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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Employee Relations Part II

Scenario I, part II (read part I) and Part III)

As a skilled employee relations expert, you manage to convince the high performing manager to not proceed to a written warning stage at this time. You explain that you would like to speak with Karen and give her a formal "verbal" warning, which will be documented, but does not carry the weight of a "written" warning. You volunteer to explain to Karen the seriousness of the problem.

Your reason for this is because you want to know Karen's side of the story and your well honed ER sense is telling you that this award winning manager may be the cause for her department's high turnover--after all, managers are the number one reason why people quit their jobs.

Karen comes into your office and is visibly upset. "I don't know what to do!" she says, dropping into your office chair. "Two weeks ago my three year old had the stomach flu. I had to stay home. I sat next to my sick child with my lap top on my lap and running conference calls on my phone. I put in 10 hours of work on that day. Then I get called into my manager's office and informed that since I was out of the office, I have to use a vacation day. Vacation day! I worked my tail end off all day. I only get two weeks vacation as is, and to be forced to use up one when I've worked all day is ridiculous.

"One of the reasons I took this job was because of the family friendly policies you advertise. The recruiter assured me of flex time and telecommuting and all sorts of great things. None of them are true.

"So, yeah, I didn't work yesterday. I did put an out of office notice on my e-mail and my voicemail, but if I'm going to have to use a vacation day and get a lecture, then no way am I doing any work. I didn't answer the phone when my manager called because after she yelled at me the first time, I figured if she had anything important to say, she'd leave me a message."

So, now what do you say to Karen?


Ask a Manager said...

I for one am loving that the Evil HR Lady is posting these scenarios. This is fun!

So wait, Karen did use away messages on her email and voicemail? I had thought she didn't and that was what the manager was objecting to (since clients wouldn't know she was out). This makes the manager's response that much more alarming.

Question: Are the company's family-friendly policies company-wide, or do managers have discretion about implementing them? Assuming they're company-wide, it's time for a talk with the manager, to explain to her precisely what is and isn't okay for employees to do. If managers are allowed to use discretion, let's talk to the manager and explore her thinking in why she doesn't want to give Karen that flexibility. Try to draw out the reasons, see if they have any merit, and work with her to establish a comfort level with the policies.

Aside from that, we also need to talk to the manager about her managerial style in general. She's more than an overseer; part of her job is to ensure that good employees are happy and stick around. I'd talk with her about that aspect of the job, helping her see how what she no doubt sees as result-oriented behavior is actually lowering productivity and results in the long run (if indeed that's the case; obviously questions need to be asked before we jump to conclusions, but that's certainly what it's looking like).

It's also probably time to discreetly poke around to find out how other employees in her department are feeling. It's tricky to do this in a way that doesn't undermine the manager, but it can be done, and it's worth putting in the effort to find out if where's there's smoke there's fire.

Ah, but the actual question posed was what to say to Karen. For now, I'd say this: "Thank you for letting me know about this. I can see why you're upset. Give me some time to talk with your manager. We're going to work this out." Doesn't make specific promises, which would be jumping the gun, but hopefully lets her know her concerns are being heard.

Founder: Lea Setegn said...

Wow. Talk about the other side of the story!

I agree with Ask A Manager that I would like to know more about the company's vacation and flex-time policies and company culture about using them before recommending a course of action. I will say that if Karen had put in 10 hours of work on a day she called in sick, and the company allows for telecommuting, then she should be given her vacation day back. That's a gut reaction, not an HR-researched action, so I'd hope it would be possible. It might be a first step toward easing Karen's tensions.

What would I say to Karen? First, I'd draw her out a bit more by asking how long this has been going on and whether it's something that she's seen other employess in her department deal with. My goal would be to help her vent her feelings and soothe her a little bit by listening. I'd let her know that I was glad she had talked to me and that I want to work with her manager and her to see what we could do to come to an understanding about the situation.

Without knowing more about the company's culture -- does everyone walk the talk about family-friendliness or is that a recruitment bait-and-switch? -- I'm hesitant to adress the larger issue specifically with Karen just yet. It's time to talk with the manager about her opinions on the flex-time schedules and to get to the bottom of the vacation day/sick day issue Karen had the last time she called in. I'd also ask the manager what she said when she talked to Karen on the day in question, because while Karen felt yelled at, there's no guarantee that that's what the manager did. What *is* clear is that these two folks are having a tough time communicating, which would need to be worked on along with the larger problem.

The Engineer said...

Scenario one clearly stated that the company's policy was no sick time for anyone other than the employee. Either Karen wasn't paying attention during "new employee orientation" or she hasn't been given one yet. I'd vote for the second since her only reference for policy is what the recruiter told her.

More information on all company policies is needed. If the manager's view of policy is correct then this discussion should be recorded as an official warning and Karen informed accordingly. Karen should also be given an policy orientation if not done yet. If the manager is wrong then you have a much more challenging issue. You are about to find out if upper management believes in policy or the results this manager is currently getting.

Either way, Karen is probably on the way to looking for a new job. You won't stop the manager's retaliation and if the manager is "corrected" she is probably smart enough to not get caught making Karen miserable. Coupled with the fact that the manager is a "star" with a good track history and Karen's newbie status . . . Karen=disposable.

Not that I think that this is a great outcome. Is the company big enough to offer Karen a lateral move?

Beth Robinson said...

WOW, now that's a different story! The manager made it seem like Karen did no work either time and in no way let clients or anyone else know she was out. How could she be letting clients down the first time if she worked and did conference calls all day?

The first three commenters seemed to cover all the action points I could think of.

So far I've learned that it's better to talk to the individuals separately before you talk to them together. I'd hate to have been in the room in that scenario - either avoidance or explosion! I didn't know such things as formal verbal warnings existed, but it makes sense. If there really are discrepancies between the recruiter and the reality or between the written policy and the reality, at what level in management do those get dealt with? Does a head of HR have authority to deal with that or does it have to go higher?