Unjustified complaints?On 1 Mar 2002 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Related posts:No related photos. Previous Article Next Article How to correctly deal with a sexual accusation and encouraging a newemployee to accept his ethnic colleagues. Advice by Madelyn P JenningsQ: “A manager who reports to me has complained several times that thesexist attitudes of some of her co-workers have impeded her advancement. In atleast one instance, she had a legitimate reason to complain about an obnoxiouspeer and we spoke to him about his comments, but we’ve not found any basis forher other complaints. How can I help her move past these suspicions?” A: This situation reminds me of a book by Laura Archera Huxley calledYou Are Not The Target (Metamorphous Press, Reissue Edition, 1995). Huxleydemonstrates that much of what happens to you is not intended, may be randomand certainly isn’t aimed at making you a victim. Huxley offers suggestionsabout how to become more objective in responding to things that happen to us. Your employee has had an upsetting encounter with a peer, and yourorganisation responded with a counselling session with him. However, sheapparently believes career-slowing sexist attitudes continue to affect her.This isn’t to suggest she shouldn’t be concerned, but I would recommend youadvise her to focus more on her performance than the attitudes of herco-workers. If an investigation hasn’t produced evidence for her othercomplaints, she might be complaining about sexism when her discontent reallystems from elsewhere. I might tell her I would like to have tea or coffee with her to talk abouther career aspirations. If she had her wish, what would her next job be? Whatabout the job after that and what would be the next steps towards those goals?Ask her, too, how she sees her present work environment. Listen closely. Shemay raise some criticisms you haven’t heard before, plus some you may alreadyhave. Address their validity one by one. As her manager, it’s yourresponsibility to determine if the environment is the problem and, if so, it’syour responsibility to fix it. However, if you conclude that she is using the complaint system as a crutchto mask some shortcomings, you must carefully but firmly walk her through ananalysis showing why her concerns aren’t valid. Q: “There has been a lot of recent discussion about the need torespect diversity in the workplace and elsewhere. Unfortunately, I have anemployee who is very cool, even curt, with people of other races and someethnic groups. He is a newcomer from a small town and our organisation is alarge one in an urban centre. How can I help him overcome his possibleprejudices?” A: It may be hard to tell if this person is simply shy; feeling outof his depth and somewhat intimidated by the faster-paced, big-city environmenthe finds himself working in; or seething with prejudices he learned from hisfamily or in his community. Whatever the reason, it is important you get to thebottom of it. First, I’d sit down with him and some of his peers, perhaps with a diversityexpert to facilitate the discussion, to talk about how they can respond to theneed to respect diversity. See what comes out around the table. If he’s silent through most of the meeting, follow it up immediately with aone-on-one conversation. Try to get him to talk about the issue. Use theconversation as an opportunity to underline that your company values diversityand it’s not a “would-be-nice” type of operating principle, butactually a business imperative. Remind him that the world is more diverse andsuccess comes from all types of people working together. Review some top-line statistics about the employee and customer base thatillustrate how diversity management has a bottom-line component. Explain howemployee satisfaction and customer loyalty are based on trust and respect,which develop through basic communication. His curt behaviour mayunintentionally signal a lack of respect, which can prompt reactions directlyopposed to loyalty indicators. You might involve him in a training session with some of his colleagues,including videotaping them in role-playing exercises with diversity themes.When people see themselves on tape, they usually get a clearer sense of howthey come across, for good or bad. To see if these steps are producing results, observe him in meetings to seeif he is more forthcoming than before. Try to ascertain if he’s interacted morecomfortably with co-workers of other races or ethnic groups and if he’s relaxedenough to engage in camaraderie that he seemed unreceptive to before. I would continue to talk with him to let him air his feelings about his job,his performance, his adjustment to the urban scene, his suggestions forimproving matters in the workplace. I’d probably add him to a committee or teamto help him connect with people and work more co-operatively. If he has real biases,they will emerge in these situations. And then serious counselling and probablya performance improvement plan, may be in order. MadelynP Jennings is a principal of the Cabot Advisory Group (www.cabotgrp.com), aUS-based company of veteran senior HR executives from global organisations.Cabot principals have direct experience designing and implementing creative,practical solutions to today’s leading HR challenges. Jennings was formerlysenior vice-president of HR at Gannett Co.