It was February 1997, and my first day at my new job! I’d been working crappy jobs for almost a year, and finally landed a decent-paying job with benefits and a promised raise within 3 months after my training period. I was to be a Project Manager at a small plastics engineering office that designed and developed prototypes of plastics products. I’d manage projects through this phase and then send them on to manufacturers for mass production. I was 27 years old.
When I’d been offered this position, I’d informed my new employer that I had agreed to finish designing a series of newsletters for one of my previous employers–another small company with limited resources. I stated that I may need to talk to my old employer briefly and occasionally while I finished up the final newsletter project. This would happen during the working day when my old employer was also at work and available. My new employer said, oh, of course, no problem, keep your commitment to your old employer.
So, on my first day at my new job, lunchtime came. I had my own office and had brought a sandwich for lunch. I also had to call my previous employer about the newsletter, so I decided to do that over my lunch break–thus, not using my working time at my brand new job. I closed the door of my office, called my previous employer using my office phone and my CALLING CARD which my parents had given to me years before for emergencies and odd situations. (Hardly anyone had cell phones in those days, and they were referred to as “car phones.” A calling card allowed a person to make a call from one phone, but charge the call to one’s own number.) I talked to the former employer on the phone for about 3 minutes, finished the call, hung up the phone, opened my office door, and ate my lunch. Then I went back to learning whatever it was I was supposed to be learning on my first day.
A couple of hours later, my boss, Steve, came into my office and sat down casually in the chair across from my desk. My thought: “First day on the job! He’s going to ask me how it’s going, and I’ll have an opportunity to ask questions, and we’ll talk about first-day stuff.”
The actual conversation went more like this:
STEVE (with a very casual, almost careless air): You know, I run a small company here. We pay the bills out of our profits, and it’s expensive to run a company. So, if someone were to make a long distance phone call, and it was a personal call, not work related, it would show up on our company phone bill and I would pay it. So if it is a personal phone call, then that employee is really stealing from the company.”
ME (stupidly, having no idea where he was going with this): Yes, I see what you are saying. I agree.
STEVE: So, as long as we agree about that, I’m glad we talked.
That was the end of the conversation. He walked out of my office.
I had no idea what that was all about, and didn’t really give it much thought. Because I know myself, I had no intention of ever making a long distance personal call and expecting my employer to pay for it. I always err on the side of being too ethical, especially in the workplace.
But as the months went by, I learned that Steve was paranoid. He bugged everyone’s phone using some service that the phone company provided, and listened to our calls later on in his office.
On my very first day, he was already taping my calls and had listened to my conversation with my former employer–and ASSUMED that I charged the phone call to my new company. I guess he also must have thought he was actually giving me a little “warning” when he came into my office and gave me The Talk. It was really The What For.
Throughout the next 7 months of my employement at Marche, I also learned he was a crook, a cheat, and a thief. He misused funds and was found guilty, in court, of not contributing funds to employees’ 401(k) accounts like he had committed to. I left the job after 7 months (another Horror story). Within another year or two, the company shut down because of Steve’s legal problems.
I’d never had someone question my integrity and honesty with no reason to do so. But as I’ve learned, it’s usually the people who have no integrity themselves, who assume that the rest of us don’t have integrity, either. That was certainly the case with Steve.