HR Issues – The Long Siesta – Out of Sight, Out of Mind

After the exposé in the press at the end of last year about the Italian council workers in the Riviera who were caught under surveillance clocking-in to work in their underwear then heading to the beach or back to bed, another story has recently hit the news.

Mr Garcia, a retired civil servant from Spain, has shot to fame in recent days and has brought international embarrassment to his country after it was discovered that he had taken a paycheck but failed to turn up for work for 6 years. Yes, 6 years, not 6 days or even 6 months. Incredulously, his absence was only discovered when he was being considered for a long-service award to reward his loyalty.

In the legal proceedings which followed, Mr Garcia was fined 27,000 euros (equivalent to a year’s salary) but in his defence, he claimed (amongst other things) that the Councillor in charge of Personnel at the time should also be disciplined for negligence, for failing to notice his absence and for failing to take any appropriate action to address this. It remains to be seen whether this will occur as this Councillor has now moved on but his argument is a difficult one to disagree with.

Although this is an extreme example which most of us will have found ridiculous, we can learn the following lessons from it:

  1. Mr Garcia was being sent to a remote outpost to work. This can be a common occurrence for some organisations but one which requires some thought. Prior to such a move, it is critical that in addition to safety considerations such as lone-working assessments being carried out, that proper management structures are put in place to ensure that no one is cast ‘adrift’ from the organisation. Supervisory and management activities might need to be amended to suit the situation, but crucially, there should still be an expectation that these activities will take place. Technology can also be utilised to both keep in touch and monitor if, necessary, work activities carried out from afar.
  2. In more general terms, every line manager should be expected to keep in regular and meaningful touch with all employees they are responsible for and to ensure that any absence, performance or conduct issues are identified and nipped in the bud where possible.
  3. Should any issues identified not be resolved, then formal investigation and action should be taken.
  4. Failure of a manager to conduct points 2 and/or 3 should lead to their performance being held to account by their own manager.
  5. Finally, for anyone to have slipped through the cracks to such an extent, suggests that the overarching structure of the organisation was ineffective. A line manager should not be someone who is so disconnected from an employee’s daily activities that regular communication and management activities cannot take place. This is not an issue which is unique to the civil service or indeed to Spain and thus it is worth thinking about this as an organisation grows and develops.
If you have any questions on any of the issues raised in the above article, please contact Wendy Meiklejohn.

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