Shhh! Don’t talk about Kentucky basketball at work!

It’s basketball season in the bluegrass and we all know what that means:  lots and lots of water cooler talk about our beloved Wildcats.  Well, that would and should be the case for most people working under normal conditions and for a rational and reasonable supervisor.  That wasn’t the case of one passionate Kentucky fan in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

In a day and age where 50% of all Americans identify themselves as sports and work places encourage sports talk to help team building and communication, a former employee of Altec Industries in Elizabethtown was recently told by his supervisor that he should refrain from talking about basketball while performing his job duties.  This demand was relayed to him in a one-on-one discussion that included the etymology of the word fan, which comes from the word fanatic, according to this Kentucky fan’s supervisor.  The demand arose from a complaint from a fan who informed this supervisor that our fan was “over the top” in his fandom.  Notice, I said “former” employee.  This person is no longer employed by Altec and not by his own choice.  This person’s employment with Altec ended abruptly on December 8, 2014 following meetings with the plant general manager and human resources manager about his bully of a supervisor and his temperamental co-worker.

To be fair to Altec, this spirited fan was not terminated because of his love for the Wildcats.  His complaint about his supervisor demanding that he stop talking about Kentucky basketball while on the clock was just a small part of it.  This was just a symptom of a much larger problem that he brought to the attention of plant management.  The much more significant issue was the fact that his supervisor was a control freak and a bully to everyone he ran across and discounted his concerns that a co-worker was displaying symptoms of possible workplace violence through temper tantrums, attitude and body language.  He made demands of the Kentucky fan to work as a team with the temperamental co-worker despite his concerns.  When the ardent Wildcat fan approached plant management via Altec’s Open Door policy, almost immediately following, his supervisor held a 2 and a half hour meeting with him questioning him about matters he discussed with plant management and denying most everything.  The meeting covered topics such as his denial that he had ever told our fan that he had to stop discussing Kentucky basketball at work and the denial that he ever told our fan that his passion for Kentucky basketball was considered when the decision was made to hire him.  His supervisor began acting out in retaliation against the Kentucky fan and began scrutinizing every move he made or failed to make, despite his excellent work performance, to the point performing his job duties were becoming difficult.  Our fan went to plant management again and informed them he felt his supervisor was acting out in retaliation against him and was being vindictive in his management tactics.  Our fan was placed on leave while they investigated his allegations and 3 business days later his employment was terminated.  He was told that his working relationship with Altec was beyond repair.

Altec made no attempts to address our concerns or change the culture he was forced to work under and terminated him despite his excellent work record.  He had received accolades via email from the plant’s general manager and a plant supervisor just two weeks before his dismissal for his dedication to team Altec.

Altec’s website (http://www.altec.com/about-altec/promise-to-our-customers/) proclaims that they were founded based on values that place the customer first and view people as their greatest strength.  They list enjoyment of work as part of their core values.

Altec doesn’t sound like a very enjoyable place to work to me.

Surveys show that 46% of Americans follow sports at least “somewhat”, so being able to join the conversation increases your appeal with nearly half the people you interact with. That means you’ll be able to find common ground with many of the people you work with, which helps build stronger relationships and lead to greater productivity.

Specifically, talking about sports at work has been perceived to increase social support, preference for team work, team morale/spirit, and team communication.

People who engage in sport conversations at work were more likely to feel they have the opportunity to develop close friendships at the workplace, were more likely to have formed strong friendships at work and felt more like they could confide in people at work.

Indeed, a study out of the U.K. from 2006 found that talking about sports at work can improve mood and morale at the workplace. Of the 2,000 business people the study spoke with, 47 per cent of women and 40 per cent of men said sporting success lifted their moods and increased productivity at work. In that same study, 20 per cent of men and 12 per cent of women said sports increased their motivation to work.

Clearly, despite our fan’s experience, sports can be a neutral topic for workplace bonding.

Note:  Attempts to confirm our experience with Altec’s corporate office in Birmingham, Alabama went unanswered.  They are a privately held company and maintain that this is a private personnel matter.  The identity of our Wildcat fan was not revealed for his own privacy and the fact that he is considering legal action against Altec.