Let the Healing Begin

Rejoicing in life

It was a great evening.  Good friends.  Good food.  Many laughs.  Larry, whose story you can read here, was having dinner with Sam to get his ideas on getting back into the workforce.  Larry had retired from his job at the mutual workplace that he and Sam had worked, but in truth, he was forced to retire by a management intent on wearing him down so he would leave.  That was over six months ago, so Sam was happy that Larry wanted to talk.

Over dinner, the conversation naturally drifted towards their prior, shared workplace, with stories being swapped, and gaps filled in from different points of view.  Larry was ready to jump back into the workforce, but hadn’t prepared a resume for many years.  That was where Sam came in.  He had gained a reputation among his former co-workers as a good resume doctor, so Larry sought him out.

“I don’t know why it took me so long to jump back in the job hunt”, Larry admitted.  It was over six months ago that he retired, and he was not the type of guy who would just want to sit and take it easy for the rest of his life.  Sam smiled.  He knew exactly why Larry had taken so long.  He needed to heal.

If we are fortunate in our work lives, we have workplaces that we cannot wait to get to each morning.  They nurture us, uplift us, and give us the ability to grow as a person and in a community.  Those places have low turnover and are the places where you have to ‘know someone’ to get hired into.

If we are less fortunate in our work lives, we go to workplaces that are simply workplaces.  You put in your time each day, do your work, and clock out.  They are not very uplifting, but they are also not damaging.  They are simply places you spend eight hours or more doing your work so you can get to the people and things you enjoy.

If we are unfortunate in our work lives, we work for those places which are designed to damage our hearts and souls.  We have managers who believe only by degrading you can they raise themselves up.  They believe that the only way they can show that they are truly in power is to make your life miserable.  An insult or slight is always on their lips, and the only words they know about your performance is ‘never good enough’.

They seem to enjoy inflicting pain and look for new ways to do it.  They are always the victim, and you are always the aggressor, though the truth is just the opposite.  Nobody is happy under them, yet in too many cases they stay in power.

When you finally escape that workplace, you think you can just go on with you life.  Sadly, you have to, but you can’t just walk away like nothing happened.  Those workplaces affect both your heart and soul.  They leave scars and injuries.  Those scars take time to heal.  You may not want to admit it, give into it, or think it is silly to think that way, but that doesn’t change what has happened to you.  It also doesn’t change that you need to heal.  Hopefully where you have gone to upon fleeing that workplace is one which allows you to heal and see the true worth that you have.

Larry took this all in and had to agree with Sam, though he did have one question.  How did Sam know this?  Easy, Sam replied, he left the organization later than Larry did.  Guess who was still in the process of healing?



The Rules Don’t Apply to Us!

Bird Breaking Rules

Sam and Ralph were enjoying this lunch conversation. They had not seen each other in some time, so there was quite a bit of catching up to do.  Many topics were covered, including some of the latest happenings in the company.

One of those was the recent employee all hands meeting, which is talked about in this blog.  While they both agreed that the questions were avoided with amazing dexterity, Sam took the conversation in a different direction.  Sam mentioned that he was disappointed that his question did not get answered.

What question was that?  A very intriguing one.  “Company policy states that employees cannot get more than one promotion in a year.  Yet, there are several people in {Sam’s Department} that have received multiple promotions in one year.  Why hasn’t HR stopped this?”  He knew Ralph couldn’t answer that one, because of two reasons:

  • Ralph worked in HR
  • The same thing happened in HR

Yes, in the bastion of the rule makers, HR, the rule about promotions had been broken a few times, most recently with a manager who received two promotions within six months.  This particular manager had also scored the largest of the offices.  It paid to be liked by the head of the department.

This had been on Ralph’s mind even before his conversation with Sam.  The head of the department was always going on about how she wanted the department to be taken seriously and as a true partner by the business.  Yet, she failed to see that acts like this diminished her credibility among her peers and the employees in her department and in the company.  This person, who should be thinking strategically, instead always thought parochially…what was best for her, without giving thought or care to the consequences of her acts.

This behavior also had an impact on the other departments.  If HR didn’t have to follow the rules, why should they?  They are only following HR’s example, and if called on it, they would not hesitate to call out HR for being hypocritical about what they say and what they do.  It had become a company where no one followed the rules, but only the dictates of their own ambition.  What a great place to work, huh?

Leadership is more than just reporting authority. That gets you only so far.  It also has to be about moral authority.  You show you care about the rules you lay down by following them.  This gives you a stronger argument to others to say they should follow them.  If you go about flaunting the rules at every turn, why should anyone else follow them?  And, if you won’t have the power of the organization chart behind you to enforce those rules, don’t expect people to care who you are or what you say.  All they see is the hypocrite, and hypocrites don’t get much respect at all.


The Idea Thief

Idea Thief

The new hire in the department had arrived, much to the relief of the existing staff.  He would be a welcome addition and help distribute the workload a bit more evenly.  As Mitch went to shake hands with him, a wry smile came to his face.  It wasn’t anything to do with the new hire, as he seemed like a nice guy.  It was, strangely enough, the new hire’s title, and what it represented.

The title, and job description, had been proposed by Mitch over a year ago as a possible lateral move for himself.  His immediate manager had encouraged him to explore it, even to the point of writing a job description for the position.  He took the challenge, handed it in, and after a bit of revision by his manager, was assured that the job description was handed into Sarah.  That was the last anyone heard of it until, magically, six months later, when the department needed to bring on a new hire, Sarah suggested that the new person should had the same title and responsibilities in the job description that Mitch had submitted.  Mitch was informed, however, that he would not be put into contention for the new spot.

It was not the first time this had happened to Mitch in his years long association with Sarah.  He recalled proposing new programs for the department when Sarah was his direct supervisor.  She methodically knocked each one down when he proposed them to her, leaving him dejected, and later castigating him on his review for not coming to her with any new or innovative ideas.  Six months later, Sarah had some ‘brilliant’ ideas for programs that she gave to another member of the department.  Those ideas?  Mitch’s, down to the names of the programs he had come up with.

To Mitch’s point of view, even Sarah’s current meteoric rise in the department can be partially attributed to him.  At her request, he wrote a business case detailing the benefits of an encompassing health, finance, and other life area wellness program within the company.   Sarah had accepted it with thanks, and nothing more was ever heard about it.  Six months later, she called Mitch into her office, announced she had received a promotion to a newly created position.  Three guesses as to what that position was to encompass.  Sarah graciously accepted Mitch’s congratulations on the position and announced to him he was getting a great deal more work to do, all with no raise or promotion.  It would be a pattern repeated with many others in the department as Sarah’s reporting relationships grew.

Thus, as he shook hands with the new hire, a wry smile came to Mitch’s lips.  He had learned his lesson, as had others in the department.  Keep your mouth shut, at least when it came to proposing new ideas to Sarah.  It would be taken by her as quickly as it came out of the person’s mouth, rebranded, and no appreciation given.

Mitch knew the silence came with a price.  It would be used as an excuse for no promotions or lateral moves.  He had come to peace with that a long time ago.  He only hoped soon he would be able to impress a new employer with some creative and innovative ideas.

The Crowning Glory

“We need to have more fun”, announced Marjorie one day during a staff meeting. Her boss, the unit manager, had opened the floor up to any comments people would want to make,  Marjorie, never one to miss an opportunity to endear herself to her manager, began speaking almost immediately.  She even brought up an idea which she considered ‘fun’.  Why not have the executive leadership of the company wash the staff’s cars for charity.  She was sure that staff watching executives wash their cars was going to be a laugh riot.

Another long tenured co-worker reminded her that there were some issues the last time this was tried, shutting down the idea.  However, the idea in itself didn’t expire there.  The unit manager said that yes, we needed more fun, and were there any ideas from the rest of the group.

One newer employee spoke up.  It seems that she and the woman she shared an office with were discussing something that her co-workers in a previous job used to do.  Once a year, they would get together as a department and bring their wackiest stories of people who had come to them with issues.  They would take out all the names of the employees and only describe the situations in general terms.  Once all the stories were told, the ‘wackiest’ one would then win the prize, which was, in this case, a crown.  According to the employee, it was a highly anticipated gathering from all the employees.

Further discussion of this idea resulted in the following idea.  Why don’t we have a monthly contest like this?  Within the staff meeting, staff would bring the wackiest stories of the month and then compete.  The prize?  Why, another crown!  Satisfied that they had come up with the solution they needed, the unit manager moved on with the meeting.

So, in short, the unit manager approved an idea in which members of the department competed to see how much fun they could make of their co-workers in the company.  Members of this company would come to this department for help in various, sometimes personal, matters, and now it would all go in as fodder for winning a crown.

That ‘thud’ you heard was the sound of employee confidentiality taking its last breath and collapsing on the floor.

The next sound you heard was that of trial lawyers rubbing their hands together in glee at the prospect of millions of dollars in fines and judgements.

The third sound you didn’t hear was that of silence, because nobody would dare speak up against this lest they face the wrath of the unit manager and her mantra of ‘I can never please you folks’.

While some may claim that ‘business’ and ‘fun’ are two opposing forces, kudos needs to be given to those managers who try to inject at least a bit of fun into the workplace.  Companies like Google and Pixar have made good attempts to try to get people to be more creative and expressive at work by adding an element of fun to the work day.  None of them, I would hazard a guess, advocated fun by making sport of the troubles that your fellow co-workers bring to you.  I would go a bit further and say that none of them would want to make a contest of who is considered the least credible of the bunch.

A good manager knows where the lines are drawn, and even errs on the side of conservatism in that respect.  However, that same good manager would not really have to worry about that, as they would know their people well enough to see what could be done to inject some fun into the work day.  They are innovative in their ideas and applications, and do push the boundaries for the sake of their employees.  None of them do it as the expense of someone else.

There is another issue, which I will combine in my next blog, as it fits there perfectly.  For now I leave you with this thought.  As I mentioned, the leader of the meeting was a unit manager, so not the head of the whole department, but leading a group within it.  The name of that department?  Human Resources.

The Rush Job

It was a fairly simple process in and of itself.  Before you could get a promotion, you had to have your job reviewed by the compensation analyst.  She would review your job duties, review the metrics, look at what the competitive data was, and let you know what level this job was supposed to be.  People protested at times.  They wanted the job to be at a higher or lower level based on where they thought the job fit in their organization, or according to their own whims.  The analyst was firm, and was backed up by her department and its management.   So, when this process needed to be applied to her own department, you would think that there would be no problem.  You would think wrongly.

You may recall the story of the departmental manager who was temporarily promoted to lead the department when the executive who was its leader was temporarily incapacitated.   You can read about that situation, in part, here and here.   When it was found out by the temporary leader that the executive was coming back, she arranged to have another group in the department report to her, though the executive had rejected the idea previously.  Now, since the executive wasn’t there to protest, the manager worked overtime in getting this change in the structure of the department done.  Time was of the essence, if for no other reason that it would mean a promotion for the manager.  Oh, it was not as high as the executive was, but it would be a bump in status and pay.  So, hastily, job descriptions were written, justifications written, and the right people spoken to.  All that had to be done was have the compensation analyst give her blessing.

Usually, as others would attest, this could be a time-consuming protest.  The analyst was a busy person.  She had many requests.  This would not do.  So, when the file for the promotion for the manager was put on her desk, a note was attached to it.  “Approve this”.  In other words, there would need to be no review.  There would need to be no analysis.   There would need to be no research.  Just enter it into the official system as the new role and level, enter the generous new salary, and that was it.  No protest was allowed.  While everyone else could wait, this manager could not…no…should not.  Once again she had proved that there was a set of rules for everyone else, and a different set for her.

We all have read about the politicians who raid the public treasury for their own good.  We have heard of the corporate executives who have used the funds of the company for their own personal gains, whether it be lavish spending on themselves while they are in the position, or an extraordinary retirement or severance package.  We may shake our heads at it or decry it loudly, depending on the level of ire we have for the sheer nerve of the actor.

We get upset because it should be the other way.  The person should be working for the benefit of the company, not the other way around.  If an employee or average person had tried to do this, they would be reprimanded, fired, or have legal action taken against them.  No, the employee is told to sacrifice for the company each and every time, and if they are hurt in the process, oh well, that’s too bad.

No matter where you are in the company, the rules should be the same.  They are not bent because you are a certain level, or have a certain power over someone.  Something should not be rushed through simply because it can’t stand the light of day, or an honest and thorough investigation by a person with integrity.  This becomes especially crucial when others in the department have been denied the privilege of moving up, stopped by you for reasons professional or personal.

You can’t have the moral authority to tell others to act in the company’s or department’s best interest when you are flouting the rules at every turn.  If you do, you will be promoted to a new, informal title — hypocrite.

Publicizing Your Prejudice — A Sarah Story

A couple of weeks ago I told the story of ‘Sarah’, who reveled in finding the cloud in every silver lining for employees she personally didn’t want to deal with or didn’t like.   I wanted to record a few of these to illustrate my point.

Emily knew she was on Sarah’s list.  No matter what she did, she could not please Sarah, who seemed to delight in picking her work apart, looking for the bad among the good, magnifying that bad, and writing her up with yet ‘another example’ of how right Sarah was to have the opinion she did of Emily.   It was under this pall that Emily and her manager, Bob, went into Sarah’s office to discuss the preparations for a big company event that Emily was tasked with.  While they were both prepared for anything, they didn’t expect the conversation to come down to the difference between 3 and 5.

Emily had done remarkable work, with Bob’s help.  All the vendors were accounted for, the internal facilities arrangements were made, help from the department was garnered, and the food had been bought or arranged for.  It would be a fantastic event, one which Emily had worked very hard to accomplish.  Sarah looked at all this and nodded, giving grudging assent to all the work done.  Her eyes looked over the arrangement and a smile crossed her face.  Bob and Emily knew this was not a good thing.

“I see”, Sarah started, “that you advertised and marketed this three different ways.  We have five ways we can market an event.  Why didn’t you do all five?”  Emily mentioned that one additional way was going to be done in the next day or so, to keep the advertising fresh. The last one she didn’t see the value in, so didn’t do it.

That was all Sarah needed.  This was ‘unacceptable’.  There should have been five marketing avenues for this.  It was just another way that Emily was incompetent and that the whole event would collapse because the one way not being used would be the linchpin.  The one way not currently used should have been done earlier, and Emily should have known this.   All Emily’s good work was to be ignored, and two marketing avenues would be magnified to unrealistic proportions in order to prove a point.

The event itself was a rousing success, attracting hundreds of employees and garnering praise from the vendors attending.  When Bob did a wrap up of this for Sarah, indicating that, with the four avenues employed, they had record attendance.  Sarah didn’t seem to care, saying the success of the event didn’t matter.  What mattered only was that Emily couldn’t be trusted to run an event like this.

An old joke goes that a woman and her child were walking along the beach.  A huge wave sweeps the child out to sea.  The woman is highly distraught, praying for her son to return.  Another wave comes and safely deposits the child back on the beach, alive and unharmed.  The woman looks at her son, looks heavenward, and says, “He had a hat…’

A good manager looks past his or her own prejudices and focuses on the facts.  They go beyond their own biases and looks objectively at what is being done.  That manager may even have their mind changed.  They allow the facts to bend them, not the other way around.

When a manager has made up their mind and then twists each situation to fit that preconception, no matter what the facts are, then anyone working for that manager who is not on the A list is doomed from the start.  It is unfair to the employee, and demoralizing to the rest of the department.  Who’s next?  Who gets the preconception leveled on them next?

No matter if a manager likes or dislikes someone, they have a duty to look at each of their employees objectively.  When they don’t, and just find the bad instead of the good and bad, they do a disservice to themselves and their employees.

In that case, 3 out of 5 really is bad.

The Arbiter of Grieving

Editor’s note:  This is the first in a series of blogs dealing with the aftermath of Sandy, a hurricane that gained energy from two other weather systems that combined into a ‘perfect storm’.  Sandy caused widespread devastation from Delaware to Connecticut on the US East Coast.  While there were many stories of generosity and courage during the storm, stories are also coming to this blog about selfish corporate and managerial behavior that should be reported on.

The lawyers loved Marion, the Employee Relations Manager of a mid-sized company.  She called them on everything.  Though she was employed to make decisions regarding employee conduct, she rarely did without consultation with the legal representation hired by the company.  Each time she would call, sometimes several times a day, they would bill the company for another consultation.  It was very strange and out of character, then, when Marion took it upon herself to pronounce that someone wasn’t entitled to bereavement days because, ‘she had grieved enough’.  Here’s the back story.

Just as Sandy was beginning to be felt in the state, an employee’s husband passed away.  The death had not been caused by Sandy, but just was a terrible coincidence.  Still, with 90+ mph winds and a state of emergency on, there was little that could be done to make preparations for a funeral.  Sandy’s savage fury caused over 2 million power outages, massive flooding, widespread destruction, and shortages of gasoline and food.  For the next week, at least, the priority was to get power restored, survivors fed and sheltered, and a somewhat normal flow of life going again.  Needless to say, getting funeral preparations were nearly impossible, and the family was struggling with the day to day, not having power, dealing with house damages, etc.  Even the company was closed for many days owing to the power situation, though the ‘invitation’ was extended for the employee to work from home.  This was rendered impossible because the employee didn’t have power yet.

Slowly the recovery crept along.  Power was being restored in bits and pieces.  Life was returning to normal in fits and starts.  The workplace opened up again.  The employee notified her supervisor that she would be taking her three bereavement days, allowed by the employee handbook, now that power was restored and the funeral could proceed apace.  The employee’s supervisor balked at this, saying she was not entitled to these days, seeing that her husband passed away just when Sandy hit.  Since the function she was doing was technically ‘open’ and she ‘refused’ to work (due to lack of power for either her laptop or her internet), she had already used her bereavement time, the supervisor reasoned.

This was brought to the Employee Relations Manager.  Though on most every case, she would give a call to the lawyers, in this extraordinary circumstance, unprecedented in the workplace’s history, she decided that she knew the answer:  That the employee did her grieving during and after Sandy.  In other words, she sided with the supervisor and against the grieving employee.  The Employee Relations Manager had become an expert in the grieving process.

While one could make comment on the ER Manager’s inability to make decisions without having the lawyers on speed dial, it can be said that at least she was consistent.  Yet, when the circumstances surrounding the closing of the workplace and the employee’s inability to secure basic services (no pun intended) was without precedent, she proceeded to spout an opinion without so much as a consult.  The only consistency she showed was an unerring favoritism towards management and against the employee, which had been her hallmark for years.

In a time when people, whether local, national, or international were rushing to the affected areas offering supplies, shelter, power, aid, food, and other acts of kindness, the ER Manager treated this extraordinary case as business as usual.  In doing so, she presented the company in a harsh light of selfishness, a stark contrast to the giving and generosity of those who acted selflessly to help their fellow human beings.  The company would not have lost much by offering this woman her three days, recognizing the grief and struggling of this employee, and chalking it up to building good will.  It’s a sad testimony to corporate heartlessness and an inability to see beyond one person’s myopia.