I hope you can give me some direction. My husband works for a commercial electric company that has several locations across the US. The company has been suffering financially and in March 2009 a memo was sent to employees offering possible transfer opportunities. He continued employed out of Florida with travel to other states in order to continue working. He is a field foreman, and his last work site came to completion one week ago with no more work in our region. He was terminated with a rehire status for 60 days.

His HR manager is someone he has worked with closely in the past when he held an in-house position. They have never seen eye to eye. When my husband reached out to him inquiring about transfer opportunities to the west coast, it came as no surprise not to receive an answer. He left several messages for him for one week. We are a single income family, with 3 young children. Having spent the last year apart has drained us financially and more importantly emotionally.

As my husband continued to search for employment, I took out the March memo regarding transfer opportunities and began to call the HR managers listed, starting with his direct hr manager-no answer. The letter explained that any of the managers could be contacted and they would be happy to help all being privy to the same information. I was successful in reaching 2 out of 9, I explained why I was calling and not my husband and they were very helpful and understanding. They both stated the need for foreman in their areas and we should expect a call back after the weekend. At that point I told my husband what I had done and he put another call into his hr manager, leaving a message that I had called and he should expect a call from them possibly asking for recommendations.

Monday morning rolled in and he finally got the call back from his hr manager: “how unprofessional of you having your wife call….west coast has no work….maybe one of the areas has a need but not for a foreman rather a journeyman….” said his hr manager. What can we do–it seems to us that he is not being forthright. We were told that there is a need for him in those areas. I want to call back his hr manager and try to appeal to him on a human factor, we met several times and he seemed like a nice man when he was with his wife. I would like for him to know why I took it upon myself to call. I do not know if I should call back the other hr managers that had said they would call me back. We do not want to lose his tenure, pension, and job. Thank you in advance for your attention.

The first thing you can do is put down the phone. There are only a few times when a spouse should call their beloved’s boss/hr and this isn’t one of them. (Incidentally, the times spouses should call are when your husband/wife is in the hospital and unable to pick up a phone and call, and to inform the company that your spouse has died. There may be one or two other situations where it is appropriate, but really, this is something that should be used with extreme caution.)

You wanted to help. I totally get that. It is frustrating to have an out of work spouse. It’s even more frustrating when you know that there aren’t 12 other jobs just waiting for him. But, this is his battle and you have to let him fight it.

The HR managers were nice and helpful, because that’s what we are. (See, nice and evil!) But, all of them were thinking, “uggh, I hate it when the wife calls.” Incidentally, while I’ve received a ton of calls from wives over the years, I’ve never received a single call from a husband. The question I always have running in the back of my mind is, “Why isn’t your husband calling me? Does he not want the job? Does he not care? Does he know you are doing this? Did he ask you to do this?” All of these make him look worse, not better.

Appealing to the “human” side by emphasizing the single income family doesn’t necessarily work either. Everybody needs the money. That’s why we have jobs. (Okay, I did have one employee ask if his entire salary could be deferred because he was so phenomenally wealthy that getting money was just a pain. But that’s rare.) I’m not going to make decisions based on who “needs” the job more. I’m not saying that such things aren’t ever taken into consideration, but they shouldn’t be.

So what can you do? Well, you be supportive of your husband. Polish up your own resume and start looking for work.

What can he do? It may be time to realize that he is going to have to leave this company. If there has been a massive work slowdown, he’s not the only foreman looking for a new job. Absolutely pursue whatever is out there, but start looking outside the company as well.

If possible, leave HR out of internal search. (I say if possible, because I don’t know the company’s policies or practices and I don’t want him getting in trouble.) Have him send his resume directly to the hiring manager. Express his desire to relocate (perhaps even at his own expense—depends on the situation).

Times are tough for a lot of people right now. Granted, that isn’t comforting, but it is reality.

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9 thoughts on “Being (un)Helpful

  1. I absolutely agree! I am an HR person myself who was cringing when I heard that she called. Not a good move. I am also an HR person who had to polish up the resume and go back to work after enjoying time at home with my son. The best thing to do to support your spouse and family is to do what you have to do…get out there and get a job even if it's not your first preference. Home life is a privilege. Not a right.

  2. The wife should never ever call. This tells me the husband is lazy and most likely will not be a good employee. He cannot even pick up the phone to call about a job! I cannot tell you how many times I have had these conversations with the wives only to find out the husband does not want the job…the wife wants him to get the job. Because of this I no longer have these conversations with the wife. I politely ask her to have the husband call me.

    But whats done is done.

    It sounds like you are getting the run around from HR. Was your husband a good employee? This sounds exactly like the kind of thing you hear from HR when they really don't want to transfer you for one reason or another and they don't want to tell you why. I would start to look elsewhere.

  3. The only time that someone other than you should call about your job is when you're dead or too sick to do it. Period. End of story. No wives, no helicopter parents, no partners.

    Yes, your writer is getting the run around. Also, she's metaphorically shot her husband in the foot with a very large weapon. I'd assume his career is dead at his current job, and start looking harder.

  4. Sound advice, and the only thing I can add is that this applies to moms too. No, I'm not impressed when a mom is calling me to inquire about jobs for her son or daughter – I don't care where the kid graduated from or what the kids done in the past. If a parent has to call, then I'm not interested.

  5. I agree with EHRL and everyone else who has commented. If the husband can't be bothered to make the calls himself then I, as an HR person/hiring manager, am going to assume that either he:

    1. Doesn't want the job.

    2. Wants the job but can't figure out how to navigate these things himself, and since he's applying for a skilled position this would not bode well for him.

    3. Has a wife that's overly involved in her husband's work like and will continue to be overinvolved after I hire him, much to my annoyance.

    4. Wants the job but is to lazy to do the work to get it himself.

    In any case, if I would have considered hiring him, I certainly wouldn't after the wife called. I have to agree that she's most likely ruined any chance her husband has of getting a position now.

    My advice for what it's worth: The husband should update his resume and start looking for new work with another company, and so should the wife.

  6. Okay, agreed wife calling was not a smart move. But, HR people are not all saints (yes, there I said it!). Yes, HR people can be jerks too. We all know it but deign to say it. This HR person could be the a-hole in the situation and this guy and his family are suffering because of it. He can go over the HR person's head since it doesn't seem that he's getting anywhere and HR may have it in for him. Normally, I wouldn't advise doing so but he's already on the HR person's __it list so what the heck?

  7. EHRL…very interesting insight…I agree also that I've had many a wife call (inappropriately yup), but never a husband..hmm…

  8. Possibly devil's advocate here…

    Yes, in general I think unless you are dead, or too sick to pick up the phone, spouse's (parents, etc etc) should not call about work.

    However, in the letter she stated "I explained why I was calling and not my husband and they were very helpful and understanding."

    Despite the reaction from the hrmanager, it makes me wonder if there's something we don't know. Perhaps she knew many of these people in person, and had talked with them about work things before. Perhaps that's part of the culture at that particular business.

    I hesitate to put much stock in the hrmanager's response, because he was unprofessional to begin with. It may have been unprofessional for the wife to call, but it was more unprofessional to let so much time go by without returning the call. If he didn't want the guy back, he should have manned up and done something about it, and not shut him out. If he was out of the office, his voicemail or email should have had alerts. There's no excuse for not responding to your hardworking employee's contact.

  9. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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