Some Basic Truths

A couple of recent situations I’ve encountered have prompted me to think once again about some basic workplace truths.  I’m talking about them here because I find that when folks forget them, the result is often a huge headache from hitting one’s head against a brick wall.  So, here they are:

Situation #1:  Susan and Jeff work together, and very much enjoy each other’s company.  They sometimes go out to lunch together, often carpool, and frequently sit in one another’s cubicles talking – both about their work, and about other things. Everyone is convinced they’re having an affair.   Truth #1: If sex is seen as possible, sex is seen as probable.  Corollary to Truth #1: Appearances count, and perception is viewed as reality.

Situation #2: Harriet is Mark’s lead worker.  She and Mark are quite friendly with each other, and both are friendly with the rest of the team as well.  On that team there’s a lot of sexual banter in which Harriet, Mark and others participate.  Sometimes it actually gets personal and physical: Harriet has made comments about Mark’s “package” as she reaches toward his crotch, and Mark has made comments about Harriet’s “girls”  as he cups his hand and reaches toward her chest.  Truth #2: Even if everyone is participating, the fact that Harriet is a lead worker makes the situation rife for a  sexual harassment claim against her that will  likely stick.

Situation #3:  Cindy had a really bad experience at her former job when she complained about harassment and about not being paid for overtime, and was then fired in retaliation.  In her current job she has some concerns too, based on comments her supervisor has made that remind her of what happened to her before.  She’s afraid of being fired again, so sends an anonymous letter to Human Resources complaining about the supervisor.   Nothing happens.  Truth #3: Human Resources (or management) can only investigate a situation if they have enough information to do that.  Going on a witch hunt based on vague and anonymous allegations tends to be a bad idea. 

Situation #4:  Cindy (from Situation 3) didn’t see any action based on her anonymous letter, so she actually went to Human Resources with her complaint, even though she feared retaliation.  When she was asked for details, all she could say was that she had a feeling that this situation would turn out the same way as her last work experience.  She was afraid of what her supervisor might do to harass her, and she was fearful of retaliation if she complained.  Truth #4: No action can be taken against your boss because you are afraid he/she is going to do something or are afraid of retaliation.  Action can only be taken if they have done something, or if they have already retaliated against you.

Situation #5:  Francie’s boss yells a lot.  He yells at her, and he yells at her co-workers (Alan, Sam and Leslie).  He has a bad temper, and loses it about once a week.  When that happens, he yells.  He asks why he has such stupid employees, and why they just can’t seem to do things right.  He calls them idots.  Truth #5: Being an obnoxious boss is not illegal.  Often, it does not violate company policy.  This kind of obnoxious boss has not created a “hostile work environment” according to law, even though you may feel you’re working in exactly such an environment.  That said, the employer who tolerates this kind of behavior likelyl will lose good employees when they go elsewhere. 

Keep these basic truths in mind as you navigate the workplace and you’ll likely have a less stressful time at work because you won’t be hitting your head against brick walls, trying to change things that won’t change.

Have you had experience with these truths?  Do you have others to add to the list?  Let us know!  ~Daphne Schneider

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