Terminated employee took company property

Lynne Curry

Q. We just terminated a supervisor who was a real pain. Unfortunately, it took our senior manager so long to make the decision that enormous anger had built up between both men.

As office manager, I'd felt caught between these two men's egos and was relieved the war was over.

It isn't. After the supervisor left shouting, the senior manager told me he'd forgotten to ask for the supervisor's cell phone and iPad. Both have confidential company information on them.

What do we do?

A. Call the supervisor. Because you're a more neutral party, you may be able to prevail on his integrity and get him to return both pieces of equipment.

If your company has confidentiality agreements or other policies that state that all company property must be returned at the end of employment, remind him of that.

Alternatively, you can remotely wipe the cell phone. Unfortunately you may not be able to recover the iPad without threatening legal action.

You're not alone in this challenge. According to the Ponemon Institute, an independent data protection organization, nearly 60 percent of terminated employees report that they retained sensitive company information after leaving their jobs.

Moving forward, an employer can best protect company equipment and proprietary materials by establishing clear policies and outlining them in an employee handbook signed by every employee on day one. If you don't have such a policy, create one now, and have every employee sign a statement documenting his understanding that -- should he leave the company -- he must return cell phones, laptops, portable drives and access codes.

Q. I'm always interrupting other people. I don't mean to and I realize I'm offending some but I just don't seem to be able to stop myself. Why do I do this and how do I stop it?

A. We tend to speak and listen at the speed of sound, somewhere between 80 and 180 words a minute. Individuals who primarily process information auditorily have no problem pacing themselves to fully listen to what others say before adding their own comments.

Individuals who primarily process information visually take it in at the speed of light, the equivalent of 900 to 1,400 words a minute. Thus, if you process visually, your thoughts race ahead of another's speech.

Further, what others say generally bores or interests you. When bored, thoughts spring forward in your mind and occasionally spill out of your mouth. When excited, you mentally participate in the conversation and speak before you realize you're interrupting.

The best fixes include, first, remembering you already know your thoughts and really want to hear the other person's views. Second, create pain for yourself. Choose a dollar amount you'd find painful to lose. Every time you interrupt someone, give this money to your favorite charity. Chances are, by the time you've reached a thousand dollars, you'll have learned to stop yourself.

Q. Two ladies in our office got into it last week when one thought she had a right to information the other refused to hand over. First one and then the other came storming into my office. I spoke with each, told each I could understand where she was coming from and thought the situation was resolved.

Unfortunately, the situation devolved into a cold war. Now neither lady speaks to the other; both have pulled others aside to explain their side of the dispute.

How do I fix this sandbox situation?

A. Small incidents turn into festering drama when two people won't let go of their rightness. What each of your battling employees needs to realize is that either of them can end the turmoil if she stops trying to prove her co-worker is wrong.

Meanwhile, you had a hand in this. By assuring each you saw her point, you left the conflict half-resolved.

Finish what you started. Bring both back in and let each know the other had a point as well. Further, once each employee walks into the workplace, she can't choose who she'll talk with if it interferes with productivity.

Finally, let both know they need to cut it out.

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at thegrowthcompany.com.