Strange Stuff

Before I tell you about a few “strange” incidents I encountered, lemme first say that I am dead-set against the use of headphones in the workplace. (Not headsets, duh, but headphones.)

I truly believe that they’re somewhat counter-productive & prevent one from truly concentrating 100% on the task at hand.

I’m sure many managers & leaders have differing positions in this topic, but whatever…

And, yes, I fully understand the “soothing music makes for a wonderful atmosphere” thingie, but deep down inside, I’m just not convinced that one’s brain can devote 100% to the important task at hand…if any of its other senses are activated & “capturing” some of its attention.

And if the headphones are “necessary” to drown out annoying noise (Chatty Cathy, loud neighbors, machinery, etc.) in the work area, then you need to DIRECTLY ADDRESS the source & resolve the problem…not just put a damned band-aid on the wound!

When I ran Customer Service for Lehman Brothers, I actually had a rep who started to use a headphone…while she was wearing her Cust Svce headset!

That was a first.

To be truthful, I’d never seen nor heard of that practice before.

We had a private conversation in my office about it.

She was a good rep…a very bright girl with good performance. Personally, I felt that she had the necessary intelligence & abilities to excel, but I wasn’t as sure about her drive.

Anyway, we talked about her unique arrangement.

She explained that she suffered from migraine headaches & that her doctor felt that soothing music…she actually listened to classical music, but you wouldn’t have guessed it in a hundred million years…could prove helpful in preventing them.

I asked if he specifically prescribed this practice for her & whether he was completely familiar with her exact position & responsibilities here.

She admitted that it was more of a general recommendation.

We talked about how I felt it was impossible to fully concentrate on the customer, much less hear them clearly, when she’s wearing a headphone in one ear.

(Note: We has different headset models available for our people, with one or two earpieces. She had the 1-ear model & wore her headphone in the other.)

And while I could (somewhat) empathize with her situation, I seriously doubted if her doctor fully realized exactly how her work environment operated.

In discussing her situation with her, she admitted to not having any migraine-related incidents at work.

I asked her to pls stop wearing the headphone for awhile & that we would meet again to see what happened & discuss next steps.

She stopped.

Two weeks later, we sat down again & talked.

She hadn’t suffered any migraines during that period. And, not surprisingly so, there was a noticeable improvement in her performance.

No, not a dramatic rise as if there was some sort of epiphany occurring, but there was definitely a noticeable improvement, especially in her overall productivity.

We agreed to keep this process in place until/unless she suffered another migraine.

And as long as I was there, she didn’t have another episode.

Yeah, I know exactly how to spell “naive”…Do you think it’s just coincidental that it’s “Evian” backwards? 🤔…but I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt!

And while my BS radar was, indeed, activated & my spider sense tingling…it’s called a “learned response”… she never caused any issues whatsoever & was a good employee.

A few years later, I was running the Southeast Service Center for First American/CoreLogic (a property tax servicing company for mortgage banks) in St. Petersburg, FL. Interestingly enough, First American was the property tax servicing vendor for Lehman Brothers.

We were basically a clerical & investigative shop, though we did handle incoming calls as well as make outgoing ones.

Again, the headphone situation.

This time, I was much more lenient due to the nature of the business, though I did warn the staff that if I could hear whatever they were playing (especially when I walked around), the practice would end immediately.

Then, one day, during my travels, I noticed something on one of the employee’s workstations.

I called her into my office when she returned from lunch.

“Renita, are you listening to books being read through your headphones while you’re working?”

“Uh, yes, Mike. You even said that it was OK for us to wear headphones.”

“Yes, but I meant soft music playing in the background. Under no circumstances will I allow you, or anyone, to listen to those audible books while you’re trying to do your work.

“You guys handle complicated investigations & there’s no humanly way possible to concentrate on both your work & what the person is reading aloud to you at the same time!”

“But I can, Mike!”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t agree at all. I’m asking you now to please discontinue the process.”

“But you allow everyone else to listen to their stuff!”

“They’re not listening to audible books while trying to do their work. It is impossible to do both of them effectively at the same time. Impossible.”

“So you’re telling me that only I have to stop?”

I knew EXACTLY what she had up her sleeve.

Being brutally honest here, she was nothing but a troublemaker.

She had the worst performance level of any employee at the site. She had an unacceptable attendance & punctuality record. Every single word that came out of her mouth at staff meetings or training sessions was negative, sarcastic or caustic.

The whole world was wrong & only she was right.

Nothing was enough to satisfy her.

“No, Renita, I’m not gonna just forbid you from wearing your headphones. I’m a lot more intelligent than you think.

“Effective immediately, no employee will be allowed to wear any headphones in the office. And don’t hesitate to tell them why in case they ask you.”

Can you believe her audacity?

How can you possibly pay attention to what someone is reading to you while you’re supposed to be concentrating on complicated, very detailed-oriented investigations? Investigations where you may be required to manually plot out land maps based on written specifics & then compare same to the official land maps of the county?

Not sure anyone can even watch TV & be on their phones at the same time. Not going back & forth between the two, but concentrating on both of them simultaneously…with no deterioration in comprehension whatsoever for either of the two media.

I can’t. Thank God for the < button!

Oh, BTW, one night, she left a 3-page letter about me, taped to my boss’s door. Claimed I was being prejudiced against her. Claimed that she had no problems at all & that I was merely picking on her.

My boss (Jim Courtney, an ABSOLUTELY GREAT guy) let me know what he read & asked me to prepare some documentation about her.

He said he will be meeting with her at 11:00 this morning & that while I will be there as well, he specifically said that I wasn’t to say a word.

Not a single word.

Unless he asked me a question.

I complied. (There was no mention whatsoever of making faces or suddenly coughing.)

He asked her about the headphones situation.

He actually said to her, “Are you kidding me? You were listening to books & didn’t think it would impact your work?”

(Note: Her unit of 6-7 people were responsible, amongst several other things, for handling incoming calls from the counties in the states we serviced (Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi & Alabama), plus Puerto Rico. I created a programmable “circular hunt group” so incoming calls were spread evenly amongst the people & the people’s phones rang audibly. That was even further reason on why headphones in that unit was simply not practical.)

Then he asked her what she thought about her attendance record.

“Maybe 2 or 3 days this past year”, she replied.

In my mind, I fainted & simultaneously roared in laughter!!! (See, you CAN divide your brain in two & have each side concentra…)

He pulled out the report I compiled that listed 9 absences, 3 latenesses & 4 leaving work earlier (at least 2 hours each).

She feigned shock.

“Here, you can have this listing in case you want to compare this against your personal records.”

And then he brought out her performance charts.

Those clearly showed her levels to be “below standard” in every single category. In addition, she was the lowest-ranking performer in her area & the entire service center. (BTW, these performance records had already been reviewed with her by her immediate manager every month. In addition, she already received 2 formal warnings regarding her attentions & was already on “formal documentation” (disciplinary action) for it!!!)

I just sat there, trying my best not to smile broadly or laugh at her nonsense.

He also mentioned, “I’ve sat in on a few staff meetings that Mike held with all you guys. I’m sure you probably noticed me there. And to be honest, I really wasn’t pleased with how you behaved. Your tone of voice & the noises you would make were totally disrespectful to Mike & the other employees. I never heard you raise a legitimate issue…just complain about stuff.”

I was beaming on the inside. One would think it had yellow fever.


So now, you’re asking yourself, “What message is he (me) trying to get across with these 2 headphone examples?”

Nothing special. Really.

Perhaps the fact that “the truth is stranger than fiction” or “you’re never gonna know what crazy situation you may face at work today”?

Like the Boy Scout motto goes…be prepared!


As always, thank you so very much for listening!

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