Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Business: Does my company have a toxic culture?

Posted in best practices, Employment, workplace by commorancy on April 5, 2022

meeting-1280Toxic work cultures aren’t always obvious, at least not when you’re first hired and not always to managers. As a new hire, these work cultures can become apparent over time, but many times it creeps up on you unaware. Sometimes it’s even ingrained as part of the culture. For managers, a toxic workplace is yours to manage, but too many managers fail to see it and fail to act on it. Let’s explore the business of a toxic workplace culture.

Business Culture

Founders and CEOs must cultivate not only their business ideas and breathe life into them, they must also breathe life into a thriving business that operates and implements those ideas. That means hiring staff. However, hiring qualified candidates and hiring honest, ethical and affable people are two entirely different things. Sometimes, hiring a qualified candidate brings with it toxic baggage under the guise of affable.

Hiring Practices

Businesses today hire primarily based on qualifications, not on interpersonal skills. What this means is that companies end up with all manner of people on the payroll. At least some of these people are likely to be toxic in many different ways. Simply because the hired person can do their job correctly doesn’t necessarily make that person the best choice for your business’s success. A toxic person can overwhelm an office with distrust, negativity, bad morale and seek to destroy the very business itself… all while performing their job perfectly and correctly.

Why? The above example person is toxic, through and through. They have no sense of moral compass and are willing to do anything to torpedo anything and anyone who stands in their way. This is the very type of person you really don’t want to hire. Yet, many companies unknowingly do.

Why does this happen? It happens because businesses don’t have a means to screen for this level of toxicity from any candidate. However, there are some ways to help determine toxicity levels, but very, very few companies employ such behavioral culling during an interview. Keep in mind, though, that even the best of behavioral tests to determine toxicity can be foiled by candidates who intentionally and knowingly practice toxic workplace behaviors. If a candidate seems too ideal even after taking a behavioral test, that person might become problematic when in the workplace.

Interview Questions

Many hiring managers naively believe you can ask simple questions and determine if someone is toxic. While this might work a small portion of the time, a large portion of the time it simply doesn’t work. Unless that toxic candidate is completely naïve about hiring practices (hint: they’re likely very knowledgeable), they’re not likely to intentionally (or accidentally) reveal their toxic nature during an interview. That’s not to say it can’t happen. However, for these naïve candidates, you don’t really have to go out of your way to find them. These candidates will out themselves just by their own stupidity. These naïve people are the exception, not the rule.

Far too many toxic people are the shrewd, cunning and know exactly what they are doing. They see your questions coming and answer them to impress, not reveal their own personal flaws. Any questions designed to elicit personal responses will be turned around into how their work skills have improved business operations.

For a hiring manager, these are the kinds of candidates who are the most difficult to weed out because they are, as I said, shrewd and cunning and seem the perfect candidate, on the surface. They know how to ace an interview and they’ll do it with flying colors. When a candidate seems too good to be true, this should be a red flag in and of itself. No one is that good.

Looks

Many people, particularly those who are overly attractive, can easily betray and feed into the toxic culture problem. That’s not to say that people who appear “perfect”, “flawless” and “beautiful” are all toxic, but as a hiring manager, you should always remain on your toes when considering hiring those who fall into the “perfection” bucket. What exactly is “perfection”?

It’s those men and women who look like they’ve stepped off of a runway, out of an advertisement or look like a model. These people are impeccably fit, immaculately coiffed, perfectly groomed, carry themselves in an overly confident way and both have overly engaging smiles and a personality to match. People who are genuine don’t tend to look or act like this. Everyone is beautiful in their own way, but these people who exude that “perfect model” appearance and who appear “perfectly flawless”, not just in appearance, but also when talking with them, should leave you skeptical as a hiring manager. Nobody is that “perfect”. The problem with many of these people is “ego”, which is one of the primary driving factors behind toxic workplace behavior.

The one job where such beautiful people can be hired, albeit with trepidation, is outside sales. These people can become the face of your sales team. Because sales jobs are grueling, tiring and relentless, hiring flawless and beautiful people to visit with clients can greatly help make a sale. You just have be aware that these people can sow seeds of discord while in the office, if allowed. However, they can just as easily land million dollar deals for the company. Ego has its place… and having overly beautiful people on a your sales team is typically the one and only one job role where ego works.

Yes, I do understand how tempting it is to hire that beautiful office assistant. I get it. They’re eye candy every single day. However, that eye candy for you can turn into a nightmare for everyone else. Be cautious when considering the “overly beautiful” people of the world for internal positions outside of sales.

Note, there is a significant difference between simple beautiful and glamorous beautiful. It’s these glamorous beautiful people who bare watching. “Simple beautiful” people are typically down-to-earth, aren’t overly made up, don’t have perfectly coiffed hair, don’t wear overly flattering clothing and are focused on the work at hand. The “glamorous beautiful” people are overly concerned about their appearance, smell and personality, yet still manage to get their work done. It’s these overly glamorous people who are more likely to fall into the toxic bucket due to ego.

Probation Period

Many companies hire new employees on a conditional basis. Basically, so long as the employee is able to perform properly for a period of time, usually 90 days, then the job becomes permanent thereafter.

Don’t think that a probationary period actually offers enough time to out a toxic employee. Toxic employees are patient. They are more than willing to wait through any probationary period while remaining on their best behavior. They’ll do their job well and everyone will praise that employee’s work efforts. This type of toxic employee is seething and ready to let lose their toxicity, but they’re more than willing to temper that toxicity until they know the job is fully theirs. As I said, this type of toxic employee is overly patient.

Once their “tenure” actually begins, that’s when the employee will slowly begin to unleash their toxicity. Small at first, then no holds barred after several months.

They do this for several reasons:

  1. By being patient allows slowly ingratiating themselves into the company. They can then make their skillset (in)valuable to the point that the company might have a hard time replacing them.
  2. Waiting through that waiting period, they get to know who they can “beat up” and who they must “kiss ass”. It gives them plenty of time to determine the “lay of the land”.
  3. Kissing up. This may start right away, but usually takes a few weeks because they don’t want to kiss up to the wrong person. This type of toxic employee will “kiss up” to their immediate superior to make them feel superior. They’ll accept lots of work from their manager and turn it all in perfectly. In effect, they become the perfect “Yes, man” and a model employee. They might even win a monthly employee award.

Kissing Up and Overly Friendly Attitudes

Someone who “kisses up” and who exhibits artificially friendly attitudes is someone to watch closely. This kind of behavior seems like the flip side of toxic behavior. In fact, these friendly attitudes are actually part of toxic behavior. It’s just that because this behavior seems friendly and nice, it’s difficult to see it as part of a toxic person. Toxicity comes in many forms, but most people tend to classify it with only negative behaviors. Positive behaviors tend not to be classed under toxicity simply because they are positive.

Most toxic people will exhibit a mix of both positive and negative behaviors, but that are both fully tied to their toxicity. They’ll start mostly with positive and then slowly work their way to the negative spectrum. Know that the reason behind the overly friendly attitudes and “kissing up” is tied to their toxicity.  “Kissing up” usually only occurs with their direct manager or managers above them. The toxic person almost never uses these artificially friendly attitudes toward coworkers. In fact, most coworkers will typically see a toxic person as aloof and arrogant.

Lone Workers

However, don’t assume that a lone worker indicates toxicity. Lone workers can be some of the most productive people in your organization and that has nothing to do with toxicity. A lone worker may choose to work alone solely because the “team” around them may, in fact, be toxic and may be the ones holding that person or project back. Lone workers may, in fact, be a product of a toxic workplace culture. Toxic employees tend to want to sabotage the work of others, including that person who is seen as a lone worker. Because it’s nearly impossible to alert anyone in a company to one or more toxic employees without being seen as a “problem”, to avoid that scenario entirely, many employees instead turn to becoming a lone worker to avoid having to interact with toxic workers bent on sabotaging projects (and other employees).

Toxic employees then choose other “behind the back” strategies to discredit one or more lone worker employees. I’ll come back to this “snitching” topic shortly.

The only time a toxic person seemingly works well with others is if the manager explicitly asks the person to do so as part of their job duties… at which point, the toxic person will immediately ingratiate themselves into the “group” as if they were always the best of chummy buddies. For the rest of the group, it’s odd and offputting and they can see exactly what’s going on. For the manager, they see it as a person taking initiative and taking direction well. Managers don’t get to see what’s really going on behind that toxic curtain when they’re not in the room.

However, that group of workers definitely get to see it. They see the artificiality of the attitude. The taking on of extra work. The sometimes doing the work of others. It even can get to the point that the toxic employee will intentionally take work from another, do it intentionally wrong and then attempt to pin that “shoddy” work on the original owner. It’s all overkill, but it’s something the toxic person does to ensure they are accepted by the manager and to make sure their skills are seen as irreplaceable. They sow the seeds of being irreplaceable so that at the point they think that they are, they can fully unleash their toxicity.

Snitching

One behavior that should immediately shoot up red flags to a manager is “snitching” or “tattling”. These traits may seem like a good thing, but these behaviors are, in fact, a form of toxicity. When one employee goes behind the back of another to make disparaging remarks without them having attempted to resolve the issue first, this firmly indicates toxicity.

These types of “snitches” are the very definition of toxic. This behavior intentionally sows seeds of discord between the manager and staff. Effectively, this toxic person is a wedge attempting to drive a huge gap between the manager and the workers… to cast doubt and suspicion on a specific person or group of people.

When an employee steps into your office and attempts to convince you, as manager, that one or more people is/are a problem, red flags should appear instantly. Not about the people being mentioned, but about the person sitting in your office. This is why toxic people tend to like to win “lead” roles on teams. That title gives them more credibility and trust to step into a manager’s office to disparage others.

Unleashed

Once a toxic worker has been working long enough to feel irreplaceable, perhaps even being told so by a manager, the gloves come off. Sometimes they do so after waiting to be promoted to a “lead” position, cinching their toxicity. Becoming a “lead” allows a toxic person to unleash their toxicity in full. Usually, this type of person begins by latching onto the person they like least. In fact, they don’t really care who it is, just that there’s someone they can pour their toxicity onto. And, boy do they ever.

First, they start with subtle hints that the person is doing something untoward (snitching). Nothing specific, mind you, but they sow enough seeds of doubt with the manager that the manager must take a much closer look. These lies, of course, are usually just that. Lies. Yet, the manager now trusts the toxic person enough to begin to believe their lies. The lies usually start with a shred of truth, like claiming the person has been spending too much time on email and not enough working. When, in fact, the person has written the same amount of email they always have. Or, that the employee has been taking too many smoking breaks.

Second, the toxic person may even go so far as to not only lie, but plant “evidence” in the desk of the person they are now directing their toxicity to. Because most offices are fairly open and trusting, many employees leave their desk drawers unlocked while away from their desks. This facilitates the toxic person’s behaviors, particularly planting of evidence.

This leaves trusting employees open to abuse from toxic employees. Depending on the kind of “evidence” planted, it might even elicit probation for the employee or even termination. The toxic employee thinks, “One down, many to go”. This is the start of a huge morale problem which lasts until enough employees leave that there’s no one left to complain.

As employees begin to disappear one at a time, the manager won’t suspect the toxic employee, but instead will fail to understand why so many employees are leaving. Because the now trusted, but highly toxic employee, is now running the show, so to speak, they have full reign to do as they please.

Once they’ve cleaned house sufficiently, this is where they turn their ire onto their manager seeking that job role. At this point, they’ll both lie and plant evidence to implicate the manager in some kind of in-house scam. That manager’s manager might or might not fall for the bait. It depends on how loose or tight that relationship is. At this point, the toxic employee might be discovered, but possibly not.

These toxic employee scams are generally so subtle that it’s hard to trace it back to a specific employee.

Agenda Behind Toxicity

Sometimes there’s an agenda. I’ve seen the above toxic situation unfold before, in fact. Here’s the story.

Note that this didn’t occur in my office, but we got the details of it by all of the employees who fell into it. We had a new person hired. I’ll call her Jill. Jill was a fairly competent worker who did her job well… at least for a few months. After a few months, the manager promoted her to “lead”. At this point, she was still liked by most and did her job fairly well.

However, once promoted to lead. The entire workplace changed. Employees began seeing a side of her they hadn’t seen. Over the next couple of months, her behavior changed towards them. Yet, her manager saw none of this. In fact, her manager got caught up in a problem of his own, which kept his attention focused on that problem.

Within one to two months, her manager left the company and she was again promoted to manager. At once, she fired nearly every single person on the team and simultaneously hired a bunch of her “friends”. Only one or two “original” employees remained. This was her goal. To hire people she wanted and get rid of those she didn’t want.

At this point, the company was in a financially dire situation, not entirely of her making, but her shenanigans didn’t help and her ineptitude in managing was felt over our services being sold… leading would-be buyers to competitors. Over a month or two, her and her new “team” was unable to properly manage the equipment she was to tasked to manage, causing outages and she was forced to leave (not fired, but asked to resign). After that, many of her hires were also laid off, mostly because of the company’s financial situation. The few who managed to stay through her firing spree stayed on to manage the equipment after her departure, one of which became the new manager.

Unfortunately, the company only remained in business for ~9 more months before ultimately closing its doors for good.

This is a perfect example of a toxic workplace culture. It also impresses the importance of watching closely who is managing your company. Even managers can impact the bottom line. Even managers can cause toxicity. Oh, and her toxicity attempted to reach us in our remote office. However, our manager realized exactly what it was an completely ignored her. Since she had nothing to do with the services we managed in our office, her toxicity remained mostly confined to her office. Though, I firmly believe her toxicity was part of the reason the company ended up folding.

Workplace (mis)Trust

This is a fairly typical scenario above. Toxic employees tend to, at least over a period of time, cause large departures of other employees and generally sow mayhem by their toxicity. Many times it’s for a specific agenda, such as wanting to hire specific people they know. It is not only because the toxic employee is willing to lie, cheat and back stab, but also because no one wants to be around this type of toxicity every day. Toxicity is easily spotted by those on the ground and it grows over time to the point that employees must make a decision: stay or go. Managers typically stay insulated from this toxicity because that’s how a toxic employee wants it.

In fact, toxic employees typically sow seeds of doubt and distrust about all of the employees they intend to “stab” with the manager. Once they have these seeds of doubt planted, any one of those employees who attempts to have a conversation with the manager ends up finding that the manager no longer trusts them. Sometimes you don’t find out about that lack of trust until a performance review.

Losing trust in a workplace is tantamount to being fired. The point at which you have lost your manager’s trust, an employee should line up another job. Trust between manager and worker is paramount. Losing that trust means being unable to do your job correctly, even if you do it correctly.

Toxic employees intentionally seek to sow seeds of mistrust between manager and staff, with the exception of that toxic employee, who seeks to have the highest level of trust from the manager. Again, this is a huge red flag. Any new-ish employee who immediately tries to impress upon you, as the manager, how trustworthy they are and how untrustworthy everyone else is should be viewed as toxic.

Managers don’t need to be told whom to trust. Managers need to determine and establish trust level between their employees themselves. Unless an employee shows that they are untrustworthy, there is no reason to mistrust an employee based on another employee’s word.

There’s where a toxic employee can up their game by planting “evidence” of mistrust. If, as an employee, you’ve been framed by a co-worker over something that has been “planted”, you definitely need to find another job. Trying to win a “I said, they said” battle can be almost impossible over planted evidence. Worse, if another employee is willing to stoop so low as to actually plant evidence onto another employee, it’s time to leave. There is almost no way to convince a manager that the evidence was planted.

As a manager, having to evaluate alleged evidence found in or on someone’s desk can be exceedingly difficult. You’re a manager, not a detective. I get that. How do you manage this issue if it arises? It’s a difficult challenge, one where I can’t easily give you answers.

However, I an point you in this direction. Review who is he senior of the two employees. If the employee who “found” the evidence is claiming another more senior employee is untrustworthy, you need to better understand why that newer employee was rooting through another employee’s desk AND how they knew that “evidence” was even there. If the reporting employee is only a few months into the job, you should suspect more of that new employee than sincerity. If you’ve never had any issues with the more senior employee, then that new employee may be a toxic employee.

Employees who seek to pit manager against older employees should be immediately suspected as toxic. Once you suspect a toxic employee, you need to monitor them closely. You don’t need to alert your other employees, though. However, you also need to accept any of the toxic employee’s claims as insincere. You should make note of each and every one of them. Once you can confirm the toxic employee is sowing seeds of discontent around the office, you’ll need to take them aside and with the assistance of the HR team, place them onto a probationary period.

Know, however, that placing a toxic employee on probation won’t solve their toxicity. Once you identify a toxic employee, the only means to solve that problem is by firing them. The probationary period is simply a stepping stone to firing them. By placing them into probation and following through with standard procedures, you can then fire the employee without them having any legal recourse against you or the company.

Toxic employees are shrewd both in and out of the office. If they’re fired, expect a wrongful termination lawsuit. They won’t have any problems bringing legal action against a company for being terminated. That’s also part of their toxicity. As a manager, you must follow all procedures that allow you to fire the employee correctly.

Toxic employees know that their actions in the office cannot be easily covered by office etiquette or code of conduct rules. Meaning, toxic behaviors are almost impossible to enforce as a firing offense. Instead, you would need to fire them for not performing their work duties, which work performance is a reason to fire an employee. Playing psychological games, however, is not a reason to fire and is never written into code of conduct rules as part of the terms of employment.

The problem with probation, however, is that the employee can pass the probation requirements easily and still allow them to sow seeds of discontent. This is why probation exercises may be futile when you’re seeking to fire a toxic employee. You may simply have to rely on your company’s “at-will” hiring clause (you do have one of these, correct?) and simply fire them straight up.

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Should I allow a team work-from-home day?

Posted in analysis, botch, business, Employment, fail by commorancy on February 13, 2020

mai-tai-beach[Updated: April 26, 2020] In hindsight and knowing all of what’s going on in the world with COVID-19, I wouldn’t have written this article. Seeing as working from home may now become the new “norm” in business, I am leaving this article here as a testament to the fact that no one, not even me, can foresee how world events can change how a society or how businesses function. Realize that the information contained below is now mostly “out of date” and is here solely as a snapshot as to how the world existed prior to social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Ironically (and in spite of this article), working from home now seems to be the new norm. Please continue reading this article from this perspective.

Article Begins

I previously worked at a company which, at the team leader level, endorsed a once-a-week work-from-home day. I can now definitively state, “No, you shouldn’t allow or offer full team work from home days.” Let’s explore why.

Day Off?

The biggest reason not to allow such a work-from-home day is that it is typically treated as a “day off”. This is even true of the managerial staff. At the business where I worked and on this specific day, after we had our “morning teem meeting”, everyone went their separate ways doing whatever they pleased… and it was usually not work related.

This becomes a very difficult situation for those who are consigned to pager duty for that week. When you need to get in touch with someone to resolve a problem, it can become nearly impossible to reach them while during office hours on “work from home” day.

Work from home days should be limited to individuals rather than teams, assuming you wish to allow this perk at all. For example, allow an individual to choose a work from home day and allow that single individual to work from home on that day. That leaves the rest of the team in the office performing their daily routines. This allows for timely problem resolution in almost every case. Even then, if the team member who is at home is needed, they can typically be reached. It also allows other teams to get in touch with your team should the need arise.

Rant

The biggest problem I personally experienced with a “work from home” perk day was that I had no choice in it. If I showed up in the office on the work-from-home day, no one was there. The desks were all empty. Even if I were at the office, I still had the same problem. car-drivingEveryone else was running around in their cars or doing something other than work. This meant that even after spending a long time locating a co-worker, trying to get someone’s mind wrapped around a work problem might take ages longer than normal.

Their thoughts were on driving their car or picking up groceries or ferrying their kids or whatever their assumed “day off” tasks entailed. Their minds were clearly not focused on work. This meant that waiting for people to get back in front of their computers and get into the correct mindset might take an hour or longer. That’s an hour that a problem is not getting resolved. It’s an hour that’s causing delays because they are not doing what they are being paid to do.

This is a big work ethic problem. If I’m handling the pager and I’m expected to resolve problems, some of which I have no first hand knowledge how to resolve, I’ll need someone else’s involvement to help me understand the system that’s broken. Yet, the person with the expertise is out running around instead of working at the their computer at home (where they are supposed to be).

Knowledge Transfer

Some of this might be considered a documentation problem or a knowledge transfer problem. I agree, it is. But, there are many, many companies where selective staff choose to keep their knowledge close to the vest rather than documenting it. This is usually a sign of job security… that this person believes that if they openly document what they are doing, that they will have no value to the company.

This situation is particularly a problem if the person also happens to be the team leader. As a subordinate, I’m not tasked to manage a manager. Though, I can strongly urge them to document. However, that’s not the working relationship. I can ask, but they don’t have to comply. In many cases, they don’t and won’t comply. This leaves me back at square one. I’ll need their help to resolve the problem… every time until I can reverse engineer what they know. What they know about the systems is in their brain and in no one else’s. Until I spend hours reverse engineering that system to understand what they know, I’ll always need their help. That’s job security.

Worse, many times, these folks have PGP locked all of the doors. This means that even were I to try and reverse engineer what they did, I can’t even resolve the problem because I’m led to a PGP locked door. This means that they hold the literal key and they must be the one to open it. For this reason, teams must be in the same office together through the work day… rather than separated across city distances at various dwellings. Businesses rent office spaces for a reason. By having a team “work from home”, it means that the office rental space isn’t being used and the monthly rental money is being, at least on that day, wasted.

Work from Home

I will, however, state that work from home CAN work, if it’s implemented properly. A manager can allow one of their subordinates to work from home IF they are properly monitored. Monitoring means keeping in contact with the person via chat servers, email and pagers. Communication is your friend. That doesn’t mean pestering the person, but it does mean regularly staying in touch when the need arises. Clearly, if there is no need of this person, then let them work in silence. But, pinging them occasionally via email, chat or messaging will give you (as a manager) a sense that the person is at home in front of their computer doing work, not running around in their car taking care of non-work business. At the same time, there’s the “out of sight, out of mind” problem. If a person is out of the office, the optics from other staff might cause issues. Allowing one person to work from home means they’ve gotten a perk no one else may be getting. Offering this to one person means offering it to all staff.

Working from home is, however, a double edged sword. While on the receiving end, I did find the freedom itself is nice enough and not having to spend for the gas and wear and tear on my vehicle is cool. The difficulty is that when the team isn’t together, it kills a work day where things could have gotten done. That forces doubling up on work the following day when we all, again, meet in the office. Doubling up on work is difficult at the best of times, but moreso if that day happens to be Friday.

Teams should work together every day, each week. They should work on projects together, manage the business together and functionally be a team IN the office. You can’t be a team when the team isn’t together.

HR Advice

If a manager or executive approaches you about having a team “work from home” day, you should seriously discuss these downsides with them. The biggest problem is that it kills productivity between team members.

For example, we had our team “work from home” day on Thursday. In fact, it was the worst of all possible days to offer this. It’s the day before Friday… the day when everyone has mostly “checked out”. Friday is one of the worst days for productivity because people are concerned with the bar or a party or the weekend. Their minds are not on the work day at hand. Their minds are on the end of the day and the weekend.

By having the team “work from home” day set to Thursday, this means that it will effectively be a 3 day work week. There is Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday which supports solid team efforts. Then there’s a break on Thursday which means a huge loss of productivity for the final two work days of the week. Some people may even schedule Friday off which effectively offers a 4 day weekend breaking productivity even further.

If a manager or leader is thinking of a setting up “work from home” day, the only two days where it’s feasible is Tuesday or Wednesday. I wouldn’t allow any other days… definitely not Friday or Monday and definitely not Thursday. I also wouldn’t allow a work from home day every week. That’s too frequent.

Working from Home

Don’t get me wrong, being able to work from home is nice on the surface, but it’s horrible for business logistics. You hired your team to be in your rented office space and work together as a team. Having that team work from home can be difficult to keep track of people… particularly when other teams need access to these staff members. Other teams must put requests on hold when a full team is out of the office.

In fact, it’s almost unheard of to allow an entire team out of the office for a single day, let alone every single week. Business must be conducted every day, not just the days when people feel inclined to show up.

The difficulty, however, comes when a VP or executive proposes a “work from home” effort. While I understand there might be a personal issue requiring this VP to be at home on a specific day, he could have simply set up his own personal work from home day solely for himself. Keep the rest of the team in the office. Instead, he endorsed an entire team work from home day… a mistake.

Personally, that (and a number of other problems surrounding this person and another manager) didn’t work for me and I had to leave that job. Jobs are already difficult enough without throwing in these unnecessary wrenches. I felt the team didn’t get enough done throughout the week, partly because of this incorrectly placed “work from home” day, but also because of sheer lack of team bonding. The manager over the team really did nothing to attempt to bond the team together… instead leaving us to our own devices. This is a separate problem, just like the knowledge transfer issue above, but it definitely compounded with the work from home issue to create a large set of problems which made working for this company much more difficult than it should have been.

Team Bonding

athletesLet’s talk about team bonding for a moment. Every work team is effectively “thrown together”. It’s a bunch of people who don’t know one another initially, but must find common ground to get work done as a team. To that end, the team must have the occasional get together to allow some time away from work to talk and mingle, but that time can also be used by managers to discuss how overall work efforts are progressing.

Team outings need to offer, first, a work related meeting that discusses ongoing metrics that affect the team. If the team is in charge of keeping the servers functioning, then the meeting should discuss these efforts. If there are efforts to secure the servers, then it should discuss the security efforts. Whatever projects are currently underway, these should also be discussed so that all team members are aware of who is doing what projects and who might be needed to help these projects succeed.

Then, after the formalities of work related discussions end, the team will be free to mingle, talk and eat dinner or play video games or whatever fun team bonding activities have been scheduled. At the office, there’s limited time to bond with your co-workers other than at lunch. Having out of the office team bonding events is important to make give the team time to talk about things other than work.

When a workplace offers “work from home”, this activity completely disrupts the ability of co-worker bonding in the workplace. Without a monthly or quarterly team bonding event, there’s no way for co-workers to functionally bond… leaving a scattered team.

Team bonding is important to ensure that work efforts proceed efficiently and normally. Otherwise, you get conflict between team members who refuse to work with one another because each person thinks that their project is the most important… when all projects are important, but no more important than the next person’s project. Still, the projects are all for the benefit of the employer, thus it is the manager’s responsibility to make sure the staff manage the priorities of those projects accordingly.

Team Perks

As a team leader, consider the perks you offer your team carefully. Don’t choose perks like “work from home” because eventually (yes, even you) will abuse it. But, that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that a work from home day sacrifices productivity for that and the following day. Be careful when choosing perks that sacrifice two or more days of team productivity. If you plan to allow a work from home perk, choose to allow it for a one-on-one basis so that you can control who is out of the office when.

By making this change, you be in better control over when key people are in and out of the office. Full team “work from home” days should not be permitted or offered. If you currently support such a one-day-a-week perk, you should rethink this stance.

If you are a manager over a team that already has a once-a-week work from home day, you should stop this perk immediately! Be careful to offer a compensating perk once you get rid of this one, such as individual work from home days which are scheduled well in advance. Or, alternatively, allow team members to arrive late, leave early or have flex shifts on specific days as long as their in-office hours offer a minimum of 3-4 hours of overlap with other team members. With such a retooling of this perk, the team will work together in the office every day, offering much more weekly productivity and provide better team bonding.

If this article helped your situation, please leave a comment below letting me know how you managed your work situation.

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Should I wear fragrance to work?

Posted in Employment, tips, workplace by commorancy on December 10, 2019

perfume-bottle-c.jpgThe answer to this question is a definitive, “No!” Male or Female… No. Let’s explore.

Why do we wear fragrance?

To begin to answer this question, we need to understand the reason behind why fragrances (cologne’s and perfumes) were invented. While most people seem to think that fragrance was originally designed to make you “smell pleasant”, its intent goes much deeper than that. You may even be surprised by what you find.

Fragrance was invented and is presently designed to “make us seem more attractive”. Having our bodies odoriferously “smell pleasant” is only but a small part of the reason to wear a fragrance. The bigger reason is to attract a mate.

This article is intended towards those working in a professional office setting versus working in retail or at a food establishment, though not wearing fragrance at any place of employment is important. Also note that most intelligent people fully understand the connotations of wearing fragrance in public. Thus, wearing fragrance at the office might actually be sending the wrong signals to those around you, particularly your boss. By wearing a fragrance, these bright folks realize that you may be less serious about your work than you are about conducting your own personal affairs at the office. Wearing fragrance can set the wrong tone about your level of professionalism… this is particularly true when wearing certain popular immature scents.

Mate Attraction vs Professional Work Ethics

Most people work to make a living, not attract a mate. In fact, if you’re getting a job solely for the reason of attracting a mate, you’ve clearly got the wrong idea about working in the professional world. When you get a job, you do so to perform a skill or function that that business needs. The business itself doesn’t care about your own personal business while you are on the clock. They want you focused on their business at hand, not smelling pretty.

Wearing fragrance is actually counter to getting your professional work done. It can even cause office distractions which can lead to loss of productivity by others. Let’s understand a few more reasons why wearing fragrance can be a problem in the workplace.

Distraction

When you wear a fragrance, not everyone will enjoy the smell of it. Some will, many won’t. Fragrance is a subjective experience. I’d personally say the odds of running into someone who dislikes your fragrance is likely at least 50%. That means that a large percentage of your co-workers won’t like the scent you are wearing (male or female). Yes, that could even include your boss. Some may even be allergic.

Wearing a fragrance that your co-workers don’t like won’t win you brownie points at work. In fact, you might even get a note from HR for complaints, if you’re really unlucky. If it’s just about a distasteful scent, most people won’t say anything, but they may avoid interacting with you… and that can be bad for professional business. It can even be bad for your own work goals if you need those people to help you get projects completed.

Cleaning Products

Many cleaning products contain scents and chemicals that linger and may be overly strong, potentially triggering allergies or asthma. If you clean your desk with cleaning wipes, you may unknowingly unleash a fragrance / chemical storm into the office around your desk. Be cautious when purchasing cleaning solutions to wipe down your desk. Ensure such cleaning products are fragrance free and environmentally friendly. Even if you don’t wear fragrance yourself, you may still be contributing to workplace air pollution by using cleaning products containing fragrances on your desk surfaces. Such products include Lysol and 409 brand disinfecting wipes and sprays. Seek unscented versions and use them sparingly if they have even the slightest hint of chemical odor.

Additionally, you should walk any soiled wipes or towels into your office’s kitchen or restroom to dispose of your stinky trash in the receptacle there. Do not dispose of stinky trash in the trash bin located under your desk. Cleaning product odors will linger and emanate for quite some time from your trash bin. Most office building restrooms enclose smells within the restroom behind closed doors. Many office spaces also have enclosed kitchens with doors, thus enclosing any such odors in the kitchen. Many kitchens and restrooms also have separate ventilation systems to eject odors from the building. While restroom separation is a given, many offices design their kitchen spaces away from work areas, thus keeping kitchen odors out of workspace areas. Take advantage of this kitchen and restroom separation and dispose of all stinky trash in your kitchen or restroom receptacle, not under your desk.

Allergies

Here’s the much bigger problem for fragrances at work. Because many office buildings have limited or closed ventilation systems, your fragrance has no where to really go once in the air. If it’s sucked into the ventilation system, it may simply be recirculated around the office. This means that not only do the people near you have to smell your fragrance, so will potentially many other people around the building. For allergy sufferers, you don’t actually have to smell a fragrance to be affected by it. Even small amounts that are undetectable by the nose can still trigger allergic reactions.

Because fragrances can trigger allergies and even asthma, you should be cautious when deciding to spray on that mist before heading into the office. In fact, you should always think twice.

Soaps and Hand Lotion

Soaps contain fragrances and impart a small bit of that fragrance onto our person when using those products. However, these fragrances are almost always nearly washed away during our morning shower or bath. These fragrances rarely linger and probably can’t even be detected. There is no concern about fragrances on soaps. Hand lotions, on the other hand, can offer as strong fragrances as straight up cologne or perfume. Be cautious with using these at work. If it’s unscented, this is best. Most regular hand lotions (not tied to a line of fragrances) are usually fine for use at work. These have light, fresh fragrances that dissipate quickly and disappear.

Hand lotions sold as part of and are based on your cologne or perfume, however, should be avoided at work. These lotions typically offer similar long lasting benefits as straight up cologne or perfume. Be cautious when using these. If in doubt about the strength of your hand lotion’s scent, always choose unscented instead.

Refreshing At Work

If you feel you must wear a scent at work, do not refresh the scent in the restroom or in your car while at the office. Wear it once and do not refresh it the entire day. I can guarantee you that your office co-workers will hate it when you walk in smelling as if you had spilled the entire bottle on your person… again. Those with allergies will likely be forced to leave the area.

Secret Smokers

If you’re a secret smoker and you don’t want your office staff to know that you smoke, you should do it outside in open air. This way, the cigarette smell won’t infest your clothes. Don’t try to mask cigarette odors by spilling your fragrance on your clothes. It doesn’t work. Not only will the refreshing of the cologne annoy a lot of people, the cigarette smoke smell will still be there. Yes, we can smell it.

If you want to remain a closet smoker, you might have to do it in such a way so that your clothes don’t reek. Fragrance won’t help this situation and might actually make your job situation worse.

If you’re smoking something other than cigarettes (like Mary J or crack), you might want to think twice while doing that on breaks at the office. Eventually, you will either be caught or the heavy fragrance scent in combination with your behaviors will give you away.

If you’re really concerned over the smell of smoke lingering on your person, you may want to consider switching to vaping. I know that vaping has recently come under fire for deaths related to cannabidiol (CBD) use. Don’t use CBD… and especially, don’t use black market CBD formulations which may contain dangerous substances. You shouldn’t be using CBD at the office, anyway. Instead, choose a reputable brand of vaping oil that contains the same amount of nicotine as in a cigarette. Vaping doesn’t impart the cigarette burning smell onto your clothing. Alternatively, you could also opt to wear a NicoDerm nicotine patch while at the office or by using Nicorette gum. These are alternatives that don’t impart cigarette smoke smell or the need to mask that odor with fragrance. Patches can be hidden under clothing and gum can be chewed without anyone questioning it.

I don’t recommend the use of smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco or snuff as these tend to stain teeth and give you away even without smelling of smoke. These products also impart a smell on you that’s separate from smoke, but still distinctly smells of tobacco.

Cologne or Perfume as a Gift?

If you receive the gift of fragrance from your boss or an executive of the company, this complicates matters. To solve this complication, wear the fragrance once or twice, making sure you pass by the person who gave you the fragrance. You might even stop and thank them for it. This shows you wear it and like it. This assumes you actually like the fragrance. If you don’t like the fragrance, don’t wear it. Once or twice is enough to show them you enjoy their gift. After that, don’t wear it in the office. If they ask you why you aren’t wearing it, explain that you prefer not to wear fragrances while at work, but assure them that you do wear it when out of the office.

If you’re the type who likes to give fragrances as gifts to co-workers or subordinates, please rethink that gift. Instead, choose a scarf, nice pen or some other non-scented item that might be useful at the office. Gifting fragrance to another employee puts them on the spot to wear it around you and in the office. Don’t put another employee on the spot like this. Gifting fragrances is also a touchy subject. You may gift them a fragrance they can’t actually wear. Some fragrances don’t work with certain body chemistry. Choose a different gift item that doesn’t involve fragrance.

The Subjective Nature of Fragrance

It’s also very important to understand that the pleasantness or unpleasantness of a scent is in the eye of the beholder (or more specifically, in the nose). What that means is that while you may find a scent pleasing, those around you may not. Because of the subjective nature of scents and because scents are worn on the body, it’s actually very difficult to tell someone their fragrance smells bad. It’s usually taken as a personal insult by the fragrance wearer. It’s not that we’re insulting you, we’re telling you that the fragrance you’re wearing smells bad. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the scent. Yet, most fragrance wearers can’t make that distinction and, instead, take it as a personal attack. If someone in your workplace tells you your fragrance smells bad, you need to reconsider using that fragrance in the future. That’s all we’re saying. In fact, it should give you pause to reconsider wearing fragrance at all, but especially not in the office.

You can keep a bottle in your purse and put it on immediately after your shift is over. That’s fine. But, don’t wear any while at the office to avoid a myriad of problems, the least of which being told that your fragrance sucks.

Application

Many people don’t fundamentally understand how to apply cologne or perfume. You don’t apply the scent all over your body. You apply it to two spots on your inner wrist pulse point next to the hand. You then apply it in one more spot on your skin, perhaps behind the ears or on your lower neck / top of the chest. That’s it. Perfumes and colognes are strong. You don’t need much to make a point.

They will wear down over time, yes. Some wear down faster than others, but you don’t need to wear much at all. If you’re intending to wear fragrance at the office (hint: don’t), these three spots are enough. Don’t put it on your clothing at all. It will never wear off of your clothing and it will remain too pungent. Clothing, no. Limited skin application, fine.

This, of course, is how you apply fragrance. This section doesn’t intend to imply you should wear fragrance to the office. No. This is simply how to apply it. You still shouldn’t wear any fragrance into the office when in a professional office building setting. Wearing no fragrance at all is your best choice for staying out of trouble. Let your soap’s fragrance be the only fragrance that you wear.

HR Complaints

If enough people in your office truly don’t like the scent you’ve chosen, they will complain to HR. At some point, you will be confronted by someone on the HR team or your manager regarding this matter. That’s inevitable.

By wearing heavy scents, you may actually be forcing your company to rewrite its employee handbook. As more and more staff abuse wearing heavy fragrances while at the office, complaints will eventually force HR to retaliate by creating a no-scent policy while in the office. Because offices are communal places, we all must work together in relative harmony. If one person seeks to defy that harmony by wearing an obnoxious, overpowering scent, expect to hear about it… regardless of your personal reasons for wearing it.

Finally, you shouldn’t attempt to attract mates while performing your work at the office. Your off time and after hours can be spent in pursuit of a partner, but when at the office, your time should be spent using your hired skill to solve business problems, not distracting others around you by wearing abhorrent fragrances.

Fragrance Free Workplace Policy

If you work for a Human Resources team or a Facilities team at your employer, please consider implementing a Fragrance Free Workplace policy at your place of business. You can’t control a leased building’s ventilation system, but you can control the air quality from your employees and visitors. There’s no need to complicate your hiring and retention process by allowing employees to wear fragrances at the office. If you need an example of how to write such a policy, please check out this Fragrance Free Workplace template from the American Lung Association.

To close this article, let me talk for a moment about sharing. If you work around a fragrance wearer and you have been suffering from a horrible scent or allergies from that fragrance, I feel your pain. That’s why I decided to write this article. I’ve been there, done that. This author gives permission to share this article with any co-worker to give them a strong hint and discuss why wearing fragrance isn’t appropriate at the office. If you work in an HR team, you also have this author’s permission to freely share a link to this article or to link back to this article when writing internal correspondence for your employees.

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Workplace Crime: Should I talk to human resources?

Posted in best practices, business, Employment by commorancy on August 10, 2018

fingerprintI’m being harassed by a manager, should I talk to human resources? Let’s explore.

Sexual Assault in the Workplace

I’ll lead with this one right up front as it’s front and center news and part of the #metoo movement. While this tends to be more common for females than males, both genders can experience this problem in the workplace. What should you do if you’re groped in the workplace in an inappropriate way? The first question you’re probably asking is, “Should I contact human resources?”

The answer is a resounding, NO. Do not contact the human resources team and try to complain there first. In fact, unless you’re a manager in the organization, you should entirely avoid complaining to human resources. Why? Let’s explore deeper.

Human Resources works for Management

This is an important concept to understand about corporate business. The HR team works for the management team, not the employees. Many people have a misconception that the HR team is an advocate group for the employee. This is entirely false. The HR team members, no matter how friendly they may appear, are not and will never be an employee advocate. Only you can be your own advocate (along with any attorney you hire). Your employer’s HR team looks out for #1, which is the business itself and the management team.

If the activity you experienced is sexual misconduct and resulted in bruises, marks or injury, then visit a hospital and take photos of the injuries first. Call 911 if necessary. If situation involves rape, then you’ll need to have the hospital perform a rape kit. When you are able and out of immediate danger, you should call the police and file a police report against the person describing what happened to you and by whom within the police report. Always ensure you are out of immediate danger before contacting anyone.

Next, find a lawyer who can represent you in this matter. If the lawyer finds merit in a lawsuit against the accused (or your company), it’s up to you to decide or not to proceed with the case. Of course, you’ll want to make sure you understand the consequences and the monetary costs of pressing such legal action, particularly against managers and particularly against high paid executives and your employer.

Once you have filed both a police report and you have a lawyer, only then should you involve the human resources team and give them whatever information that your lawyer deems appropriate to give them. Remember, only your lawyer is your advocate. The human resources team represents the company’s interests, not yours. Even then, you should only contact your company’s human resources team after discussing this strategy with your lawyer.

The human resources team’s responsibility is always to find reasons to discredit you and sweep the event under the rug. Once a police report is filed and you have a lawyer, the HR team can no longer play the protect-the-company game as easily because the police are now involved. The HR team is not law enforcement, but they always want to avoid lawsuits at all costs. They exist to make sure the company’s image remains clean and friendly. If it gets publicized that staff are being sexually assaulted in their workplace, their hiring efforts will cease. No one will want to work at a company that wilfully puts employees into harm’s way while on the job. No, it is in HR’s best interest to ensure an employee making an accusation is at best discredited and at worst terminated. HR may or may not terminate the accused depending on the position held within the company and depending on the accusation and against whom.

For example, if the person being accused of sexual misconduct is a manager, director, VP or C-level exec, it’s almost certain the accusing employee will be targeted for termination. The accused will likely remain at the company. As I said, it’s important to understand that the HR team’s obligation to the company is to protect the management team and the company against lawsuits and protect the company’s image that might interfere with hiring efforts. They also don’t have to play fair to do this… which is why termination may be a very real outcome for whistleblowing such activities within a company.

Targeted for Termination

While whistleblowers have protection when working in government jobs, no such protections exist for private corporations. If you whistleblow as an employee of a private corporation, the company is well within their rights to terminate your employment with or without cause. This is particularly true if your employment is considered AT-WILL. Of course, you can also sue the company for wrongful termination. The HR team is well aware of this position as well.

To avoid a wrongful termination lawsuit, the management team will likely sideline you into a position where you cannot succeed. This will then force you to perform badly and force management to put you onto a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). Because you have no way to succeed on this PIP, you’ll fail at all of the success goals while on the PIP and, at the end of the improvement period, you will be ushered to the door. This is a common strategy to get rid of troublemakers and avoid wrongful termination lawsuits. Because they followed the PIP plan to the letter and have documented it at every step, this is the company’s insurance policy against wrongful termination lawsuits.

If you whistleblow and end up on a PIP, you’re being groomed for termination. You should take this as a huge red flag to move on. Put your resume out there the day you find out you have been put on a PIP. Don’t wait. Don’t assume things will work out.

Previous Employer Lawsuits

If you quit your offending employer and find a new job, you should keep any previous employer litigation information confidential. Do not disclose this to your new employer. First, it’s not their business. Second, if they find out you’re suing a previous employer, that could become contentious with your new company. They may feel threatened that you could take legal action against them. Don’t inform them of any pending legal action.

Don’t discuss it with co-workers. Don’t discuss it with your manager. Simply, don’t discuss it. Only discuss it with your lawyer. If you need to take off work for a legal meeting with your attorney or with the case, simply tell your employer that you have a personal matter that you need to discuss with your attorney and leave it at that. If they press you on the legal matter, just explain to them that due to pending litigation, you can’t discuss the case.

Termination and Lawsuits

If you’re terminated from the offending company, you may be asked to sign legal documents stating you won’t sue the company or that you’ll agree to arbitration. Simply ignore the documents and don’t sign them. The company cannot withhold your pay as extortion for signing those documents. If they try this, this is illegal and you can sue them for withholding your earned pay. A CEO can even be personally jailed for willfully withholding your pay even if it was someone else in the organization who made that decision. Your company must pay you the hours you worked regardless of what you sign going out the door.

Also, being terminated doesn’t absolve the company from any legal wrongdoing. If you have a pending lawsuit against the company, being terminated doesn’t change the status of that pending lawsuit. You are still free to pursue any lawsuits you have open. In fact, being able to document termination in a retaliatory way may even strengthen your lawsuit.

If you signed an arbitration agreement as part of your hiring package with the company (which you should never do), then you’ll have to discuss this situation with your lawyer to find your best avenue for litigation.

Guilt, Lawsuits and your Career

If you witness or you become a part of an illegal activity in the workplace (i.e., sexual misconduct), it is on you to determine how you want to handle it. You can do nothing and let it drop or you can take it to the police. It’s your choice. Too many companies get away with far too much. If you witness or experience anything illegal while on the job, you should report it to the police and consider a lawsuit only on your attorney’s advice.

As I said above, if you attempt to go to HR first and ask them to address your concern,  you will likely find you are being accused, sidelined and treated as the criminal, not the person who performed the misconduct. Why?

The HR team and its management is hired by the CEO and executive team. The HR manager likely reports directly to the CEO or the CFO. As a result, they take marching orders from their boss. If an employee makes an allegation against a manager or above, the CEO will want to quash this as quickly and as quietly as possible without investigation. To do this, the HR team will state they are investigating, but instead they will begin watching you, the employee who made the report closely. Even the tiniest slip or mistake will be blown way out of proportion and, you, the accuser be reprimanded. This may lead to a PIP as described above or possible immediate termination.

Basically, if you reach out to the HR team for help, you may find that it is you who are now the target against the ire of the company. Unfortunately, once the executive team paints a target on the back of an employee, it’s only a matter of time before the accuser is gone.

Throw Away Employees

Unfortunately, corporate business is cutthroat about making money and ensuring that that outcome continues. CEOs and the executive team will stop at nothing to make sure business continues as usual. The executive team is not your friend at any company. They are your boss. As a boss, they will do whatever it takes to make sure their business succeeds, regardless of what that means to you.

The only employee in any organization considered important enough to keep on the payroll is the CEO. All else are expendable… and this is especially true of troublemakers. By making an accusation of sexual misconduct against anyone, you may be labeled a troublemaker in your personnel file. If your position is easily replaced, you’ll soon be gone and they’ll fill it with someone else.

For this reason, if you’re alleging sexual misconduct, you have to make sure to legally document everything including physical evidence of it. The only way to do that is contact the police. Then, hire a lawyer. Only a person whom you are paying can help you to bring justice. The HR team has no incentive to bring justice on your behalf as they are not paid by you. The HR team has every incentive to ignore you and maintain status-quo because they are paid by and take orders from management.

Illegal Activities

Such activities are not limited to sexual misconduct. It also includes embezzlement, money laundering, insider trading, cooking the books, theft, vandalism and any other willful act by an officer of the company. If you witness any of these, you should still file a police report and then talk to a lawyer.

Skip talking to the HR team as they will only cast suspicion on you, try to turn it around on you and/or target you for termination. It is their job to kill these problems as quickly and as quietly as possible using any means necessary. Being able to get rid of problems quietly is the difference between a good and a great HR team. Don’t ever think the HR team is on your side as an employee.

HR Perks and Employee Happiness

This goes hand in hand with all of the above. Unless you’re on the management team, the HR team is not your advocate. Yes, HR is there to keep the employees happy, but only on their terms. When a non-management employee brings a problem to the attention of HR, watch your back. This means, never disclose your internal company problems to an HR team member. Sure, you can be friendly and sociable and polite, but always keep the HR team at arm’s length when discussing personal or job related matters. This also means you need to know whom is married to whom in your organization. You don’t want to vent a bunch of personal issues to a co-worker only to find out they are married to the  HR manager or an HR employee at your company. Word gets around fast in HR.

As an example, if your company offers company paid counseling as a perk, you should avoid using it. Instead, you should find your own personal counselor and pay them for those services yourself. If you disclose anything to a company paid counselor which could be misconstrued as a problem for the company, the HR team may be able to obtain this information outside of any doctor-patient privilege. Because of this, this could give the HR team ammo to terminate your employment. Always be very, very cautious when using such company sponsored counseling services. When the company is paying the bill, they may have made legal arrangements to obtain information that an employee might disclose.

This information can also be kept in your employment file and potentially used against you should the need arise. Careful what you say, particularly to company paid counseling services and to random folks around the office. Because the walls have ears, even discussing this kind of stuff during lunchtime in the break room could be overheard by someone on the HR team. It’s simpler not to discuss issues of sexual misconduct at all when on your company’s property.

Cell Phones and Employment

If your company supplies you with a cell phone for business purposes, never use it for personal reasons or to discuss personal matters. Because the company owns the equipment, they can install whatever they want on the device and potentially record and listen to your conversations. Only ever discuss these kinds of matters on a phone you own and fully control.

Because many employers now allow using your own phone device for work purposes, never relinquish your phone to the IT team or install company apps or mail on your phone. For example, installing an Exchange mail connector in Apple’s Mail app on iOS allows your company to not only set up restrictions on your phone device, preventing you from using certain functions or installing certain apps, they can also modify the device to their own will… up to and including wiping your phone entirely of data. Yes, installation of the Exchange connector to a corporate Exchange mail server hands over this level of control of your device to your employer!

Never install a company Exchange connector on Apple’s Mail app. Instead, install the Outlook app and only use it. The Outlook app does not have this level of permission to control your phone that Apple’s Mail app has and, thus, cannot modify your phone or put your phone at risk of being wiped. Better, don’t use your personal phone for company business. Request the company provide you with a phone if they need that level of control over the phone device. If they refuse the request, that’s their problem. The employer can call you and text you on your device, but that’s as far as you should let them go with your personal phone. If they provide you with a company phone, then they can set it up however they wish.

Managers and HR versus Employee

Yes, the management team and HR will gang up on you. As an employee, the HR team always takes the word of a manager over the word of the employee. This is fact. There is no such thing as justice or equality in corporate business. The HR team represents the management team without question. If, for example, you accuse a manager of sexual misconduct and that manager tells HR that the accuser made it all up, that’s where the accusation ends. Worse, the manager can then retaliate against you through the HR team’s blessing. There will be no further investigation nor will your accusation receive any further review. However, your work efforts might find undue scrutiny, micromanagement and manager meddling. If you press the point, the HR team will likely begin the sidelining and termination process at the manager’s request.

Even if the HR team requests such complaints come forward, never assume that submitting your complaint to the HR team will result in any satisfactory outcome for you. It won’t. Instead, you will need to rely on the legal system to work for you. This is the reason you should make a police report as soon after the incident as possible, preferably the same day. Visit a hospital if you are injured so they can medically help you and document your injuries. Then, find a lawyer who specializes in whatever you witnessed or experienced and talk to them about your case. If you have been assaulted or raped in the workplace, you should visit the RAINN web site or call RAINN at 1-800.656.HOPE to find out what to do next.

If you choose to try to reach out to the HR team and find that it all backfires on you, you can’t say you haven’t been warned.

Disclaimer: None of this article is intended to be construed as legal advice. If you have legal questions, you should contact an attorney near you who specializes in the crimes you have witnessed or experienced. If you are a victim of sexual assault and/or rape in the workplace, visit RAINN to find out what to do.

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How not to run a business (Part 8): Stock and Incentive edition

Posted in best practices, business by commorancy on February 15, 2014

While it’s great that employers want to reward employees and give incentives to stay, there is the correct way and there is the wrong way. Let’s explore.

Don’t offer tiny stock grants with huge vesting schedules and cliffs

If you’re planning to offer a stock grants as ‘stay’ incentives, make it sizable. Stock programs with vesting schedules are a good thing, but not grants with tiny amounts of shares. First, it’s a waste of paperwork to give out less than $10k in equivalent shares (vested over 4 years) in company stock both for the HR team and for the receiving employee. You’ll have your team spending time on managing all of these tiny grants with no benefit to anyone. Second, most employees won’t hesitate to walk away from such grants before the vesting period ends which means even more paperwork to clean it up after the employee has left. Employees won’t wait 12 months just to get another $1-2k when they can likely pick up a 5-10% raise (and possibly even a sign-on bonus) by changing jobs.

If you want to give an incentive to employees so that they stay with your company, approve grant sizes that matter. More specifically, grant sizes that are higher than an equivalent raise. Make it worth your employee to want to worry about. For example, grant a size equivalent to 1 year of salary (at the then current stock price) with a 4 year vesting schedule. If an employee sees they’re going to get 1/4 of their salary each year for the next 4 years, that’s definitely an incentive to stay. If they don’t stay, you don’t pay. Assuming the employee is a high performer and highly valued, it is worth it when they do stay. That’s the entire point of the grant. However, issuing a grant that, at best, offers the employee $1-3k after taxes each year offers not even the best performer an incentive to stay. After all, you do want this employee to stay, right? Most great employees can easily make up such a tiny amount left behind by moving to a new job with a new company. Most people would have no problems walking away from a tiny dollar amount for a new job offer. Again, this leaves your existing employees to clean up the mess left over from the tiny little unvested grants. Note that it’s the same amount of paperwork whether you grant 1 share or thousands.

In other words, grant stock incentive sizes that make sense for all involved or choose a different incentive vehicle altogether. While you may think giving stock grants is a positive thing, employees generally don’t because of the downsides of vesting schedules and cliffs, the hassles of taxes (it will probably cost the employee more to hire a tax consultant than the bonus is worth) and when it’s too small it’s not worth the employee’s time. Be very careful when using this incentive vehicle.

Don’t send the wrong message to your employees by using the wrong incentives

In the case above with stock, you have to consider what such a small grant size says to the employee. If you give an employee a pittance grant, you’ve essentially just told them, “You’re worth $1-2k a year extra” (once they do the math). That, in many cases (especially in California), is less than the average raise. That doesn’t, in any way, impart confidence that the employee is valued… and that’s exactly what a pittance grant says. It’s definitely not the right message to send. Yes, extra money is always a good thing, but not when it’s wrapped (er.. trapped) in the wrong incentive vehicle or if it’s the wrong dollar amount.

Keep in mind that for the employee it’s all about when they actually see the money. Trapping the money behind vesting schedules and vesting cliffs is tantamount to dangling a carrot from a stick just out of reach (for a year) and then only giving them 1/4 of that carrot after chasing it for a year. If you expect the employee to wait a year to get 1/4 of a baby carrot, it better be a damned good tasting baby carrot (e.g., a substantial amount of money actually worth waiting for).

From a monetary perspective alone, $1-2k extra a year can be easily handed to the employee in many other ways. You can label the extra as a bonus, you can label it as a ‘great job’ thank you, you can hand them a live check with a personal thank you or you can buy them an iPad as a gift.

Each of these suggested alternative incentives sends the correct message. Handing someone an iPad is a whole lot more satisfying of a bonus than handing them the quagmire of pittance RSUs. In stock plans with long term vesting schedules, vesting cliffs, stock price uncertainties, waiting periods and tax disincentives, it’s a quagmire of a bonus system for the employee to navigate only to secure $1k. Don’t use stock grants to hand out $1-2k a year bonuses. Using this incentive vehicle sends the absolute wrong message to your employees, can damage employee self-worth and ultimately damage your reputation as a respectable company. Ultimately, if the employee is left with nothing for a year and then has to wait 4 years to ultimately get maybe $10k gross and suffer huge tax liabilities in the process, that’s the wrong message to send.

So, always use the correct incentive vehicles to send a positive message to your employees to keep them on board. Using the wrong vehicle in the wrong way not only plants the seed of dissatisfaction, it can lead to the employee walking away entirely.

Don’t flaunt your sales team’s wins to your non-sales employees

Your sales team is important to the success of your company. It’s also great that your sales team members, or at least some of them, are doing well to bring in those great deals. On the other hand, many companies make the mistake of continually rewarding the most outstanding sales team members with trips, gifts, dinners and other niceties. Keep this information firmly within your sales team. Do not share this information with non-sales departments.

It’s very easy for the other departments to see the sales team as being the team with all the special benefits. This can make the other teams seem as if they are being left out of the loop. Your operations team, for example, usually has staff working 24/7/365 to make sure things are working. Yet, your sales team is being flown around the globe on sales team kick-offs. This sends the wrong message to other teams. If you are going to give incentives to your sales teams, either keep it away from your other teams or figure out a way (i.e., via winning an internal lottery) to include other team members in these wins.

Again, it’s important to understand that the sales team, while important to new business and renewals, isn’t the only team keeping your business afloat. All teams need to be supported, given incentives and given the opportunity to participate in travel events when available.

Do allow employees to participate in company sponsored events

If your company is planning to do trade shows such as Dreamforce or possibly even creation of your own company annual event, allow and encourage employees from all departments to participate. Doing the same job day after day, month after month is hard to do year in and out. Breaking the monotony of the same ole same ole will help reinvigorate employees when they do get back to their job. Allowing employees to do something different for a couple of days does help re-energize people to do their best jobs. It also encourages employees to meet and work with other employees outside of their team that they otherwise would not. This allows for a much closer knit company, especially when the employee does end up working with that person they met earlier.

Don’t be ambiguous or vague about your incentive programs and make sure they are fair to all teams

If you plan to offer such incentives as RSUs, stock options, bonus plans, merit-based trips, etc, document them. Document exactly how they work, who is eligible and how each employee can become eligible. If your programs only include certain departments, make certain that when other departments become aware (and they will) that you offer compensating alternatives to those other departments.

For example, if your sales team members receive an end-of-year trip to the Bahamas for the best sales numbers, then your finance team should, likewise, be offered some kind of off-site vehicle for the finance team members who consecutively kept their DSOs down that year. Offering something to one team and not others clearly smacks of favoritism. When it is not documented clearly, this causes more friction between teams than it solves. Better, if teams are offered grand incentives, then use a lottery to allow other departments to participate in it. So, for each sales team member who wins a trip, they can bring a member from another team along and that person is determined via a lottery. Again, this should all be documented fully so there is no question about either individual or team incentive programs.

Part 7 | Chapter Index | Part 9

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