Part 2 – Nos. 6 – 10
This post follows on from Part 1 — which detailed the first five of my observations.
6. Exaggerated grievances lead to exaggerated defences
- Sadly, human nature being what it is, when an employee submits multiple grievances, some of which are of questionable validity, managers can sometimes respond in kind.
- I have seen managers try to ‘even the score’ by telling their exaggerated versions of the truth. They position themselves as THE most caring, THE most approachable, THE most ‘saintly’ manager that you’re ever likely to meet. And so, the investigation can be like watching a negotiation. Both sides were starting at opposite extremes, with the position that they’ll both accept somewhere in the middle.
- The grievance investigator aims to identify that middle position — in this case, ‘the truth’ — and whose version is closest to it.
7. Conspiracy theorists and conspiracies can co-exist
- Throughout history, people have believed in various conspiracy theories; such as the alleged ‘alien’ being kept secretly in Roswell, USA; or those that don’t think that Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon.
- Employees also sometimes think that there is a conspiracy within their company, where the ‘powers that be’ are conspiring to ensure either that they don’t get a particular job; or pay rise; or desk by the window etc., that they want. Whenever they don’t get their way, they will complain — not always officially. The less they get their way, so their feelings of frustration grow, sometimes to such a degree that it impacts how they perform their job. When their performance ultimately suffers, and they are ‘managed’ accordingly, they see this as “… Another example” of the conspiracy, and nothing to do with them.
- Thankfully, such conspiracy theorists in the workplace are relatively rare. But, even when they do exist, there is one thing that needs to be borne in mind when investigating any grievances that they might raise — that there might be a conspiracy! I’m not suggesting anything of the magnitude of hiding an alien or staging a mock moon landing in the barren wastelands of Tibet. Still, one or more individuals within the organisation may be trying to force them out. Maybe, their constant ‘whinging and whining’ over the years has just got too much for management to bear, and the leadership team decided to ease them out, by making life hard for them. When this occurs, managers can often take short cuts and ignore policies and procedures.
- However wrong the employee may have been in the past about the actions of others; it is worth remembering that they may just be right on this occasion!
8. Employees don’t always know when they’re lying?
- This raises the question of when is a lie, not a lie? The answer is actually that a lie is not a lie when the (alleged) ‘liar’:
does not intend to deceive or mislead
believes that what they’re saying is true
- So, if either of these points exists, the ‘liar’ isn’t a ‘liar’ — if an employee doesn’t know that they are lying, then they’re not! Simple! It doesn’t mean that everything that an employee says will necessarily be true, but they might think that it is!
- One example, to demonstrate this point, that I encountered during an investigation several years ago in the Midlands, was as follows:
- At the start of my investigation, I informed the female employee who had lodged the grievance against her manager, that her company had engaged me as an independent investigator; that I hadn’t met her manager previously; nor had I been to the factory where she worked before.
- I then conducted an investigation, which included interviewing her on two separate occasions.
- Having concluded my investigation, some weeks after, I produced a report and was subsequently called as a witness at the grievance hearing.
- At the hearing, the Grievance Officer asked the employee if she had anything to say before the discussions, and she stated that she did.
- She said that she “… knew” I had been lying when I had initially told her that I had neither been to the factory before nor knew her manager. She added that she “knew” this to be untrue, as she had seen me leaving the site with her manager a few weeks before I had first met her.
- I was somewhat taken aback, as her statement was completely without foundation. But it wasn’t a lie, as I believe that she thought it was true. She must have seen somebody who looked something like me, and later — after having met me — put two and two together and made twenty-six!
- Unfortunately, had she challenged me when I first met her and made my introductory statement to her, I would have been able to prove that she was wrong. But she didn’t. Despite my repeated denials, she was adamant that she was right. But she wasn’t.
- She said something that was untrue, but it wasn’t a lie because she didn’t know it was untrue.
- I said something that was correct, but she thought that it was a lie, even though it wasn’t. Does anyone have a polygraph machine?
9. Bullies don’t just appear overnight
- Bullies don’t just appear overnight. Babies aren’t born with bullying tendencies. Individuals’ become’ bullies — due to a whole host of external influences — over time. It is generally accepted that people may exhibit more bullying characteristics when they are under stress. This can also occur when they are subjected to bullying from above, which can lead to a ‘bullied bully bullies’ scenario. But I have never heard of a situation where employees left a decent manager behind at work one evening, only to find them transformed into a bullying monster by the next morning. [Apart from Dr Hyde’s cleaner perhaps!]
- So, if people don’t become bullies overnight, how do they progress into management positions, without being ‘found out’ by their employing companies first?
- We’ll briefly explore in a later post how organisations tend not to recruit for attitude (or personality) but tend to concentrate on technical skills. That approach tends to continue throughout an individual’s career. Why? Because so-called ‘soft skills’ are harder to manage. People with negative personality traits aren’t necessarily bad at the technical aspects of their job. The fact that they’re good at their job increases their ‘power’, and many organisations then struggle with the dilemma of dealing with a ‘personality issue’ that might damage the business, if the result might be to lose some critical technical expertise.
- Technically sound, but managerially poor managers can therefore survive. The longer they do, the more ‘invested’ the organisation is in them. The company’s hierarchy becomes more complicit in their acceptance of the manager’s behaviour. They hired him (or her); they promoted him; and, they put him in a position where he was responsible for managing others. Therefore to accept any claims from employees that the manager is a ‘bully’ makes the organisation culpable, in part.
- The ‘bully is therefore sometimes defended by the company and described as “… a strong character” with a “… firm, no-nonsense management style”; someone who “… doesn’t suffer fools (a label any suffering employee will surely take issue with!) gladly”.
- With ‘brand management’ being so important to big business, companies don’t want to be seen as “… the company that promotes bullies”. But what to do? If someone complains about the manager’s behaviour, should the company excuse it?; Explain it?; Apologise for it? Or act on it? Unless they do act on it, the problem — their problem — will only get worse.
- Bullies, like leopards, find it very hard to change their spots. Tomorrow’s paper may make tough reading for the company’s board and shareholders. The best course of action would have been for the company not to put themselves in such a position in the first place, but it is a bit late to give that advice now!
10. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is
- This statement is not meant to be a negative one, just a realistic one. The manager who tells you that ‘all’ of his team are ‘always’ happy at work, may be right most of the time. But always? Really? I find it far more believable when a manager tells me that “… the team are generally happy, but there are always things from time to time, that annoy people. Not necessarily big things, but people do occasionally get upset, and we try to sort it out.” I know which version sounds more believable to me.
- As outlined in 8. above, people don’t always lie but can think that they’re telling the truth when they’re not. I once investigated a grievance against a manager (let’s call her Sarah). When faced with the allegations, Sarah disputed the evidence and said: “… no, it didn’t happen that way, you need to speak to Jenny, who will tell you that we are terrific friends, and will confirm my version of events!” I talked to Jenny. Jenny said that she “… certainly wouldn’t call Sarah a friend” and then proceeded to confirm the details of the grievance.
- Some people have very low levels of emotional intelligence (EQ). Some people are bullies. But, not all people with low EQ are bullies, and not all bullies have low EQ.