One of the common experiences I enjoy about working in the HR sector is that, in casual moments when people find out what I do, I often become privy to their workplace “dirty laundry”. Some HR professionals may not enjoy this aspect, but I find it’s almost a trade secret. For it is often in those moments that you may find you are being offered valuable insight into the mindset of employee / manager relations.
The knowledge gained from this type of conversation is one of my favourite examples of diversity education, stemming from the simplicity of sincerely listening to the human experience. It also represents the primal need to be heedfully heard. When we don’t feel heard, it appears disrespectful to our dignity. When we feel disrespected, we do not function at our most effective levels.
While catching up with a friend, I was made privy to the struggles their office and parent organization are currently facing. With my friend’s permission, I was left with some great take-away examples that I felt eager to share. To be clear, I won’t be sharing the “who”, “what” and “where”. To spare the innocent, the details may be vague, but the examples are not.
This story stems from a managerial promotion that the majority of their staff found questionable.
The specific office is comprised of approximately 100 employees, who are split between several managers. Within the office, there is an in-house team that was formed to address staff needs. It’s a “before we call the union in, let’s see if we can work this out ourselves” type of situation: a smart, cost effective idea.
This team scheduled a meeting with the executive who was directly tied to the decision of the questionable promotion and notified the rest of staff as such. When the meeting began, the executive, who had been confirmed to attend, never arrived or notified anyone that they would not be present.
The organization has grievance policies in place to handle matters like these. The employees were notified that a grievance had been filed due to this situation, and that the executive is allotted a certain amount of time to respond.
How convoluted is this?
The lack of executive attendance – and now the extension of time offered to the executive to respond to why they weren’t in attendance – gave an already ailing office morale (due to the initial questionable promotion situation) a deep kick in the gut.
Still with me?
The employees felt intentionally avoided by management, and left in a situation where they believed their employment equality was being disregarded.
My friend began to then describe how the general tone of the office became “gray”. Those known to frequently laugh were rather silent. Many people began keeping to themselves, and leaving the building for lunch to harness more alone time. They made mention that tensions between management and staff were consistently escalating. Any instance of slight discomfort in the office was being brought to management, because staff felt it was a way to “push back”.
Even my friend, who is one of the most rational people I know, found their mental health was shaken by this instance. At the end of a day, it’s only natural for our brains to Rolodex through the events that occurred over our last twenty-four hours. If the experiences in that time-frame regularly include off-putting work situations, it leads to lack of sleep. Lack of sleep, as we all know, leads to both physical and mental deterioration: something I firmly believe no one must endure as part of their work-life.
So now we fast forward to about a week after the allotted response time is up. Staff are called into a meeting and told that the executive in question would be there to deliver a presentation. However they are not informed as to what the presentation will regard.
The executive proceeds to offer a presentation about office attendance, and how over the past weeks, the employee attendance levels from this specific office have dropped dramatically. Without engaging any discussion as to why this absenteeism is occurring, the executive opts to remind the employees that they have co-workers and when a staff member does not show up for work, their co-worker suffers, and in-turn the entire organization suffers.
Upon the completion of the presentation, a staff member presented the idea to the executive that their lack of attendance was a direct response to the executive’s lack of attendance to the initial questionable promotion grievance meeting. The executive with an apology then claimed they were never informed of the meeting leaving staff disoriented as to what the truth of the situation really was.
Even if I were a staff member of this office, I may not be in ‘the know’ as to the ins and outs of the organization and the full extent of its decision-making process. I’ll acknowledge that not all players in the game need to see the complete playbook. Business is business. Decisions must be made, and one of the first lessons we learn as entrepreneurs is that you can’t please everyone. But I firmly advocate approaching business with a “You can’t please everyone, but you can sincerely try” attitude.
It all boils down to dignity.
Break down of the Situation:
- Executive makes an unpopular decision.
- Employees contest decision.
- Executive, without warning, does not attend meeting designated to discuss issue.
- Employees evoke their policy-written right to contest the executive’s actions.
- Management notifies the employees that they have been heard and will be responded to appropriately.
- A large portion of time passes with no response.
- This has a negative effect on employee morale and productivity.
- Employees are reprimanded for that poor productivity by executive.
In this situation, the employees felt lied to by management, as well as the executive involved. Giving management and the executive the benefit of the doubt, even if they weren’t being misled, employees should never be placed in a situation where they feel it’s a possibility.
If you as a leader provide the lowest common denominator of respectful acknowledgment, you will receive the lowest common denominator of effort from your employee in return. If you do not address a negative situation with swift action and by seeking to understand the emotional well-being of your employees involved, your employees will not seek longevity with your organization.
It’s very simple: Show you sincerely care, and those that sincerely care about your vision will present themselves to you.
“Communal well-being is central to human life.” - Cat Stevens