Just when I begin to take God at work for granted and, even worse, begin to think that I myself am contributing to the harmonious work climate, God shows me who really is in charge of my office -- and it is not me. Those reminders always vividly, even dramatically, take me aback.
On Thursday, I had to transfer an employee to another directorate. Since most employees do not want to transfer out of my division (this is a good thing), I usually am the one to deliver them the bad news. Most express concern. Some express resistance, but, of course, must accept the transfer because the good of the organization is the factor that weighs the strongest. Health is the most frequent reason for transferring individuals out of my division since all my employees must be able to travel internationally.
So, given a situation where an employee had developed some serious health problems, the program manager had made the decision to transfer him to a division doing similar work but not requiring travel. This looked to be an open-and-shut case. The employee did not want to travel and would not sign the annual paperwork, agreeing to travel. No need to pray about this one! Piece of cake! When I met together with the employee and program manager, however, the employee became hostile, demanded that we grant him an exception to policy (which is never done because it would open a Pandora’s box of many people wanting exceptions and we would not have enough travelers to accomplish our work), and implied that he had documents that he had retained on both of us that would make us do whatever he wanted us to do.
Later in the day, he brought a sealed envelope to my secretary. In it was a copy of some personnel correspondence I had had with another employee that, on the surface and out of context, could definitely be misconstrued. He had gotten the file when the other employee’s computer had been broken and the two employees had shared one computer. The correspondence, which was innocent enough but out of context could look embarrassing since it discussed religious issues in personal ways, had been left accidentally on the shared computer. The employee in question, seemingly a docile individual, had retained that correspondence for nearly five years, apparently holding it for a time that he could use it to compel me to do something that he wanted to have done, and the time had come. Blackmail!
The employee had miscalculated. As a rugged individualist from New England, to use Emerson’s archetypal image, I do not accept blackmail. In fact, had I been wavering about perhaps granting an exception, the attempted blackmail sealed the fate of the individual in question: he will be transferred without delay.
Since blackmail is a felony both under US law and under California law, punishable in both cases by heavy fines and imprisonment, I am now confronted with a difficult decision: to prosecute or not prosecute. Employees who blackmail employers under California law generally lose their jobs. The same might happen if I share the situation with our human resources people, which I may have to do for more than one reason, e.g., any potential long-term, post-transfer ramifications, including the possibility that once transferred the employee will release the document to colleagues and my supervisory chain. If I do not share the information with our personnel and legal team, I may end up having lost the opportunity for defense later, but the employee, who is elderly, in poor health, and responsible for a family with serious medical problems, will not lose a job he desperately needs and the salary for which he cannot replicate. Do I take the risk of ultimate professional damage or does the employee get hurt deeply and immediately? Obviously, now God has a more difficult problem to solve for me!
This all happened because I, too, had miscalculated. Even in seemingly small things and things that seem to be life as usual with no difficulties anticipated, I do need God’s help and presence. Not praying about all of it is arrogance. Thinking I can handle any part of it is perfect evidence of that lack of humility and my continuing need to develop more, i.e. a continuing need for continuing conversion.
(Oh, by the way, prayers are welcomed!)
Also posted on 100th Lamb: "Today's Mess."