Raging down Mood River

   I was not in a good mood. In fact, I was in a downright ugly mood. No reason for it, just my raging male hormones running amok. Unlike the opposite sex, I don’t have the luxury of charting. It just happens. I’d be fine in a few days.
   Few events could brighten my day. Ms. Ferguson, my loyal office manager, quickly ascertained my mood and tried endlessly to perform an upgrade. After failing miserably several times, she offered the ultimate sacrifice.
   "By the way," she said, "Ralph (my general manager) wanted to know if you were available to do some employee reviews today."
   I didn’t say it, and I probably didn’t even think it, but somehow the message was very clear in my dark little brain: "Oh boy, we’re going to save some money now!"
   In small businesses, the pay scale is generally not as structured as in larger companies. If someone is doing an outstanding job, they can be rewarded, or not rewarded, at whim without altering a set wage scale. And whims are at the mercy of moods.
   "Should I send Ralph and his little lamb folders into your office," asked Ms. Ferguson, gingerly balancing her allegiances to me and to her fellow employees.
   The twinge of exaltation I had felt over the possible cost savings had faded. "Are you suggesting I won’t be fair just because I’m a little grumpy?"
   "Not at all," replied Ms. Ferguson. "It’s just that you’ve reminded me three times today how lucky I am to have a job."
   "Good," I said, turning my back.
   Within a few minutes there was a tentative knock on my slaughterhouse door. Ralph walked in, employee files in hand.
   "You sure you feel like doing this today?" he asked.
   "Absolutely. No better time than now." I paused, looking him over. "Do you realize how lucky you are to have a job in these difficult times?"
   He didn’t bother answering. We got right into the reviews, which were composed by supervisors and brought to me for determination of the wage increase.
   "Ok, first up is Horace," said Ralph, handing me his folder. "As you can see, it’s his six-month review. And he got rated ‘exceptional’ on almost every category of performance."
   "Almost every category?" I asked, brightening ever so slightly. "Let’s see, where is he lacking? Aha! He only got a ‘satisfactory’ in ‘Appearance and Habits." What’s his problem?"
  "Maybe if we paid him more he’d dress better," replied Ralph with a touch of what I believe was sarcasm.
   Horace was an hourly employee. The raise for this six-month review could range from zero to 75 cents per hour, depending on a variety of factors. Unfortunately, one of the factors, since the decision was entirely mine, was my mood.
   Had I been in a good mood, pleased with the present, confident about the future, I would surely have rewarded Horace, who is truly one of our best employees, with a full 75 cents.
   But on this day, the present was a chaotic nightmare and the future was a big, black hole. Horace might be outstanding, but that problem with his appearance loomed larger than life.
   "Give him 60 cents," I said, shoving the folder back to Ralph. My mood had said give him zero, my conscience said give him 75. So I compromised.
   The rest of the reviews went the same way. Everyone probably got anywhere from 5 to 20 cents less per hour than they would have received had I been in a better mood. Blame it on the luck of the draw, the orbit of the moon, or the time of the month.
   Fair? Absolutely not. But there is no reasonable alternative. Personalities and temperaments ultimately play a part in any evaluation, whether it be big business or small business. But in a company with less structure the mood of the decision-maker becomes even more vital.
   And eventually, it should all even out. If Horace or anyone else got short-changed it will most likely be made up on the next review.
   Just as my bad mood can save money, too good a mood can end up costing money. For example, there have been many days when I thought Horace’s "Appearance and Habits" were just dandy. Had he been reviewed on one of those days, he might have lucked into an 85 cent raise.
   Of course, that’s why I try to never come into the office if I’m in too good a mood.



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