As a lowly frontline supervisor you are often charged with implementing stupid management decisions. One of the silliest decisions I had to explain involved a disabled employee I managed. This decision didn’t come from my own company; it came from the management team in charge of the building where our offices leased space.
Our building was a large tower in downtown Toronto. All such buildings are required to have emergency evacuation procedures in place and must practice fire drills on a regular basis. We had normal procedures to follow, such as which door to exit and where to rendezvous outside. After 9/11, we got a secondary rendezvous location further away in case somebody blew up the first location. Not sure anyone would still be around to go to the second location after an explosion, but it was still part of the procedure.
Our hiccup with “normal” was Charles. Due to his disability, he was wheelchair-bound and had limited use of his hands. People are supposed to stay out of elevators in emergencies, but there was no way Charles could get down the stairs by himself.
When I started in my role, Charles had a dedicated buddy on our team, who volunteered to stay with him during an evacuation. Building management had a list of employees who needed special evacuation. They would send their personnel up using the freight elevator to collect Charles and his buddy.
About a year into my tenure, building management decided this was too dangerous for their staff and Charles’ buddy in a real emergency. So they changed their procedures. Charles’ new instructions in case of actual fire or other meltdown were to barricade himself in an office with the door closed. The building would give him a roll of duct tape to keep at his desk so he could take it with him. Charles could seal up the door to his office if smoke or gas was present. Everyone else was to evacuate the building.
Anybody see the problems with this procedure? Remember, wheelchair-bound, limited use of hands.
First, Charles couldn’t actually maneuver his wheelchair into many of our offices. The offices were small, and the chair was big, weighing in around 300 lbs. Second, Charles likely couldn’t close an office door because of the space issue and his limited hand use. Finally, how on earth can someone who can’t stand and has manual dexterity issues duct tape a door?
I swear the building manager kept a straight face when providing us these new instructions. We disagreed, but it wasn’t our building. If they refused to send staff up with the freight elevator, we couldn’t use it.
My boss and I had the joy of explaining the new process to our team. This involved a lot of snickering from the staff.
Jim, another member of the team, asked, “Do they really think we’d leave him up here in an actual fire? Screw the chair. We’ll carry him down.”
See, look at that. It took a staff member 5 seconds to find a better solution than an entire management team was able to come up with. I know it can’t be “official” policy to make employees carry other employees, but who in their right mind would leave a defenseless person all alone in a burning building? It was nice to know my employees actually cared about one another.