2021-02-03 HR Examiner article Heather Bussing Can a workplace recover from discrimination or harassment or whistleblower drama Adobe Stock 333866940 ed 544x314px.jpg

Heather Bussing asks, “Can a workplace recover from discrimination or harassment or whistleblower drama?” It seems that second chances are never evenly distributed and resentments have a long half-life. What can HR do?


Can a workplace recover from discrimination or
harassment or whistleblower drama?


The accusations have been investigated, everyone has been officially interviewed, and the closed door conferences have diminished. You haven’t seen anyone from legal in days.


No one official is talking about what happened, which just makes everyone talk about it more. There are rumors that people will be fired or transferred, but it hasn’t happened yet.


It’s hard to know which was worse, the original drama or the investigation of the problems.


Can a workplace recover from discrimination or harassment or whistleblower drama?

photo of Heather Bussing on HRExaminer

Heather Bussing is our vice President of Strategy


Not really.


Things settle down and people unhappy with how it turned out will start to leave for new jobs. People who were happy with the outcome become smug and intolerable.


If the problem person was not terminated, the problem will continue. Often the person becomes emboldened because they got away with it.


Second chances are never evenly distributed.


Resentments have a long half-life.


What HR Can Do


1. Remember it’s not about what it’s about.


No matter what the complaint or incident, you will never hear the whole story or understand what’s really going on because it is never about what people say it’s about.


What it is always about is power, ego, resources, and if you’re lucky, neuroses.


So as you move through the investigation, understand that the very fact that there is an investigation makes people take stronger positions and either exaggerate or minimize their part in it. People feel threatened.


Once a formal investigation starts, you also take the power away from everyone involved to resolve the problem. This exponentially increases the stress and drama.


Investigations are essential, and sometimes required by law. But they also make things far worse before things get better. If they get better.


So keep this in mind, because how you handle the response is often more important than how the complaint gets resolved.


2. Always Split Up the Problem People.


No matter what you learn in the investigation, make sure that the people involved in a workplace drama do not have to work together again for a long time, preferably ever. Transfer people if necessary.


If that doesn’t work, fire them, especially if it is a manager. You owe it to everyone else in the company, and it will make your life so much easier too. Pay severance in exchange for a complete release and breathe a sigh of relief.


I know. You are wondering why you should pay a weasel severance pay when he has ruined the last month of your life and cost the company countless hours of time and lost productivity. The answer is because if you don’t, you and the CEO will probably get to spend many more hours hanging out with a judge, jury, and a bunch of lawyers, and you will lose a whole lot more time and productivity.


This is because people who feel wrongly accused (read everyone who has ever been accused of anything) don’t give up fighting.


So get them out immediately, give them a reasonable amount of money to give them time to find a new job, never contest their unemployment claim out of spite, and make sure to talk to legal before you respond to a request for a reference.


Sometimes you will want to fire the “victim” too. This requires more care because it would be easy to see as retaliation. So consider it a resolution of the claim and make sure there is a fair settlement and complete release.


Setting everyone free is difficult, but always the right answer. Take the risk.


3. Don’t Let it Drag On


When you need to do an investigation or discipline or terminate someone, start promptly, finish as quickly as you can, and get it over with. It’s the waiting and not knowing that sends things sideways far more than whatever the problem was at the beginning. The drama takes on a life of its own and becomes the bigger problem.


4. Acknowledge The Company’s Fault


Legal won’t let you do this until the release and confidentiality provision is signed. But it is essential to look at how the problem arose and escalated to the point that claims were made and the lawyers were called. You can do everything right and still acknowledge what you learned and how it could have been handled with more common sense, kindness, and resolve.


5. Use the Result Triangle.


Jay Shepherd has an amazing tool to find your way through difficult human situations. It is the Result Triangle.


The Result Triangle is the 3 interrelated pieces that matter when we try to figure out a question or problem. When you address all 3 pieces, you have a simple and effective way to make a decision.


The 3 pieces are:

  • clarify the goal;
  • show you care;
  • and address the fear.


The tricky piece is addressing the fear, especially after a workplace drama. Basically, people are afraid that something will change and that something won’t change. There is no easy way through this.


The solution is to look at what’s going on clearly, and let people know that you care about all of the people involved, even the ones you have to fire. Then you have to let people know what is happening and why. Otherwise, the fear will continue to run your workplace.


6. Don’t Go Down the Rabbit Hole


All workplace drama involves crazy people who are dealing with crazy things. Even if it is only temporary insanity, crazy is contagious. Be gentle with yourself and stay detached enough to make decisions that are not based on how aggravated you are feeling. If you find yourself taking things personally or getting caught up in the drama, bring someone in to help you or get outside help.


People’s lives and sanity depend on how you handle things. So does your company’s bottom line.  So taking care of yourself as you move through the drama is the most important thing.

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