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Annie Hayes



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HR Practitioner’s Diary: Put up and shut up?


Sometimes the HR roller coaster leaves you breathless, it’s what I love about the profession – it’s never boring and the variety is just mind boggling. Sometimes it makes you want to cry; occasionally scream and then things happen which present a smile or a wonderful rib-aching laugh.

W/C: 12 September 2005
Think of the last occasion when you had to hold your ribs for fear they would crack through laughing – this week presented one such incident for me (induced by a cinema automated phone system, but that’s another story! Anyway, let’s revisit last week’s quandary):

“Blimey mate, what did you just say?” – Part two:
The dilemma of last week was how Kat should deal with boss, Andy’s lack of support regarding the insulting comments she and her fiancée received at the recent company BBQ from Billy.

Since then, another corporate event has involved Kat, Alfie and Billy having to mix in the same company. Once again Billy failed to restrain himself and made a derogatory comment regarding Alfie’s height (all six foot, four inches of it) and referred to Alfie as a ‘freak’.

Kat promptly stepped in and asked what that made her, she is an elegant five foot eleven inches. Billy responded by saying that women of Kat’s height must also be freaks!

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Billy is ‘vertically challenged’ and as a result Kat suggested he should join them “up there where the air is a bit warmer!” Billy responded with a couple of grumbles and strutted off to find someone else to ‘entertain’.

Kat is really at a loss as Andy still refuses to deal with Billy’s insulting behaviour. Kat quite rightly feels she should not be subjected to such torrents of abuse and feels that her employer has a responsibility to protect her.

Admittedly the second incident is not as offensive as the first, but the ongoing verbal cruelty is doing nothing for Kat and Alfie’s self esteem.

Kat’s confidence has been eroded by Andy not taking his duty of care seriously. Things have got so bad she is considering moving jobs to get away from the situation. She feels that any further approaches to Andy to discuss the issue would be futile and feels that her only option open is to ‘put up and shut up’.

What should this poor lass do? Any comments/opinions would be good guys and girls alike – it would be nice to know views from both sides please.

We’ll see how it progresses next week.

Spare a thought
The Power of Empathy, is an excellent book by Arthur Ciaramicoli and Katherine Ketcham.

In this book Dr Ciaramicoli, a leading psychologist and lecturer, shows how you can develop stronger and more caring relationships with the people around you by using the power of empathy. He believes this to be a skill which can easily be learned and can be used both at home and at work to enrich your own life and the lives of everyone with whom you come into contact.

Here’s another thought for you by way of a paragraph I came across in a book recently which I think applies so much in everyday situations.

“Few people go to law school. Of those, few are called to the Bar. Even fewer become elevated to the judiciary. And yet … we are all judges. We all keep, in our back pockets a little olde worlde wig, a portable gavel and a pair of pince-nez spectacles. Several times a day, we don the appropriate apparel and pass judgement on our fellow humans. Nobody stops us. Everyone else is too busy playing the same game. Watch out for convictions based on wildly insufficient evidence.”

Perhaps a little more thought and empathy would do well to take the ‘edge’ off the words and actions of some insensitive souls. The world can be harsh enough without adding to it the cruel behaviour of some individuals. So often people say things, criticise or make judgements without a ‘real’ thought for their actions or the impact of their words. Very often they can dish it out, but are unable to take it in response, especially if confronted.

Usually this type of behaviour, which can often be ‘felt’ by others as negative energy, only raises its head as a result of an individual experiencing some deficiency in their own lives which they then deflect onto others rather than lose face and admit to their own failings or disappointments.

I recently witnessed such a display recently where one colleague openly and verbally ‘attacked’ another colleague, let’s call them Thelma and Louise (I’m running out of names to protect all of these lovely individuals I encounter!)

During a general tea break chat, Thelma launched a barrage of criticism at Louise saying that she should have ambition, get a better and more challenging job and also stand up to her husband and even divorce him if she felt undermined by him.

Louise was stunned to the point of tears as she had always been very open that she had no ambition and was happy as she was. She did not want a more challenging job and her husband did not undermine her – he was quite happy with Louise as she was, even after some 22 years of marriage.

I suggested Thelma take a break to cool down and reflect on her words. In the meantime, I reassured Louise that Thelma’s verbal ‘attack’ was totally inappropriate and that I sensed some underlying motive, in that Thelma was not so happy with her own lot and maybe was a little envious of Louise’s clarity, openness and honesty.

Thelma returned to the group, but would not extend an apology for her behaviour.

Some two days later Thelma did not turn up for work and when she called in it was to say she had some personal problems which she needed to sort out.
It came to light that Thelma’s marriage had been struggling for a long while and that she and her husband had decided to divorce.

She had not felt able to confide in her colleagues and as a result was defensive, antagonistic and rude to those who could have otherwise offered support.
The criticisms levelled at Louise were more a reflection of Thelma’s own life and turmoil at that time.

Thelma received a number of texts from three of her colleagues, one of which was Louise, extending support during her troubled times. Thelma has yet to accept their kindness, but at the moment she appears to be overwhelmed with (in her own words) “guilt and embarrassment for being such an insensitive ass towards Louise.” Louise bears no malice and simply wants to help, she’s not even fussed about receiving an apology from Thelma – let bygones be bygones!

I think this really demonstrates that things are not always as they seem and sometimes empathy is the greatest power we can all exercise. Oh, that and smiling too!

The invisible man
Talking of smiling, I recently had a meeting with a business associate, who has also become a very good friend. I’ve mentioned this guy before, Steve Cunningham. He has been blind since he was 12 years old and is an absolute inspiration.

Let me remind you, he holds three world records for the fastest blind man on land, sea and in the air. He captained the English, blind football team, took part in a demo cricket match at Lords in the English blind cricket team and plays off a handicap of 14 at golf.

If you get a moment, ‘Google’ “Steve Cunningham” and read through some of his achievements. If you thought you had problems, then this guy puts one or two things into perspective beautifully.

He does a lot of work with companies to encourage dealing with disability in the workplace and this week I’m participating in his golf challenge which will involve teeing off blind-folded (I’ve been practising at the driving range)! The day is aimed at highlighting disability discrimination.

Back to our meeting though because there’s something I’d like to share with you.

When we met up we decided to walk down the high street to have coffee and lunch whilst devising our business strategy. So, with his trusty guide dog on one side and me on the other we set off.

When your vision is impaired, the simplest things like getting from A to B can cause utter havoc. Walking to our lunch spot we had to deal with an uneven pavement, various kerbs, litter bins, sandwich boards and a sizeable awning that was only avoided by me telling him to duck. While his fantastic guide dog can help with most things there are some obstacles that can’t be overcome.

Do employers give enough thought to the implications and benefits of employing disabled people and developing their skill sets to achieve greater potential? Should there be more of a focus on educating the able-bodied to eliminate fear and ignorance associated with interacting with the disabled?

Steve recently went into a mobile phone shop (undercover) and found that the assistant totally ignored him. Needless to say, Steve’s report of that particular shop will identify a training need!

He is quite unique and has a fantastic sense of humour. His patience and tolerance of others is humbling. I’m sure that if a more positive approach to disabled people could be adopted more could be achieved.

Steve’s latest challenge takes place next week. He plans to drive a Ferrari in an attempt to break his existing land speed record. The Ferrari can reach a speed of 220mph. With full vision that alone would be scary enough, imagine the sensation when you are in a world of darkness. I’ll let you know how he gets on, but I’ve every faith in him, he has no fear!

Vital Stats:

For all of those ‘singletons’ out there:

  • Weight – 9st 8lbs (I’m getting back into trousers I’ve not worn for two years – yippee!)

  • Chocolate – nil (I daren’t, I’m enjoying my slimmer silhouette)

  • Wine – two glasses with a juicy steak

  • Cider – two halves (as usual, after a good round of golf)

  • Boyfriends – four dates (yes, that says four!)
    1st date sharing a huge rump steak with Charles in exchange for half a dozen eggs (how exciting is that)! I’m feeling more and more that Charles has too much history he’s hanging on to, he is convinced he will become a hermit – oh well, it’s his choice!
    2nd and 3rd dates – ‘Rocket’ Ron, a new friend who enjoys relaxing in good country pubs. We found one with a very good live Irish band playing traditional music. It got our toes tapping to say the least.
    4th date – Richard, a fellow golfer, has offered to coach me and improve my golf game over the next couple of months. We also had lunch to discuss business and deeper matters, he has a degree in Psychology and had me sussed in about five minutes flat. Great fun, I felt like I’d had a ‘therapy’ session!

  • Deep thoughts – When you get up in the morning do you decide then what kind of day you will have? Smile in the mirror first thing and see how your day goes!

Keep it simple everyone and enjoy your week ahead!


More diary entries:

3 Responses

  1. Don’t be a “toady” give him a kiss he may be a prince

    In “Much a do in Walford” the “company BBQ” was a birthday party for the family, friends and colleagues of Andy. How is this a “corporate event” and does this mean that the Inland Revenue will allow me to charge my next birthday bash to my business? As the “same company” were at the second event was this another “social” rather than “business” event?

    I appreciate that there often isn’t a clear boundry between work and business but something that happens at a private social event where family, friends and colleagues are invited does not carry the same “duty of care” as a “company event” that staff attend in a work capacity.

    We also need to know if “little Billy” is connected to the company – as a partner / director / employee / consultant / customer / supplier etc – or is he just a close friend of Andy as described last week? This would help clarify whether this is a “social” or “work” related issue.

    It might be worthwhile finding out if anyone else has been on the receiving end of Billy’s comments as a series of complaints involving other staff would carry more weight and might encourage Andy to tackle the problem whether it is work related or not.

    We would all like our bosses to be supportive but what does Kat actually want Andy to do – men tend to respond more effectively to requests for specific actions and can find it difficult to respond if all that is wanted is a bit of empathy. I suspect that after the first incident Andy wouldn’t have understood the value of a sympathetic ear in defusing the situation.

    That said it does sound like “little Billy” has a problem with “six foot four Alfie” – perhaps he feels looked down on by taller men or passed over by “elegantly tall” women and voices his resentment when alcohol lowers his inhibitions.

    If these situations aren’t “work related” and Kat finds Billy’s comments too uncomfortable she could choose not to socialise with her boss but she does seem able to handle herself – Billy didn’t stick around when she gave as good as she got and he may be less likely to try it again.

    If the events were work related she can complain rather than seeing it as a choice between leaving or putting up with it – and when you spell out the potential cost of a tribunal to Andy he may be more inclined to act.

    Unfortunately the damage has been done to Kat and Andy’s relationship and rebuilding it will be difficult – hope you can help them understand each others points of view and find some common ground. If not it may be time for Kat to move on to somewhere where her feelings are treated with more respect.

    p.s. Martin Hastings may feel that it’s ok to use frogs as an analogy for men but why should men be expected to ignore the negative connotations of language that denegrates them but be careful not to use any terms that might offend a female colleague? It’s time to apply the same standard of respect to both sexes.

  2. Kat – take out a formal grievance
    I think Kat needs to put her feelings in writing and lodge a formal grievance. This may help her employer to take the issue more seriously and help her spell out exactly why the issue is more important to her than they have currently taken into account.

    And to be fair it will also help her build a case for sex discrimination which is exactly what this is. I can’t believe any man in a working environment would dare speak about a male colleague’s partner like this.

    It is simply an outrageous cheek and she should not have to “put up or shut up”.

  3. What’s the problem with using the term ‘frogs’?
    I can’t resist putting my oar in after reading Juliet’s comments about the use of the word ‘frogs’.
    I can’t believe that Juliet takes offence at this term in what is after all, a light-hearted and amusing column about dating. Secondly, it is used with reference to the saying about women having to meet ‘lots of frogs in order to get to Prince Charming’.
    It is not meant to mean that all men are frogs.
    Somehow I do not think most men would object to this reference in any case. Lighten up Juliet!

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Annie Hayes


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