FM Frequency: Facilities Manager = Corporate Shrink?

By Jeff Crane, P.E., LEED® AP
Published in the March 2006 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

What’s wrong with these people? Sounds like the beginning of a Seinfeld sketch, but haven’t we all asked that question at the office? Superiors and customers probably expect facilities managers (FM) to develop and maintain a certain level of psychological expertise (and a great sense of humor), but the fact remains—people do strange things in our buildings.

As good students of our surroundings, we can attempt to answer questions plaguing our colleagues. For example, most facility professionals are curious to know why people won’t report a burned out light bulb. Do they honestly think we can be everywhere all the time?

Based on scenarios like these, building occupants must clearly see the FM as an omnipotent being. I mean really, if a bulb is burned out, it must be because the FM wants it that way, right? Besides, everyone knows the cheapskates in facilities are always exploring some kind of twisted energy saving initiatives and won’t be happy until everyone is working in the dark. (If they only read my September 2005 column “Big Swings at Budget Time!”)

Beyond dealing with typical HVAC, lighting, electrical, and plumbing psychology, FMs should expect their fair share of the completely bizarre. I was once out of town when my facility received a bomb threat. The career-enhancing experience included returning to work after a long day on the road and searching multiple floors well into the next morning. I was accompanied by two talented dogs and several men in black Kevlar.

To this day, I still don’t know why I didn’t request a protective vest that night, nor do I know how my engineering classes qualified me to search for explosives. But as a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agent later explained, “Think about it. How would we know what’s suspicious in your building?”

Fortunately, we found nothing, and within a few days, the FBI and our IT gurus traced the e-mailed threat to a high school kid. He apparently had access to a computer and too much time on his hands. Because he was a minor and lived in another state, he probably didn’t even get a slap on the wrist.

Then there was the time a disgruntled, out-of-state boyfriend threatened to murder his ex-girlfriend (an employee at my facility) and her entire family. This “gentleman” left very detailed messages on company voice mail; these messages would have sent chills up Al Capone’s spine.

He conveniently didn’t show up to work the day the police went to pick him up, but he was considerate enough to leave a note for his boss saying he wouldn’t be in because he had “…some unfinished business out of town….” When the authorities contacted us, we did the math and figured we had about four or five hours before he could appear on our doorstep.

How did the nightmare end? Well, the perpetrator was caught by police about an hour before we expected him. I was relieved, but I must admit experiencing a sense of disappointment when they said he hadn’t even put up a struggle. Many of us secretly hoped he’d be hauled away in something other than a comfy squad car.

Now that I’ve shared a couple of the more disturbing “psychological incidents” in my history, let’s lighten things up a little. I often give pet names to the wonderful folks who do odd things in (and to) our buildings. Do any of these people work in your facility?

Urinal Assailant: disgruntled employee who jams stacks of hand towels in every urinal and repeatedly flushes, flooding the room several times. If someone’s that angry, why not just find another job?

Nasal Sculptor: this aspiring artist blows his nose on the tile wainscot while standing at the urinal. He probably admires his disgusting work until the figurative canvas is erased—then he starts over.

Jerk Caterer: no relation to Jamaican cuisine, this is the delivery driver who speeds through parking lots and verbally assaults customers who refuse to tip for late, cold food. Gee, I can’t understand why?

Three Stooges Contracting: when a fire alarm goes off, these are the only people left working in the room, but they all look at one another with wide eyes and swear they didn’t touch anything. Is a polygraph machine more expensive than an AED?

HR Inspector: the person who shows up to start work with a phony offer letter on forged letterhead. Now this is really beginning to sounds like a Seinfeld episode!

Magician Electrician: the guy who swears the brand new cubicles were fine just 20 minutes ago, right before they detonated three computers and a laser printer with 240 volts (instead of 110 volts) at the receptacles. Is there a rabbit under that John Deere cap mister?

See-No-Evil: this is the woman who is surprised when her laptop computer and wrapped Christmas presents are stolen from the backseat of her unlocked car. Shocking indeed!

Testosterone Rangers: the pair of 20-something tough guys who occasionally compete in shouting matches over a good parking space in the lot. I suggest you put your money on the guy with the biggest, flashiest car and the loudest, most obnoxious voice.

Executive Paperwork: when a high level employee steals toilet paper and hand towels. Are these the same people preparing Securities and Exchange Commission documents?

Pseudo-Allergic: employees who complain about allergies to light, air conditioning, electronics, noises, smells, or anything closely resembling work.

Germ Droppers: folks who open doors with hand towels and drop them right on the floor. Would it kill these people to toss their used paper towels towards the trash can at least?

Hair Donors: this is the guy who is so comfortable at work that he shaves at the sink and leaves his beard stubble all over the bowl and counter for others to admire. Should we offer monogrammed terry cloth robes and slippers too?

Power Puffs: the exclusive smoking club that meets on the hour, every hour for at least 15 minutes, even when it’s raining or 18 degrees F. They might stink up elevators, but hey, they’ll never complain about carpal tunnel syndrome (unless they develop a pseudo-allergy)!

Best of luck with your ongoing psychology training, because you’re going to need it. Maintain a good sense of humor, and maybe we can all stay out of the asylum!

Crane is a mechanical engineer and regional property manager with Childress Klein Properties, a leading real estate developer and property management services provider in the Southeast