Flakes (And I Ain’t Talking the Snow Kind)

In modern slang, a flake is a person who is unreliable.

Over the last few years at The Place Where I Work, we have seen a sharp rise of the number of flakes.

First, this was merely appointments. Like people interested in seeing the school wouldn’t show up for an appointment they made. Then it crept into people with interviews, or wanting to enrol, not showing up.

Then, it became actual enrolled students. As in, the person has a legal contract with us, we have turned other students away so that person had a place, and that person does not show up on the first day. Sometimes, indeed, we never hear from that person again. I have even had cases of students disappearing before the first day and having thousands of dollars in a trust account, going neither here nor there because, well, no one can get them to sign a piece of paper to release it back to the student loans people. (Just absolutely crazy.)

This has become worse in the last few years.

We (or I, I should say) think it’s absolutely rude, and it isn’t the type of student we are looking for. We train students to work in an industry where they need to be reliable, be on-time, and be part of a team. Clients, employers, employees, coworkers: everyone is relying on them to pull their weight and do what they are hired to do and do it well.

What is even more appalling is, when some of these people are called out on it — and I am nice but firm about it — they either come up with some very unrealistic sob story or get aggressive.

We are professionals. A person wouldn’t make a doctor’s appointment, or a lawyer’s appointment, or any other sort of appointment with a professional, blow it off, and expect not to be charged or excluded from future appointments. That’s how the world works. Time is money and all that jazz.

Last year, in a super-busy time of the year, I had a woman call up and want to make an appointment to apply. She needed to come in as soon as possible, and there was one appointment left the next day, so we set it up. I made a big song and dance about two things: 1) we were busy and she really needed to have a critical think about if she wanted to apply so soon and 2) if she decided she needed to cancel, for whatever reason, she could call or text us and let us know as soon as possible. I made her repeat this information back to me to make sure she understood it.

Next day, about 24 hours after our conversation, no show.

So, about 3 hours after she was supposed to show up, I forwarded my notes to her via email about the appointment and what we discussed, in with my email calling her out on not showing up.

This was the most psycho answer I have ever received back.

Her cousin’s 5 month old baby had died and the funeral was the morning of that day, and she couldn’t make it in because of the funeral. Oh, and also, she didn’t have any credit on her cell phone.

I told her back that I was sorry to hear about her cousin’s 5 month old baby dying, but surely she would have known the funeral was that day when she made the appointment the day before? And surely she could have let us know as soon as she remembered it was the funeral? And even if she had no credit, she rang our 0800 number the day before to talk to us, so couldn’t she have called that number? Or got into a free WiFi zone somewhere and emailed us?

I stated that she was more than welcome to come in another time, but we had a policy that really frowned upon no-shows, and if she wanted to apply for the course, we would need some reassurances that she was able to show up all the time and communicate openly with us. I also stated that, in order to get another appointment, she may have to provide evidence to whoever was booking it that her last no-show excuse was legitimate.

Then she laid on this thick story about how the poor mother was so distraught and baby X (I got the name and all) was this adorable little being, and I felt that she was being very emotionally manipulating in her excuse.

Oh, and she said, she actually didn’t go to the funeral. No, no, actually, she had to look after her kids and her other cousin wanted to go to the funeral, so she looked after her cousin’s kids too.

I nicely wrote back that I was sorry to hear all of that, and we wished her the best in her future. I do think I nicely said I found it all very far-fetched too in a roundabout way. I also said (nicely) as I say to all students who are mothers with young children or babies (and she indicated she had a baby as well at some point) that they need to make sure that they can meet the requirements of the course and meet the needs of their children as well so it is a win-win-win for the student, the school, and her kids.

An interjection: almost every single student we have had who has had a very, very young child — we’re talking under 2 — ends up withdrawing, disappearing, or failing the course. There are only so many hours in the day, and, to be brutally honest, a child’s needs come first.

She thought I was rude so she was going to write to my boss and tell on me.

I wrote back and gave her the contact details of my boss and a copy of the complaints procedure.

Guess who my boss never heard from?

I am a kind, compassionate person. But I grew up in a big city, and I have worked in tertiary education for over two decades, and I have heard and seen a lot of excuses. Some have been legit, and some have been bogus. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt.

But this lady was completely full of shit.

Since when, in New Zealand, would the police or coroner let a family bury a 5 month old baby who died suddenly, within less than 24 hours of death?

Was there no autopsy? Wouldn’t someone want to look into the death to make sure it wasn’t suspicious? That the baby wasn’t killed accidentally, or, even worse, murdered?

Why wasn’t the sudden death on the news? There is a real issue with child abuse in New Zealand, and every time there is a baby or toddler or young child who dies, it seems to make the news. Even if a kid drops dead on a rugby field due to a congenital defect, it’s reported. What made this child so ordinary that his or her death wasn’t reported in the media?

How could a funeral be arranged that quickly?

Why wouldn’t she go to the funeral to support her cousin? If she was so distraught for her cousin, why wasn’t she there for her?

Why would she go into excruciating detail about the child’s death and the mother’s sorrow? And then her own sorrow?

I get people deal with grief differently, and I have been there too many times myself, but it all just didn’t add up.

I got mad. Not only because this woman was a complete flake but also because she was emotionally manipulating me to try to wrangle her way out of being called-out. And that is pretty fucking low in my book, especially when you don’t know what another person’s emotional state is like to begin with.

Today was our first day back at work in 2020. Well, first official day. Usually I do a bit of work before the first official day.

Over the break, I have been working hard on making sure the appointments booked in for this week — as people can now book automatically on-line — are legit and for our courses starting up in a few weeks. We don’t want applications for full courses, or courses starting mid-2020, or 2021, or whatever. We want to focus fully on February 2020 intakes.

I cancelled the first appointment for today two weeks ago because the woman was trying to do our course (35 hour a week commitment) and another course (like maybe 20 hours a week commitment) and had a family and had no money to pay for anything. So I told her nicely that she could only really realistically do one course at a time, and she needed to sort out her finances too so she didn’t stress herself out. She did agree, and she wanted to cancel the appointment, so that was out.

I took that time out of the schedule so my colleagues and I could have a good work-related catch-up before we started the year. And we did use that time for that.

The first of the people booked in today was a person who had a very vague appointment — she wanted to “discuss her options” instead of indicating which of the total of 2 courses we offer that she wanted to study — and out of all the people I both emailed and texted on 6 January 2020 about appointments this week, she was the only one who didn’t respond.

So I texted her back again last week, and she (finally) got back to me that she did indeed want to do the one February 2020 course we still had spaces in, that she definitely could make that appointment, yadda, yadda, and I confirmed the appointment with her.

The second of the people booked in today was a person who was afraid she was going to miss out, and she didn’t have a printer to print out the application form, and she wanted to apply! And could I send her an application form in the mail ASAP so she could apply! during her appointment. Again, big song and dance of her wanting to apply! for the course.

I texted both of these people yesterday for their appointment today. In the text, I stated that if they had to cancel for any reason, please to let us know ASAP.

First person? No show.

I text her 5 minutes after she’s supposed to be there.

Nothing back.

(I need to add that this first woman has iMessage on her iPhone, and I have it as well. It relies on Wi-Fi and / or data for those of you not in the know. In short, you could pop to anywhere that has free Wi-Fi and text, or email.)

So I emailed her, and I stated that we wouldn’t be considering any further applications for her.

Oh. Oh! She emails back. A family member of hers committed suicide and also she has no credit on her cell phone.

I email back that I’m sorry to hear about the family member, but she could have found free Wi-Fi, or her own Wi-Fi, and texted me back. Or she could have used the 0800 number, which is free, to let us know.

No response. Hm. Maybe because part of that excuse is bull.

Second person? No show.

I text her 15 minutes after she’s supposed to be there because I was eating lunch when she was supposed to arrive.

Nothing back.

I email her as well, stating we wouldn’t be considering any further applications from her either.

Flaking is becoming a real serious issue for New Zealand businesses. Recently, a news item in one of our major newspapers discussed the warning signs of flakes in business. And it’s something we need to discuss as a nation because a) it’s getting worse and b) it is affecting productivity (and probably mental well-being) and increasing stress throughout the country.

My message?

Seriously, just:

  • Be an adult — put your adult pants on and communicate like an adult
  • Tell whoever that you’re not going to be able to make the appointment
  • Tell that person as soon as possible so that person can do something else productive with their time
  • Don’t give an outlandish excuse (you don’t really have to give any excuse, I guess) — You have the right to change your mind, and I’m cool with that as long as you follow through and tell us you’re not making the appointment, you withdraw formally as per the procedure and law, et cetera
  • Apologise but thank the person for their time

It’s not rocket science, it’s honestly not difficult, and it’s pure politeness and kindness from you.

Just as a side note: I can’t recall, ever, ever, ever, flaking on an appointment. Ever.