What Are We Going to Do About Fred?


This is the 47th in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.

He smokes too much. Not only that, I saw him coming out of a bar at ten o’clock this morning. He’s disruptive. He has the whole staff laughing all the time. Let’s get rid of him.”
“Hold on, Fred did come up with the idea that’s our big money maker.”
“That’s past history.”
“It may be past history to you, but his idea is paying your salary.”
“But wait, my attorney told me he took a second mortgage on his house.”
“I remember the day I had to take a second mortgage. I also don’t  remember any earth-shaking ideas that came off our squash court. I’m promoting Fred. My bet is that he’ll come up with our next big money maker.”
Is there a Fred in your organization?
Do you know how lucky you are?

I thought this was a strange post, and I’m not sure I agree with the overall message.

When I saw the headline and read the first couple of lines, I thought it was going to be about ways that Fred’s fellow employees could help him lead a healthier lifestyle.

But then as I read on, I got the sense that all Fred’s boss cared about was Fred’s productivity.

Fred may have come up with a brilliant idea, but he may be struggling right now. Does anyone know if Fred has ever tried to quit smoking? If the company offers a smoking cessation program, perhaps someone could encourage Fred to look into it.

Coming out a of a bar at 10:00 in the morning could be something innocent, or it could be the sign of someone who has a drinking problem. Does anyone know? Does anyone care?

Fred may be under a lot of pressure, perhaps financial, as evidenced by the second mortgage, and the drinking may be how Fred is trying to deal with the stress. Again, has anyone asked Fred?

It’s great to have an employee who can bring laughter to the workplace, but is it disruptive, as one person is suggesting? Is Fred’s behavior hurting the productivity of his fellow employees?

Does the promotion Fred is being considered for match his strengths, or is he currently at just the right spot in the organization?

Does Fred even want a promotion? If he is already feeling stressed, would the promotion push him over the top?

There are a lot of unanswered questions, or even worse, questions that no one has even considered. Fred’s boss, and perhaps others, may simply view Fred as a cash cow that they are trying to milk for all it’s worth, and not really caring about the overall health of that cash cow.

But I think companies need to look beyond just job performance and try to encourage its employees to have an appropriate work-life balance. This necessitates taking an interest in the personal life of its employees and offering support when needed.

Fred may be crying out for help, and if so, a promotion is not going to solve his problems.

To paraphrase JFK, we should not just be looking at what Fred can do for our company; but what our company can do for Fred.



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