HR Hauntings: Your Real Office Horror Stories

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You’re unlikely to find as unpredictable and as varied a place to work in as in a humble HR department. Witness to all the peculiarities of day to day work, and mixing with people across your entire organisation, HR professionals really do see it all – from hilarity to horror.

This blog is focusing on the horror. To celebrate spooky season, here are some of the most fear-inducing, most terrifying and strangest, real-life office horror stories that you’ve told us about. 

Mental health initiatives… from Hell

Submitted by an anonymous source.

As HR professionals, most of us have experience of trying to improve mental health in our organisations. What happens when HR departments get too overzealous about implementing policy though, and don’t think through how their ideas look in practice?

One source recounts a particularly troubling set of experiences they had whilst working for a local authority that was trying to embed better mental health practices in schools. The efforts, though coming from the right place, were executed terribly – in many cases, damaging the mental health of the people they were supposed to be supporting.  

A particular feature the source remembers is the fact that staff were forced to take part in time-consuming activities with no time given back, that put many of them outside of their comfort zone and that actively damaged morale.  “There were lots of compulsory wellbeing sessions for staff – think being asked to get into your sports gear and do yoga with your colleagues whilst you've a stack of marking, as tall as you, that nobody will do anything about.” they say. 

This mental health regime also took other forms rather than enforced exercise. “[One] time they gave everyone an additional job by forcing people to take part in a Great British Bake Off style bake-off, judged by the head and chair of governors!”

Let this warning serve as an example to every HR department trying to embed mental health initiatives in an organisation – get employee buy-in first!

People dressed up as zombies trying to break through a door in a house

A zombie apocalypse… in the office

Submitted by Sarah Jeffries, First Aid Course Leicester

How many times have you made a mistake when you’re sending an email? Maybe you forgot to proofread it, and it’s littered with spelling and grammar mistakes? Perhaps you accidentally copied-in someone that you weren’t meant to? Or maybe you 

Sarah Jeffries, Managing Director at First Aid Course Leicester, remembers one incident involving a mistaken email exchange that had scary, yet hilarious, results in her office. 

It all started, like most things do, with a fairly innocent email: a memo about office snacks.

 “The original intent of the memo was to remind employees about the significance of maintaining cleanliness in the communal kitchen.” Sarah says. 

However, things didn’t go to plan. In a busy office, it’s easy for communication to get confused sometimes – ask anyone who’s ever worked in a Human Resources department. That was what happened in Sarah’s case. “There was a mix-up with some Halloween party planning emails, which led to an unintended outcome.” She explains. 

Mix-ups like this, especially around Halloween, can have extreme consequences. In the USA, on the day before Halloween in 1938, a similar misunderstanding led to chaos when it came to the broadcast of a radio play of H.G Well’s classic sci-fi/horror ‘The War of the Worlds’. 

Adapted by renowned actor, screenwriter and director Orson Welles into an innovative series of mock-news bulletins about the alien invasion, unwitting listeners who tuned in late to the broadcast were convinced that they were listening to genuine radio reports about an alien invasion. Chaos ensued, with panicked calls to the radio station, widespread alarm and even a reported stampede. 

In Sarah’s case, the consequences were hilarious more than terrifying. 

“A memo was sent out announcing a mandatory 'Zombie Apocalypse Preparedness Drill.' This amusingly included instructions on barricading doors, creating impromptu weapons from office supplies, and crucially, differentiating between actual zombies and sleep-deprived colleagues.” she says. 

“Fortunately, everyone handled the situation with humor and creativity. Employees fashioned armour out of office supplies and engaged in playful battles against imaginary zombies using coffee stirrers as swords. Even now, we often reminisce about that mix-up and the priceless expressions on our trainees' faces as the office transformed into a joyful state of chaos.” 

Perhaps Sarah’s story is a good example of why you should always proofread before sending out a company-wide memo. 

A person dressed up as a ghost in a white sheet wearing sunglasses

People-profession… poltergeists?

Submitted by Jarir Mallah, Ling App  and Matt Bonestroo, Phoenix Mobile Home LLC

What would you do if you were being haunted by an unseen force in your office? How would you process it or even respond to it? Jarir, a Human Resources Manager at Ling App, is still trying to get to grips with what he thinks was an encounter with a poltergeist in his office. 

In folklore, a poltergeist is a type of spirit that’s able to interact with the physical world in some way – usually by causing loud noises, moving objects or attacking people. The word comes from German and is roughly translated to ‘noisy ghost’.

Reports of poltergeists can be found across history and across the world.

Some of the most famous cases have even become key parts of our popular culture, forming the backbones of movies like The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror and Paranormal Activity. 

The vast majority of poltergeist hauntings seem to affect domestic houses – but not in Jarir’s case. 

“I once experienced things mysteriously moving around my office or disappearing altogether,” he says. “It started out with small things that I wouldn't notice right away, and then more obvious things like my chair being in a different position when I re-entered my office.”

At first, Jarir didn’t know what to make of it. “It started to freak me out.” he said. He spoke to his colleagues about it to try and get to the bottom of the mystery. 

“A coworker suggested it was a poltergeist. The next day someone saged the office to rid it of spirits. Eventually the occurrences stopped.”

So, is Jarir convinced it was an actual poltergeist, haunting his HR department? The jury’s out. “It was likely a prank,” he says “ But I never discovered who it was.”

It’s not just Jarir who might have a potential poltergeist on their hands either. 

Matt, founder and owner of Arizona-based Phoenix Mobile Home, has a particularly creepy account of a potential spirit haunting the world of HR. 

“Late one night, the cleaning crew reported strange sounds coming from the HR office,” he recounts. “When they went to investigate, they found files scattered everywhere, despite the office being locked.” 

Despite their best efforts, Matt and his team couldn’t come up with a convincing explanation for what the cleaning crew had discovered. How could papers move around on their own, inside a locked room? No explanation was ever found. 

“Since then, some claim to have heard faint whispers during quiet nights. A few still refuse to enter after dark.” Matt says. 

What do you make of these stories? We hope this light-hearted blog hasn’t scared you off the office too much!

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