to address harassment, bullying and discrimination

 with Stephen Hammond

Tip #36 — AVOID THE PROBLEM OF LEAVING ISSUES ALONE

I've seen many reported cases of workplace violations occur due to supervisors and managers not doing the right thing. I found this to be the case in many years of working in the fields of human resources, labour/employee relations, and law. Why do some supervisors, who are aware of a problem, fail to act on it or prevent further trouble? Here are my theories.

 

NOT ENOUGH SKILLS - Ever since my first managerial job, I discovered we don't give supervisors enough support or training, especially when it comes to how to deal with people and conflict. Despite the plethora of courses on these topics today, many managers don't seem to have access to them. I'm guessing select few must go to all of them.

 

CONFLICT AVERSE - Most people don't want to deal with conflict. Superior species or not, when it comes to settling conflict, I think we're at the bottom of the food chain. I'm not a lot different, but I force myself to address conflict, whether I like it or not. When someone is saying offensive things, or not accommodating a religious need, most people don't want to rock the boat. Even with training on conflict, it ain't easy to take on difficult issues.

 

LACK OF SUPPORT - When supervisors try to do the right thing, they can often get blind-sided by a lack of support from the boss. Years ago my sister used to call up her "employment-specialist" brother for advice. We'd go over, in detail, a letter or a strategy to deal with a problem employee, but when all was said and done, I'd have to ask why she bothered. She knew her boss would cave, and nothing would get done. Supervisors at a higher level are just as conflict averse as the rest of us.

 

OFFICE POLITICS - Who's related to whom or whose friends are associated with who are factors that often get in the way of dealing with workplace issues. Reported cases are stuffed full of examples of an employee not bringing an issue to a supervisor, manager or owner because the problem employee is close to the boss. If, as a result, the boss had no idea what was happening, is that a valid excuse? Nope. Lots of tribunals will conclude that the boss should have known what was going on in the workplace, or that the boss was willfully blind.

 

If your workplace takes on the obvious inappropriate workplace issues that come to the attention of a supervisor or manager, you will be far, far ahead of most workplaces. And you'll be surprised how easily many of the problems can be resolved. A simple comment like "knock if off" when someone makes a sexist joke can stop further comments in the future.  Or an effort to chat with a colleague about the potential liability in refusing to hire a certain employee, can go a long way to resolving a legal challenge. The law books are full or cases where people didn't take on the simplest of problems when they arose.

 

SUPERVISORY SUGGESTIONS:

1) Encourage supervisory skills - not lawyer skills. Due to the complexity of some workplace issues, some supervisors are afraid to tackle anything. Yet most problems are simple and have simple ways of dealing with them. Encourage supervisors (and employees) to speak up when something doesn't seem right. It will cure more issues than you think.

 

2) Allow for screw ups - or no one will try again. We screw up all the time. Some of the best business people make disastrous mistakes, but the smart ones pick themselves up and get back at it. Don't expect others to be perfect, so allow them to make mistakes if that happens. Correct and explain what went wrong and make sure they're not afraid to tackle issues again.

 

3) Support good decisions - instead of just lambasting someone when something goes wrong. If you get an employee or supervisor who makes the right decision, or stands up when others have not, recognize that behaviour. And if there is something to be learned, share the process with others as good examples.

This is TIP #36 of 52 WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors. 
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