The Problem. Each of us sees the world through our own lens. Inevitably, this means that different people will interpret the same event differently. It also means that in many cases, “perception is reality.” Employers and managers can live with that – they have no choice – and it’s an essential principle to keep in mind when navigating the waters of employee relations, motivation, and communication.
What can create more difficult problems is when an employee’s perceptions cross the line from individual to distorted. By this I mean situations where (1) there is a reality; (2) the employee has an alternate, incorrect view of that reality; and (3) the employee genuinely believes his or her perception is correct.
Over the years, I’ve seen this many times: The manager who drives his people crazy by thinking decisions have been made that haven’t. The employee who sees every negative action as discrimination or harassment. The employee who sees even positive actions as discrimination or harassment! Anyone who has conducted a workplace investigation has met this person.
In situations such as these, it may not be that difficult for the employer to validly decide that the employee’s view is incorrect, or in more formal terms, “not substantiated by the evidence.” Where the real difficulty comes up, however, is what to do next. Among the possible problems:
- The employee tenaciously holds onto his or her distorted perceptions and keeps them brewing
- The employee’s distorted perceptions may reflect a mental disability of some kind
- The employee’s targets remain angry at being falsely accused of wrongdoing
- The employer believes the employee should be disciplined for making a false allegation.
The Solution. Following are some suggested approaches to the above problems. If you have other ideas, we’d love to hear them!
- Faced with the complainant who just won’t quit, an employer can tell the employee that he or she may talk only to HR, the union, or other named representatives about their concerns, not co-workers.
- If the employee’s distorted perceptions may reflect a mental disability, the employer must treat it the same as it would any workplace disability. Consultation with a disability expert or attorney may be helpful.
- The employer should certainly inform any accused parties that the evidence did not support the allegations and no wrongdoing on their part was found. If the complainant is not holding onto misperceptions too strongly, it may be helpful to have a facilitated discussion between the complainant and the accused. During this discussion, each can explain why they did what they did and how the other’s actions made them feel. The two can develop a plan for moving forward.
- Sometimes an employer feels it just can’t say, “Perceptions will be perceptions” and let a false allegation go because the situation is so egregious that some sort of discipline seems warranted. The danger here, of course, is that the employee will claim retaliation for filing a complaint. In cases such as this, the employer should consult with a legal advisor to determine the risks and benefits of discipline. ~AS
It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and no matter how much we want to deny it, that day exists in the workplace as well as everywhere else. It turns out that something we all suspected and observed is actually true: lots of romance happens at work – and many of those romances end in permanent relationships and marriages. According to a recent survey by careerbuilder.com, 40% of those surveyed have dated a co-worker, and one third went on to marry that person. So, my guess is that the combination of work and romance is likely here to stay. It also means that the office gossip, accusations of favoritism and allegations of sexual harassment (especially for the 2/3 of those relationships that don’t last) are also here to stay. What’s an employer to do?
The good news is that there’s a lot you can do. A few of the most important things are:
- Provide management and staff with sexual harassment training and give them copies of your policy (you have one, right?); talk specifically about how it applies to workplace romances. Consider developing a policy about dating in the workplace.
- Be clear: your harassment or dating policy should forbid relationships between supervisors and their subordinates. If you work with youth or students, make sure the policy absolutely forbids relationships between them and employees.
- If a relationship develops between co-workers who work together, address it as soon as you become aware of it. Meet with the couple, clarify behavior expectations, and move one or both to other work units if at all possible (be sure to talk with them about who will move, and be sure your policy speaks to this).
- Don’t allow romantic expression (romantic hugs, kisses, whispered sweet nothings…) in the workplace, even between spouses. It’s simply not appropriate.
- Reinforce that “no” means “no.” It means one request for a date or phone number is ok, but if the answer is “no,” there must be no second request, no pursuit of friends to get information about the person, no comments on Facebook.
Obviously, romances at work can be exciting, fun and…well…romantic! They can also be dangerous and expensive pitfalls waiting for the unprepared employer. So, be clear and be prepared – and Happy Valentines Day! ~DS
Have you ‘friended’ anyone you work with on Facebook lately? Sent them a text message with a great (R-rated) picture from the party on Saturday? Tweeted about that hot dress one of your coworkers was wearing today? Does your Facebook or MySpace page include pictures of you in a swimsuit on your last vacation – and do some of your ‘friends’ include coworkers, supervisors, subordinates or customers?
If so, you’re not alone – and this is just a small sampling of the new ways we’ve found to connect with others. More and more of our daily communications and contacts are happening through social media sites and new technologies. So, what’s the problem? The problem is that the line between work and non-work is becoming increasingly blurred, and thus increasingly dangerous.
If you send or receive a questionable text message on your personal phone while you’re at work, is that an issue for your employer? What if you use your work computer to check your Facebook page? One of the most useful – and troublesome – results of having all of these new technologies is that we are now able to share a great deal of personal information that used to be thought of as private, and used to have very limited circulation. And, we haven’t yet figured out all the ways all this will affect us at work!
We’re just starting to see legal cases that involve inappropriate use of social media in the workplace. Situations abound where employees make comments about one another (or their supervisors or employers) on Facebook or Twitter. Employers are becoming concerned about the amount of time employees spend on these sites – as well as what they do when they’re there.
Social medial is with us – and it’s in our workplaces to stay. We, as employers, need to catch up, become aware of the issues, and talk about them with our employees so everyone is clear about our expectations. This is the first in a series of blogs on the subject of social media and the impact it has and will continue to have in our workplaces.
Please send us your comments and experiences…and stay tuned! ~ DS
Workplace studies have shown that that many of us meet our mates at work. That makes sense – it’s where we spend most of our waking hours, where we have the most ongoing contact with the same people, where we have things in common. The trouble is that these relationships often impact the workplace.
The Problem: Mary and Jack were assigned to the same work project. As they got to know each other, they began taking their lunches together and going out after work. A relationship developed. They thought they were being discreet, but people would see them and gossip (we do so love to gossip – see our earlier blog on the subject!) Mary told colleague and best friend Jane about the relationship, and swore her to secrecy. Jane was thrilled, and just had to share her excitement – secretly – with Mindy, her cubicle neighbor, and….
So, what’s the problem? There may be none, unless
- the relationship interferes with work, as it almost always does: when work time is used to discuss the relationship by the parties or others, or when the existence of the relationship makes the work more difficult (the couple can’t work together because they distract one another, because they cause jealousy among coworkers, because they’ve broken up…)
- the relationship is between people at different levels in the organization (stated simply: DON’T GO THERE!)
What to do? Be extremely cautious about getting involved with someone in the workplace. NEVER get involved with someone at a different level. If at all possible, when a serious relationship begins to develop, one of the parties should go to work elsewhere. If you’re in management and become aware of a workplace relationship, consider reassigning those involved and remind both parties to keep their relationship outside the workplace. Document that reminder, and monitor the situation. Failing to do so could cost you time and money in the long run when the relationship (or the breakup of the relationship) interferes with the work.
Have you ever had to deal with this difficult issue? Tell us what happened! ~ DS