Haters gonna hate. Being in human resources related work for almost 30 years gives you too many opportunities to see and to hear how awful people can be to one another. Truly awful. It’s a running joke that all good HR professionals keep tissues on their desk, not for themselves necessarily, but for the stream of people who come in with pain on their faces and strain in their voices. Workplaces can be glorified high schools, yes, but mostly they remind us that the human dynamic can be quite broken and in need of guidance.
When the show Glee hit, I was hooked in the first two minutes. As a hopeful singer with little talent, living vicariously through these characters who were trying to find their way in high school while dealing with the unpopular choice to be in a glee club was inspiring. However, it was a painful experience for each. While having a slushie dumped on you or being tossed into a dumpster were extreme peer responses, the verbal assaults and gossiping were a more common weapon. The glee club students were brought to tears on more than one episode and for a variety of reasons ranging from “you’re just not cool anymore” to taunting about race, disability and being adopted. Sound like your company? I hope not, but I see your head nodding yes.
It’s a remarkable feat to instill confidence in those who have been broken by any system of oppression and relegation. Helping others to find their voice while concurrently dismantling modalities of process and behavior that demoralize and keep certain types of people out is a mandate for the leaders in any healthy organization. If that’s not a hallmark for those in leadership, then is it a healthy organization?
Recently, I spoke to an organization that was having trouble with one of its founders. This owner was rough. He spoke disparagingly to staff. He wouldn’t curse at a person, but curse to a person (yes, this was really the explanation). Rather than, “You’re a f*$@* idiot,” a gentler, kinder version – “Do you have any idea why you would put this f*$@* information in the wrong place.” See? Isn’t that much better? After a couple of years of dealing with this, an employee has had enough. She complained and said it’s got to stop. The answer? Let’s make the owner sit through an hour of training to fix him. That should make it better.
While training is a good tool, it’s not the complete solution. I asked, “Does the owner see the problem?” Thankfully, the Zoom video chat allowed me to see the head-shaking “no” response. So what in the world will training for an hour do? And knowing that there won’t be a change coming, that complaining employee stopped coming to work. Likely, there’s more to come here…
What will it take to get serious about breaking down systemic dividers amongst departments? Or more to the point, amongst people? Does it have to take a severe course of action for an individual to be heard at your workplace? Do they need to be stuffed into a locker? Truly, every manager and HR professional ought to be on the forefront proactively looking for ways to better manage effective and targeted communication, workplace relational development and a respectful inclusive environment full of vitality. We can no longer accept any sort of status quo when it comes to organizational health. Whether it’s an Owner, a C-Suite Executive, a first-time Supervisor or an Entry Level worker, all have a right to be treated respectfully and to offer respect in return.
If you’re struggling in your workplace, I am sorry. No one has the right to rain on your parade. You are valued and there is an inclusive place for you. Whether it’s with your current employer or not, there is a way for you to use your giftedness freely with the support of those around you. Find those champions who will speak confidence into you. You will learn, if not already happening, how to trust those people. You still need honest feedback. I need those I trust to tell me, “John, you’re awesome, but trying to release your first CD might not be the best route for you. Unless that CD is spoken word.”
I’ll take that support. And you should have it as well.