Can’t make it up: HR exec documents workplace drama in new book

WASHINGTON — Awkward water-cooler conversations, interesting personalities and occasional romances are all pretty standard when it comes to the workplace — after all, a hit TV show got nine seasons worth of material out of the day-to-day nine-to-five.

But over-the-top office drama? It happens more often than one might think. And it’s something with which Denise Messineo is very familiar.

The Annapolis-based CEO and founder of Thallo Leadership Consulting worked in human resources for nearly 20 years, handling North and South American operations for a large corporation. In that time, she saw everything from out-of-town conference debauchery that led to an arrest, to employees entertaining clients at massage parlors — even arson. And she pens it all in her book, “You Can’t Make This Sh*t Up: Tales from the HR Crypt.”

“You just never know who’s sitting at the desk next to you,” Messineo said, while sharing some of the stories from her book.

Messineo’s book covers the employee who wanted to end her interoffice, Instant Messenger-fueled affair, so she went to HR to blame the other guilty party for perpetuating the behavior. Neither realized that just because they deleted the messages on their computers, the corporation’s server didn’t. And the time they spent writing a steamy romance novel amounted to more than the time they spent getting work done. They were let go.

Then, there’s the employee who woke up in his hotel room at an out-of-town conference and mistook the door to the hall for the door to the bathroom. He was locked out of his room in the buff and rode the elevator downstairs to ask for help. There’s also the handful of employees who thought it would be a good idea to pole dance after a company’s awards celebration.

“There’s the largest population that behave themselves, but there’s a small population that, when they get away from their family, it’s anything goes and they are reliving their crazy times between 19 and 24, 25 years old,” Messineo said.

Not every story in the book elicits a belly laugh; some are downright sad. One woman killed her husband, an employee with the company, by lighting the house on fire. Her first contact with his HR department was to inquire about his life insurance policy.

Another employee came home to an anonymous note on his garage, discovered by his wife, that accused him of visiting strip clubs at various work events. All it took was one glance at his new security camera footage to find that his co-worker planted the note in an attempt to get him in trouble.

“You just don’t know, when you’re trying to do someone else in, it’s going to backfire on you,” Messineo said.

The 300-page book contains more than 100 stories from real experiences. And Messineo said it doesn’t matter where you work, or what field you’re in, readers can relate because “these things happen” everywhere.

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