to us after the New Guy had done the configurations. Some were DOA items — to be expected — but that’s how we found out about the New Guy’s disregard for ESD practices.


He seemed to think he knew better than anyone else how things should be done. For example, one corporate customer specified that their desktop computers were to be configured a specific way. The New Guy decided to deviate from the configuration sheet. Why? He thought it would be better with his arrangement. All those desktops came back to us to be reconfigured — at our expense.


The beginning of the end
About two weeks later, my manager asked me what I thought about the New Guy. I told him my impression wasn’t very positive and explained why, both from a workload perspective and the drain on the company’s time and money. My manager said to give it a couple more weeks.


Two weeks passed and I didn’t think we should keep him. But my manager said it was hard to hire anybody, so he kept the New Guy on the payroll. After another week, my manager started to schedule him for field support calls.


Amazingly, things went OK the first week. But as time passed, we started to get more complaints about the New Guy, seemingly from every company he visited. Still, my manager refused to do anything about it because we needed the staff.


Complaints ranged from vague statements (“He’s so unprofessional”) to the more specific — for instance, he swapped users’ computers without telling them. As senior engineer, I got to handle all the “hot” issues, and a few times had to fix the problem he created on top of the problem he was supposed to address because the customer was threatening to drop us as their support vendor. Lucky me! Around four months passed before my manager decided to let him go.


Even though we were down an employee, we were much better off after the New Guy’s employment was terminated. There were very few complaints from that point, not only from our customers but also from other techs in the department. Most of all, we didn’t have to waste time and energy cleaning up his messes. Just because there’s another person filling an open position doesn’t mean the company gets what it pays for [7].

Send your own crazy-but-true tale of managing IT, personal bloopers, supporting users, or dealing with bureaucratic nonsense to offtherecord@infoworld.com [8]. If we publish it, you’ll receive a $50 American Express gift cheque.

This story, “When no employee is better than a new employee [9],” was originally published at InfoWorld.com [10]. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog [11] at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter

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