Embracing a new approach in handling challenging employment grievances, disciplinary matters and terminations

Roxanne Fisch, Senior Associate

People + Culture Strategies Founder and Managing Principal, Joydeep Hor recently gave a thought-provoking and well-received presentation to leading HR professionals on how employers should rethink handling discipline, termination and grievances in the workplace. In taking the audience through ten key guiding principles, HR leaders were provided with a strong foundation to deal with challenging employee relations situations.

The Challenge

Every HR professional can relate to being asked to reflect on the most challenging employment relationship they have had to deal with. In having this scenario at the forefront of their mind, Joydeep tasked the audience with considering what it was that made it difficult and what tools they could have incorporated that might have yielded a different outcome.

Ten Guiding Principles

The ten guiding principles set out by Joydeep were in strong contrast to how a traditional law firm would approach handling challenging employee relations situations. The focus should be shifted from a compliance-based approach, which tends to view these situations in a vacuum, to an approach which considers the whole context and environment in which it occurred. As noted by Joydeep, this is particularly important as these days people are far better informed about their workplace rights then they used to be, and issues are becoming more prevalent earlier in the employment relationship. The conversation, he surmised, needs to be reframed and his guiding principles provide a practical toolkit in being able to do so.

1. Embrace quadrant methodology
Managing people should be undertaken through a wholistic approach. Instead of simply focusing on the commercial aspects of a decision, consideration should be given to each of the four quadrants: commercial; legal; psychology and sociology. It is often these last two quadrants which are overlooked, yet the importance of understanding how the person thinks or feels as well as considering the bigger impact on the organisation can lead to better outcomes in resolving the issue.

2. Embrace the “Kingdom”
Joydeep provided the audience with the powerful analogy of viewing the workplace as a kingdom, where the ruler (employer) is entitled to impose any rules (policies) they want to apply in their kingdom (of course within limits), the ministers (managers) are to ensure the rules are complied with and the ruler is entitled to evict anyone they wish provided they do so in the right way. The implementation of appropriate company policies are important to ensure the kingdom runs smoothly.

3. The importance of substance over process
HR is often viewed as process driven rather than substance. It is important to challenge this perception so that it becomes more about substance and value over process.

4. Grievances: Understand the core of the issue
HR professionals must seek to understand the root of the grievance. Getting better at going beyond what is being said to find out the core of the issue will assist in being able to improve it.

5. Little things matter
In people management issues, it is always necessary to think about how the employer’s actions will make that person feel. Empathy and common decency can go a long way.

6. Explain, don’t convince
In handling challenging performance related situations, the aim is to infuse your language with words that seek to explain why you have come to the view that you have.

7. Honour the promises you make
Employers often make promises to employees, whether it be at induction, by way of company policies (which should be limited wherever possible) or in their values statement. These promises should be followed through with.

8. Assume nothing and take nothing for granted
This principle is particularly relevant in relation to confidentiality. Whilst HR professionals often do things in a certain way because we are often fixated on the legal quadrant, it is worthwhile investing more time in optics management and counter-messaging.

9. Right and wrong have nothing to do with it
In the context of workplace investigations, it is very easy for the investigation to take on a life of its own where the investigation itself becomes a pseudo institution and the employee’s concerns about their job security is thereby intensified. To avoid this, HR professionals should commit to undertaking an investigation quickly, with minimal fuss and disruption and form a view on the balance of probabilities.

10. Specifics around termination
Often the most unrecognisable yet dominant category in termination decisions is based on the aspect of a lack of a cultural fit in the organisation. More energy should be invested in determining an answer to the question, “what does good look like” in the organisation. If employers invest in answering this question, they can then create the infrastructure necessary to put them in the best possible situation in dealing with termination decisions.

In providing these ten guiding principles, Joydeep provided HR professionals with practical advice to implement within their organisations straight away. People + Culture Strategies can assist with the implementation of Joydeep’s powerful people management strategies. Please feel free to contact us if you are interested on (02) 8094 3100.

Ray’s Rage – Managing Bullying and Harassment by a “Star Employee”

Daniel Anstey, Graduate Associate

The recent allegations of bullying against star radio host Ray Hadley, serve as a reminder to employers of the potential dangers posed by inaction towards complaints of bullying by a star employee. Indeed, the greater the status of an employee, the more an organisation stands to lose if allegations of bullying are not dealt with in line with best practice.

The “fresh allegations” which have surfaced this week, refer to alleged events which occurred many years ago, even dating as far back as 1984, showing that these issues require careful management and cannot simply be swept under the rug.

What are the possible consequences of bullying/harassment?

Bullying has become a buzzword in recent times and any claims against a public figure can attract a frenzy of media coverage. This means that some victims may be hesitant in coming forward with claims for fear of unwanted attention on top of what they might already be dealing with.

Conversely, victims may be motivated to go to the media by the desire to enact revenge, extract financial compensation or take the opportunity to have their moment in the spotlight. This can result in damage to the brand and reputation of an organisation, or of any individuals caught up in the situation.

Employers must be wary of the attitude that star employees are worth protecting from these sorts of allegations, as this will benefit no-one in the long term. If exposed, a cover up will damage the brand and reputation of both employee and employer, and an organisation risks seeing valuable employees walk out the door if they feel that fair procedures are not in place.

Workplace bullying can cause lasting physical, mental and psychiatric harm to victims and their close ones. This may also have a flow-on effect to productivity and culture and within an organisation.

Furthermore, if a victim suffers psychiatric or physical harm and sues in tort, the employer may be found vicariously liable, as well as breaching their own non-delegable duty of care not to expose employees to reasonably foreseeable risks of harm. For example, in the case of Sneddon v The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly an employer was held liable to the tune of $438,613, for past and future economic loss arising when a senior manager was found to have bullied an assistant.

So, what can you do?

It is now increasingly important for employers to manage proactively the reputational damage which can accompany allegations of bullying, and not to be seen to be tolerating or turning a blind eye because a particular employee is a well-known or highly successful individual.

Dealing with the issues and discontent resulting from bullying, internally and before they escalate is crucial in avoiding a situation such as the one 2GB is currently facing. The best practice is to have very clear policies prohibiting bullying as well as accessible and confidential procedures for handling complaints and managing investigations.

Employees who believe they are being bullied also may apply to the Fair Work Commission’s anti-bullying jurisdiction for an order to stop the bullying, but it is always preferable for the parties to deal with the issues proactively themselves.

If you require advice on best practice policies and procedures for your organisation, or on bullying and harassment in the workplace please feel free contact People + Culture Strategies on (02) 8094 3100.

Asians with PhDs: Managing Perceptions of “Difference” in the Workplace

Justin Peñafiel, Senior Associate

Have you recently employed any “Asians with PhDs”? Recent political rhetoric suggests it is a new phenomenon to have a diverse workforce, but whether in metropolitan Sydney, or regional Australia with its skilled labour shortages, nothing could be further from the cosmopolitan truth.

However, unlike most political offerings, here are some practical tips for understanding why controversy about equality and diversity never fades away despite years of promoting it, and managing what people feel and think about their personal differences in the workplace, in spite of strategies to support them.

Does discrimination still occur with “equality”?

This article could have easily been another diatribe about anti-discrimination laws and what not to do, but unless they want to Make America Great Again, what manager actively treats anyone differently or unfavourably based on their physical appearance, apparent cultural background, or a whole host of protected attributes under section 351 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), and other anti-discrimination laws?

It begs the question, if managers do not actively discriminate against certain employees on an unlawful basis, and HR has been promoting equality and diversity for decades, why the ongoing controversy about “Asians with PhDs” and persistent talk of shattering ceilings of the glass, bamboo and/or pink varieties? The ongoing sensitivity suggests that it is useful to apply two steps from what we call of our four-quadrant model – “Sociology” and “Psychology”, or in other words:

  • considering what people may feel and think about policies and procedures to promote outcomes of equality and diversity (or lack thereof); and;
  • considering how the policies might look internally and externally to different audiences?

Applying the PCS People Management Quadrants: The gap between equal opportunity and hidden differences

There’s no better place to start than the beginning of an employment relationship, the recruitment phase. We could have easily commenced this section with, “statistics show that X percentage of Asians with PhDs change their name when applying for jobs”, but it may be more constructive to ask, “how does it look if people feel the need to change their name to apply for a job at our organisation?”, and “what must they be feeling and thinking about our company if they need to change their names to get a job?”.

Changing one’s name on a resumé is easy, but other differences are too difficult or perhaps impossible to hide – gender, pregnancy, ethnicity, even sexuality. According to the law, these points of difference shouldn’t matter, and managers generally do what they can to convey a sense of equality in the workplace. However, employees may still not see or feel a sense of “equality” despite all that you might have done to promote it. Conversely, employers may not see, know or think to ask about inequality that their employees’ sense or feel because of everything that they have done to promote it. Knowledge is power, and hidden differences can reduce it.

What can we do about differences that we cannot see? Auditing culture, policies and procedures

Asking these questions from the People Management Quadrants could ultimately lead to some uncomfortable home truths for your organisation – what must employees be seeing or thinking (about perceived barriers in the workplace), if they feel that they cannot disclose differences that their managers cannot see, but which might affect their experiences at work, for example, family obligations, domestic violence, cultural differences (e.g.: cultural differences with communicating with management), or their sexual orientation? What can we do about it? Misconception can lead to claims which may have no substance, but which aren’t any less painful to investigate or defend.

Enhancing Employee Engagement and Leadership Development, Coaching and HR Executive Education

People + Culture Strategies can assist you with Strategic HR Consulting in a variety of ways, such as performing a “Culture and Effectiveness” audit which combines a series of staff interviews and collection and review of staff data, or a review of your organisation’s people strategy tailored to your organisation’s needs. We also offer Leadership Development, Coaching and HR Executive, to enhance and improve your skills with engaging and managing your diverse workforce.

If you are interested in ways to engage better with your employees, or any of our traditional services with legal advice, investigations and dispute resolution, please feel free to contact People + Culture Strategies on (02) 8094 3100.