Public Shame #3: When the music died

Chapter 2: Strike One

First, let me just say that I adored my boss, Matt. He was just such a great guy. He was super smart. He was extremely good at mentoring and training people. He was just about flawless in how he fixed problems, dealt with guests, and handled internal issues in Adventure Ocean. He was just one of the best people I have ever had in a supervisory position over me. I deeply respected Matt, and I really trusted him. This helped to set an impossibly high standard for any future Adventure Ocean Managers I might work under.

Well, that happened a month later because Matt had to take a few weeks vacation and a newly appointed Adventure Ocean Manager, Tracey Sanders, stepped in to fill his big shoes while he was gone.

Tracey was also very smart, but she was green. From what others tell me, her personality as a Youth Staff and her personality as a Manager were like night and day. I’ve seen this happen in a lot of people as soon as they assume authority. They become authoritarian. And Tracey was a bully. She bullied staff members to the point of tears. It was dreadful. I had a lot of problems with Tracey almost from the get go.

But one thing you could say about Tracey is that her heart was in the right place. I honestly think she was just so new at being in charge, that she didn’t handle it very well and made a lot of mistakes. We butted heads a couple of times, but in the end I think we finally began to see eye to eye and come to an understanding of each other. Over time, I came to respect Tracey very much as well. I harbor no ill will against her and I sincerely wish her the best.

However, an incident occurred under Tracey’s watch that turned into my first strike.

Youth Staff and Sports Staff were often required to augment other jobs throughout the  ship. We regularly augmented the Shore Excursions Staff to help organize people departing the ship for tours. Most of the time, we would show up for these shifts and be sent away immediately because there wasn’t any need for us, there just wasn’t a big enough crowd of people buying tours through Royal Caribbean at the European ports.

At the time, Sports Staff members rarely showed up for these kind of augmenting shifts. When people complained to the Sports Staff supervisor, he said he would handle it, but Sports Staff privately bragged about never getting written up – because their supervisor didn’t think they should have to do those things, so he didn’t care if they didn’t show up.

I don’t remember exactly which day it was, but I believe it was near the end of September. I was scheduled for a one hour Shore Excursions helper shift. I wish I had a copy of our schedules to show you how tiny and complicated they were. There were almost a dozen different colors arranged in blocks for each staff member on a spreadsheet that was written in a font smaller than 8 points just to fit everything in. It was difficult to read and easy to make mistakes. Well, I made a mistake that week because when I looked at my schedule the night before I thought I had the whole morning off from work. I did not see the block that said I was supposed to help with tour loads.

That morning, I arose early and went for breakfast before we docked. I went back to my room and started to watch TV shows on my laptop as I waited to depart the ship. Then, I received a phone call on my room phone. It was Tracey. She told me I was reported as a no-show to my Shore Ex helper shift. I was so ashamed!

I stammered that I could go there right then and there, it would only take me a few moments to put on my uniform and run up the three flights of stairs to the room directly above crew cabin where the tours were being gathered. She told me it was too late – the shift was already over. In fact, no one even noticed I didn’t show up because they didn’t really need me, but for someone reason it caught someone’s attention after the fact and they reported it to Tracey.

Later that day, Tracey and the Assistant Adventure Ocean Manager, Laura Davidson, sat me down to give me a Written Warning. I knew I deserved to be punished, but I didn’t think I deserved a Written Warning. A Written Warning, I knew, was a big deal. Why wasn’t I getting a POL like everyone else in my situation? Heck, Sports Staff didn’t even get that when they intentionally didn’t show up for shifts. Tracey and Laura explained to me that they didn’t want to give me a Written Warning but they were required by policy to give me one because I had a Verbal Warning on file.

Now, my experience with progressive discipline was that if you get in trouble for something that is unrelated it is not considered cumulatively and I was surprised that Royal Caribbean’s procedures didn’t work the same way. That is when they explained to me that they didn’t work that way, but since my Verbal Warning was for being late to the ship and this involved me being late for something as well that I had to receive a Written Warning. There was nothing they could do about it, it was just policy.

Looking back, it is a bit troubling to me that those first two times I was written up, my managers expressed to me that they didn’t want to give me as harsh of a punishment as they were giving to me but they had to because they were just following policy. I have learned, both by studying the Royal Caribbean policies about discipline and from speaking with Human Resources personnel that supervisors are under no policy obligation to give Verbal and Written warnings in these circumstances or most circumstances. Rather, the policies are written to restrict what they can give these level of punishments out for, but ultimately much of this up to the manager’s discretion.

So, were my Adventure Ocean Managers free to give me less punitive punishments? Were they free to exercise their own discretion? And if they were free to do so and knew they could, would they have given me a POL instead of Verbal or a Verbal instead of a Written warning? Or were they just feeding me a line to soften the blow – to shift the blame of their discretion away from themselves and toward policy? I will never know.

I do know that I learned my lesson from those two incidents. I certainly never missed the ship again and I was never misread my schedule to the point of being late to or missing a work shift again. Lesson learned. Life goes on. Or so I though.