Monthly Archives: August 2017

What To Do When There’s Trouble At Work

Some of the things we put up with in the workplace are truly incredible.

One would have thought that in this day and age, tales of bullying, unfair practices, discrimination and other displays of malevolence would be few and far between.

Unfortunately, that is not the case.

I have witnessed a lot of inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour over the years. I have even had some of it actively and intentionally directed at me.

While I can look back and say those experiences made me stronger and are a part of my story, no one should have to go through that.

I was younger then, and remember feeling powerless to change my situation. I did in the end – by walking out! – but I’ve never forgotten the distinct feeling of not having any options, and seething at how organisations often get away with treating employees with contempt.

Before I go further let me make this public declaration: My politics isn’t left-leaning.

While I can look back and say those experiences made me stronger, no one should have to go through any of that

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I believe in a responsible capitalism. One where people are rewarded for their gifts and efforts, but those who need assistance are not left behind.

One where risk-takers and leaders reap the fruits of their labour, but those who work for them are paid a fair wage, and are treated with kindness and fairness.

One where management and staff alike communicate clearly and openly, both sides acting with integrity.

I think of it as compassionate capitalism. Am I being naïve? I know many in the business and corporate worlds who think so!

I’m also really struck by how employees appear not to have much recourse.

I must admit I’ve never been a supporter of trade unions: my feeling is that, certainly here in the UK, US and Europe, the war for workers’ rights has been won and modern-day unions are obsolete; symbols of a bygone era and a barrier to free enterprise.

Could it be time for me to revisit that view?

It would appear that the government had a similar perspective, and as part of a cost-rationalisation exercise in the public sector in 2013, introduced fees for employment tribunal cases. This meant that anyone making a claim for unfair dismissal, discrimination and other issues at work had to pay as much as £1,200!

As well as the cost implications, I imagine the government considered the majority of cases being brought to be frivolous and unnecessary; many of those that hit the headlines certainly appeared to be opportunities for people to cash in and make a quick buck.

Taking on an employer requires unshakeable resolve, and commitment of time and money. My interactions with lawyers – which have been very limited! – confirm the stereotype of eyewatering hourly fees, which deter many from taking things further.

Two recent incidents within a client organisation have made the subject of accessibility to the legal system for conflict resolution relating to employment matters very topical for me. They actually precipitated this article, which strictly speaking, has nothing to do with my business offering beyond a sense of having a personal obligation to speak up and make a positive contribution.

So here’s the first incident: New Boss starts in a business, and is keen to bring in his own team. As a result, Person A is made redundant. As you would expect, Person A starts jobhunting. Only thing is, he does so using his work email address. Person A receives a job offer and reference request to said email address. Boss INTERCEPTS email, and sends what I can only describe as an unfavourable reference to Person A’s potential new employer, who promptly rescinds the job offer.

The second incident: Company-wide cost pressures mean there has to be a reduction in headcount. Consequently, all areas are asked to review their operations and come up with efficiencies. The Boss in a particular department concludes that Person X’s role can be done at another location for less. Boss hires Person Y at that location, and asks Person X to train Person Y.

Boss also makes it known to everyone that Person X’s role will soon cease to exist.

Everyone that is, except Person X!

Person X, hears rumours and finally realises what is happening. Person X asks for clarification on the future of his role. For the first time, Boss advises Person X of impending redundancy.

I won’t detail my thoughts about how both situations were handled, except to say that I am appalled that a member of a company’s Senior Management Team could behave in this manner.

More instructive, is the fact that he has not been held accountable for it!

I was not able to directly influence these events, but this article is about raising my voice to declare these two things:

1. This sort of behaviour is NOT acceptable

2. You do NOT have to put up with it.

This article is to share my limited knowledge of how to handle such scenarios. If I help just ONE person who has been treated this way, I will have achieved my goal.

I hope this encourages you NOT to suffer in silence, and you know what to do if you are treated unfairly at work

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But before I go further, please note this: I AM NOT AN EXPERT IN EMPLOYMENT LAW. This is NOT what I do for a living, and I strongly recommend that you seek independent legal advice (it may surprise you to find that this doesn’t always have to cost an arm and a leg, as I explain below).

These are the thoughts of a passionate lay(wo)man only; my contribution to making the world a better place…

…great! Let’s have a general review of what to do if you are facing trouble at work.

Keep a Record

I hope it doesn’t come to it, but if you need to get lawyers or a third party involved, it would be beneficial to have a written record of what has transpired.

Keep a diary (preferably NOT at work where it could be interfered with), relevant emails, proof of the times you have raised concerns.

Speak to Human Resources

Even as I recommend this, I know that this is a necessary, but time-wasting step.

Just my personal bias, I’m afraid.

I wish I could sugar-coat it, but I’ve never seen an effective HR Department (maybe that’s a business opportunity for someone right there…)

Perhaps you haven’t either, but don’t let that deter you from completing this necessary part of the process.

If you have to escalate, one of the first things you will be asked is if you brought your grievance to your employer’s attention formally. The employer could then claim they had no knowledge of the issue and were not given an opportunity to fix it, which would not work in your favour.

So go through the motions; get your complaint or query on record.

And of course, record the date and time of any meetings, and summarise what was discussed.

Have you heard of the ICO?

Here in the United Kingdom, the Information Commissioner’s Office is the independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest.

While it could be argued that a work email address belongs to your employer, the employee may also be able to lay a personal claim to it, to some extent.

If a report to your HR Department does not lead to a data breach investigation, do report it to the Information Commissioner.

Start with Citizens Advice

An oft-ignored – but brilliant – resource here in the UK is Citizens Advice, a service charity that provide free, independent, confidential and impartial advice to everyone on their rights and responsibilities, on a wide range of legal issues ranging from work, debt, housing and consumer law to immigration and family law.

If you are being treated unfairly at work, I suggest reaching out to Citizens Advice as a starting point.

Last resort: Employment Tribunal

Again, no one wants things to get this far.

But it’s useful to know what your options are.

You may be aware of the Supreme Court ruling this July that the introduction of tribunal fees had detrimental consequences on access to justice, and employees’ ability to uphold their rights at work.

This re-balances the playing field, and empowers employees by removing the financial hurdles.

Just to remind you again, that I am NOT in the legal profession, and you MUST seek your own independent legal advice.

But I hope this piece encourages you not to suffer in silence, and goes some way to make you aware of what to do if you are treated unfairly at work.

Thanks for reading.

Bad Decision, or No Decision?

A bad decision, or no decision at all?

That, as they say, is the question.

Which scenario do you prefer: one where a decision taken turns out to be the wrong one; or the alternative, where any decision-making is kicked into the long grass and the situation remains vague and, well, undecided?

I often think about this, as it tends to be a position that my clients and past employers frequently find themselves in.

Maybe you’ve been there yourself: having to navigate several options at work or some other area of your life. You perceive the consequences and costs (emotional and financial) of making the wrong call to be so grave that it sends you into a state of inertia.

You freeze, because you’re terrified of moving forward, based on what you perceive to be the risks involved.

Or, maybe this isn’t just something you’ve experienced in the past; perhaps what I’ve described is exactly where you find yourself right now?

From a personal perspective, it can be crippling to find yourself unable to move on from a relationship, a job you’re no longer passionate about, or an experience that has had a significant impact.

You perceive the consequences and costs of making the wrong call to be so grave that it sends you into inertia

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And from a corporate perspective, that crippling effect is amplified when it comes to businesses, because of the sheer number of people it can potentially affect.

I mentioned that this inertia, or what I refer to as a state of permanent procrastination, is something that I’ve been privy to on more than one occasion.

I described here how one of my Top 3 Project Nightmares involved a piece of work being put on hold for a period of six months while the senior management team requested all manner of due diligence, business cases, options papers and presentations. They deployed every type of navel-gazing technique you could think of!

The most intriguing thing was, they had no awareness of how this impacted team morale. It was soul-destroying to walk through the doors every day, knowing that what I was doing WASN’T contributing to a positive change in the business.

It was like running on a hamster wheel: lots of activity and energy expended, but going nowhere, fast.

I’ve always been passionate about making an impact and, seeing no way to achieve that within the organisation at that time, I ended up saying my goodbyes shortly afterwards.

And I wasn’t the only one to vote with my feet!

You’d be wrong to think such levels of procrastination only occur in the workplace, or perhaps in your personal life. It happens on the national and international fronts too.

Here in the United Kingdom, proposals to expand Heathrow Airport by building a third runway date back to 2009. Commercially, the business case made sense: Heathrow is said to be the second busiest airport for international travellers in the world, and the busiest in Europe. Having “won” the lottery of geographical location, it is the hub that connects travellers from the Americas, Africa, Australasia, the Far East and the rest of Europe.

With passenger numbers forecast to grow to 320 million by 2030 (from 211 million in 2010), approving the project appeared to be a foregone conclusion.

But apart from the commercials there were other factors to consider: local residents objected to an expansion project which would see an increase in the number of flights, and potentially noise and air pollution too.

So, not an easy decision to make!

And while the government would never admit it, there were also electoral concerns, as promises had been made to key stakeholders and party supporters about what would and would not be allowed to happen where expansion of the airport was concerned.

So, although the plans were first approved in 2009, this was reversed by the coalition government in 2010.

There were further consultations and indications that overall, it was in the national interest for the project to progress. Then it became clear that there was no political will to make a call before the 2015 election, and a decision was postponed again.

Later that year, the Airport Commission published its recommendation to build the new runway, but the government again deferred making a firm decision…

…it wasn’t until late 2016 that current Prime Minister Theresa May gave the green light for the expansion.

On the international stage, those old enough will remember the atrocities in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s.

In both cases, the international community “ummed” and “ahhed” its way through indecision, bureaucracy and long-winded United Nations resolutions, while innocent lives were lost.

When the much-needed intervention finally arrived in those countries, it was long overdue and tragically, too late to save millions.

In these circumstances, the consequences of procrastination and delay were fatal, and will continue to have an impact on both nations for generations to come.

But enough of the history lesson!

My original question was, which do you prefer: a bad decision, or none at all?

My recommendation is: Show leadership and make that call

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In my opinion, is it far better to stand up and be counted.

My recommendation is: Show leadership and make that call.

Procrastination is really disguised fear: fear of poor outcomes, and subsequently, fear of being held accountable for those poor outcomes.

And fear has a paralysing effect.

When it comes to your business, there are ways to assess and quantify what’s really at stake, so you can make an informed decision on how best to move forward.

Consulting with your key stakeholders, identifying the risks involved, categorising them and assessing how they could impact your people, processes and systems are some ways of eating the elephant one bite at a time (in the proverbial sense only!)

I’ve heard fear described as False Evidence Appearing Real, and what these steps do is provide you with the facts you need to proceed.

I’ve seen too many management teams lose a good workforce, their businesses grinding to a halt because they refuse to do the background work, and take decisions which might be difficult.

And if it doesn’t work out? What if you make a decision, and it turns out to be the wrong one?

You can present your background work as proof, and ensure lessons are learned and recorded for posterity.

Unfortunately, the culture of blame in many organisations is one of the reasons why people shy away from taking decisions. When people aren’t allowed to take calculated risks – emphasis on calculated – they can’t learn or develop.

Better to make a decision you can learn lessons from, than to stall and wonder what might have been.

And, if you need to perform a Risk or Impact Assessment in your business, I would love to support you. Contact me here to discuss how I can help you make THAT crucial decision about a process, system, supplier or project.