Ash Wednesday, people. Time to give something up for Lent. Or the heart of Mardi Gras season - I guess it depends on your disposition.
I've seen one epic fail related to Ash Wednesday and the workplace in my time as an HR pro. The year is something like 2003 and I'm a VP of HR at a big telecom. We had a great peer group of HR leaders nationally and we were in St. Louis for a quarterly meeting.
Brain trust time. Bonding. And one of the meeting days fell on Ash Wednesday.
10 HR leaders across the country for a Fortune 500 telecom, and there were 2 guys and 8 gals. As you might expect, the gals were more in tune with fashion and personal appearance, especially as it related to each other. Me? Blue shirt, black slacks. Check. The Caucasian male uniform.
But our female HR leaders had more diversity in their appearance, and as any group that works together well would do, they talked to each other about clothes, etc.
Then it happened on Ash Wednesday. One female HR leader of the Catholic faith made her way out to church during lunch and came back with the mark of the cross from ashes on her forehead.
Enter her Baptist teammate, whom I'll call "Tonya". Tonya was one of the best HR leaders I have ever known, but on that day, she would take two steps back as a teammate to her Catholic friend, known here as "Susan".
Susan had the mark of the cross on her forehead after lunch, and it must have been a pastor with fat thumbs, because it didn't look like a cross - it looked like a thumbprint. But wear it with pride she did, back into the national HR meetings.
Tonya didn't know much about Ash Wednesday, and subsequently I learned that many Baptists don't practice Lent, so Ash Wednesday goes down in significance on their calendar as well. Read more about that here.
Anyway, Susan turned the corner back into the meeting room with the smudge on her forehead, and Tonya beat a quick path to her to be helpful, uttering the following words:
"Susan - You've got a smudge on your forehead (motions to forehead). Let me help you."
And she started trying to remove the smudge from Susan's forehead.
Astonishment, borderline anger and general confusion ensued. It was one of the more surreal religious workplace interactions I've seen in the workplace, and there was not a Muslim or Hindu to be found at the scene.
The lesson? Be careful with smudges on co-workers today after lunch.