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Welcome to the JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing joy in the workplace. I’m Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting. With me is my co-host and dear friend JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, an HR consulting firm.
Our topic today is sensitive people issues. JoDee and I, both being HR consultants, we talk to a lot of different business owners, a lot of HR people, and a lot of just individuals trying to make their way in the world of work, and we thought it would be kind of fun to talk about some of the issues that bring us. These are some of the more delicate issues that business leaders, HR professionals, and just workers have to navigate through, sometimes without a rule book, policy, or precedent to refer to. We thought it might be helpful if we share maybe some of the situations that have gobsmacked us in the past and get a chance to at least talk about what we did. Now these may not be the patent right answers, but this is how we’ve approached them, right?
Can I just say that that’s going to be my word for today, is “gobsmacked.”
I love that one. Yeah, you know what, when you just don’t know what to do is when you’re gobsmacked. Alright. So we’ll talk about some of these, and we’ll talk about what worked for us well and maybe even some things that didn’t work well, and maybe wish we had done differently. Alright?
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You know, Susan, I have a question with you before we start on the examples, because I keep thinking, do you classify yourself as a, quote, “sensitive people”?
Do I consider myself a sensitive person?
I do. I think I have pretty good emotional intelligence, where you recognize your own emotions, and you can manage them, and you recognize others’ and you can relate to them. So I do, I think I can make tough decisions and I think I can do hard things, but I do think of myself that way. What about you, JoDee?
I – so I don’t – you won’t be surprised, I think, but I don’t.
You’re a very, very joyful person. A very nice person.
I, I just am not very sensitive at all, so I just thought that might be interesting to see how it plays out in our responses to some of these –
– sensitive situations, so.
Very good. Alright, I’m feeling you, JoDee. Alright. Alright, so sensitive people issue number one. Okay. And sadly, we have had this one come forward. You have a boss who has a personal characteristic that drives you nuts. Okay, some examples that we have heard. Maybe you have a boss that insists on meeting with you over lunch, and they chew, they chew their food with their mouth open. Or maybe you’ve got a boss that, you know, maybe you’re of the same gender and you’ve gone to the restroom together, and they don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom. Oh my lord, I don’t know what I would do in that one personally, but we’ve had people tell us this. Maybe you’ve got a boss that has terrible bad breath, or dandruff, or some issue that is just driving you crazy. And what do you do?
Yeah. So, you’ve got to talk to them. You’ve got to share it, you’ve got to have a conversation, you’ve got to be honest with them. Of course you have to be, which is hard for me, to be, quote, “sensitive,” right? To share it with a tone of compassion, with a tone of a need to help them. Right? That this is not about me, this is information. I always think of, I think we’ve talked on the show before about the concept of feed foward versus feedback. That I want to help you going forward, and I wanted to point out something that you might not even realize. And I think that’s a way to approach it, they truly might not even know they do it.
I, you know, I love your bravery. I’m going to tell you that I think 90% of people are not that brave. I do. I, first of all, I think you’ve got to stop and think about, can I live with it? Like, stop going to the restroom with your boss if you know that they aren’t going to wash their hands. And then I’d keep my own Clorox spray, or I would keep my own hand wipes, whatever, just so that when we traded papers or any reason we had to be together, I’d be taking care of myself on that one. I’d have a really tough time on the, on that. Bad breath, dandruff, you know, I, too, would have a very difficult time, I think, telling my boss, or I’d have a tough time telling a coworker that it’s an issue, you know? I had one particular situation where it was difficult, there was somebody on my team that there was a personal hygiene issue, and the other coworkers said, you’ve gotta do something about it, you’ve got to take this on. You know, I did, but I have to tell you, I still…I, I have nightmares about it, I mean, one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. So, I love JoDee’s, yours is the more mature answer, and sitting down from a caring place, letting the person know what the issue is. If you have that kind of special relationship with your boss, have at it. If you don’t, I think you’ve got to learn how to avoid encountering those situations. If I was with the boss that was chewing with their mouth open over lunch, I’d start having my meetings coffee meetings. I would – I would not invite it to be in the food arena. So. That’s just me.
Yeah, so I, you know, I have a saying I always say when I’m teaching about feedback and feed forward is too, how dare I have information that could help them be better going forward. They may not choose to do anything about it or to change their habits, but I’ll at least feel like I did my part.
Good for you. You know what, that is a more mature response. I gotta tell you that I, the other night I wanted to give my husband some feedback and I knew he doesn’t usually like to have feedback. And so I said, “Bill, I need to give you a little feedback, but in the spirit of JoDee, I want to give you feed forward, because this is not about looking back,” Do you know, he laughed, and he took it so much better.
I attribute your feed forward instead of feedback does set the tone. Thank you.
That’s awesome. All right, so sensitive people issue number two. You know that a colleague who is also your close friend is in an intimate relationship with someone in his or her chain of command. Is there a difference that you work in HR, or not?
Okay, if you work in HR, I’m going to say there’s really only one answer. You cannot let it happen. Especially, I’m hopeful in your organization that you have some kind of a policy where you don’t allow people in the same chain of command to be in an intimate relationship, or even – they can’t be relatives, or too personal of a relationship. Because in the era of wanting to make sure you have a workplace that’s harassment-free, the risks are too great to have a boss and a subordinate at any level beneath him or her in that relationship. So I think it’s really important as the HR person, you’ve got to figure out the right approach. It may very well be educating your friend and getting it to stop. It may be that you’ve got to go to that individual who’s a party to it, both of them, and let them know what they’re doing is not okay. Now. If you’re not in HR, all bets are off. Keep your mouth shut. I mean, I know! Now, if you’re an executive of the organization or you’re an officer of a publicly traded company, okay, that’s different. But if you’re, if you’re a regular person like me, and your dear friend is doing what they shouldn’t do…. I might, just based on my background, say, “Hey, I’ve got to tell you why I wouldn’t do this, I’ve got to tell you it’s wrong,” but then I would zip it, zip it shut. What about you, JoDee?
So a hundred percent agree with you on the HR approach, or if you’re in HR, so I’ll share a little bit more on if you’re not in HR. I think that I would take the approach of, hey, people are aware, again, maybe it’s something, maybe they think they’re keeping it a secret and they’re not, and people are aware, and here is how this might impact your ability to lead, it might impact your perception as a leader. I would take it again as sharing information with them, trying not to judge them, but to share information with them.
Makes sense. I had a very dear friend who shared with me that she was in a relationship with her boss, and I did not work at that company, so I mean, there’s, I did not feel responsible for upholding the policies or practices. But I have to tell – I tell you that it really affected our relationship, hers and mine, because she knew how sick I was over it. I was just, I knew it was violating a policy in her company, I knew it wasn’t healthy for a variety of reasons about this particular relationship. And it really did affect us, and I, I, I regret that, but I – it happens, right? And I’m sure many people listening to us, they’re aware to situations in their workplace, so I wish them luck with it.
All right, sensitive people issue number three. You have a diverse team comprised of all professionals who do relatively unique jobs, but they’re all under your umbrella. They range greatly in age and experience, and their individual salaries, salaries are all over the board. I’ve been there many times, seems to happen, right? You only have a 3% merit increase budget to work with each year, and honestly, you think that every one of your team members deserves a raise, as you think they’re all top performing. Add on to that that your management has told you they expect you to stratify your performance ratings so that approximately 20% get the top performance rating, 70% get an average or middle rating, 10% should be needs improvement, because in your environment, they’re always talking about constantly improving and everybody can get better. Your gut tells you that all 10 of your employees deserve the top rating. What do you do?
So, my first kind of hardcore JoDee Curtis answer is, “Yeah, yeah, that’s what they all say.” Everybody thinks their team are all top performers. So, yeah, my inclination is, goes to that, because I’ve heard that so many times, well, oh, all my people are top performers. Like, yeah, what about this? What about that?
You know, I was one of those people, I always felt like mine were.
Yeah, and you know what, in reality, maybe they are, right? Or maybe, you know, especially if you only have a handful of people, so I think you could try to make a business case for that, that, hey, here’s why. Here’s my facts. Here’s my analysis. Here’s my data. Here’s my results. I mean, maybe there’s a point to be proven there. But at the end of the day, your leadership is saying, no excuses, here’s what you’ve got to do. I think you might just have to dig deep and say who really are your best performers, or they’re – not, I hate to say best, because you might not even be able to compare them to each other. It sounds like they have very unique roles individually, but what do they bring to the team? And what does best mean? It’s easy in an evaluation system sometimes to think like, oh, they’re a top performer. Well, just sit back and say, what is a top performer in this role, and are they really the best of the best at doing that?
You know, I think that’s fair. What I figured out I needed to do was I needed to talk about this rating is for this year. This is not that you’re a top performer or that you’re my high potential or that you’re all high potential. I had to really get granular about what were our goals, your individual goals, because you all had different ones, right? And what did you achieve? What did you do above and beyond? What stretch goals did you get? And it’s not easy, but the fact that somebody gets a top rating one year doesn’t mean they’re going to get it the next year or the year after, and so, they’re, it’s hard. Especially if you’re a person who’s always gotten the top ratings and then you move to a new team or the manager then is trying to stratify, I mean, it can be very difficult whether you’re the giver of it or the receiver of it. But I, especially in corporations that have this ever improving, constant improvement mentality, it’s not unusual for managers to get put in this difficult position.
The other thing I would just mention is, if you think that your employees are not talking about what their salaries are, you are crazy. And, in fact, it’s protected concerted activity, so whether you’re a unionized environment or a non-unionized environment, employees are allowed to talk about their pay, their benefits, their working conditions. And so, certainly you’re not telling employees what others are earning, but don’t fool yourself to think that they don’t know.
Right. Right. Sensitive people issue number four. Your two best employees are very competitive, and they don’t play well together. You can’t afford for either of them to leave you, but you are spending a lot of time refereeing disagreements between them and keeping the individuals’ morale boosted and emotions in check. What do you do?
Yeah, that can be so draining. You know, the fact is, and I’ve seen this happen, where you do have two real gunners and people that are just knocking it out of the park, but they’re very competitive with the other people that are at that level. And I’m going to say to you that not only is it draining on your time, I think it’s really uncomfortable for everybody else on the team to watch. By your spending time catering to them or trying to make them feel better or trying to defuse situations, you’re taking time away from the other performers who maybe have the potential of being great performers, but you spend all your time on these, potentially, prima donnas. So, what I’m going to say to you is, I think tough love is necessary, and I think that the top performers to really be top, you need to play well in the sand, you should be coaching and mentoring everybody else on the team. And you think I can’t afford to lose them. I’m not sure you can afford to keep them.
Yeah, I would agree. I would agree. I think too, so we know it’s impacting their own performance and your performance as the leader of them. What you might not be realizing is the impact it’s having on those individuals’ teams, as well, right? They, most likely they can see this as well, they can tell, they’re likely having conversations with their own teams about the other person, which could just be unleashing all types of productivity issues, so I like your answer, Susan. You might not be able to afford to keep them both, maybe you can’t afford to keep either one, but definitely you might not be able to afford to keep both of them.
Sometimes the message you’re sending to everybody else is that we get along here, and no matter what you produce, we have values that we care about, and that’s treating people right. Respectfully. Yeah. So good luck with that. Sensitive people issue number five. The most beloved person on the team you just inherited, who has also been at your particular company longest, is not very good at what he or she does. Personally, you like her too. Who wouldn’t, right? But your boss questions why you’re going to keep this person who’s a well-known weak link on this team that you just inherited.
All the listeners probably know my answer to this – “Hard Call JoDee” on this one, but they gotta go. And I say, too, you know, they might be the weakest link on the team because they’re not in the right role or they’re not in the right culture or they’re not using their strengths. And maybe they’re looking for a reason, subconsciously or not, to find a better fit for them, and you can help them find a better fit by asking them to leave the organization.
You know, I love the idea of coming at it from a Strengths Finders perspective, and also, I guess the other thing I would say to you is that you can’t do it quickly. If the person’s been there for a long time, then you owe it to that individual to make sure that you don’t rush to judgment and you give the person opportunities to improve, but simultaneously talking about strengths and what you really are good at. Obviously to have – to be beloved, this person has some strengths. And maybe they’re interpersonal. There’s a better position for them than the position they’re in. So, great response. But coming at it and recognizing it’s not going to be an overnight. And sometimes you have to push back on your management, right? The higher up you are and the further you are from the individuals that are impacted by decisions of terminating or downsizing or moving out, the easier it is to be colder about it. And you’re living it, and the rest of the team’s watching how you handle it, so you do have to handle it, but you don’t have to do it with breakneck speed, you’ve got to do it the right way.
Exactly. Exactly. There’s a lot of wonderful people out there who are not in the right position, right? So, it’s not about being liked or loved, it’s helping people find their best self.
Love that. So, our sensitive people issue number six, which is our last one, is you have a staff member with a hidden disability that needs an accommodation of several breaks throughout the day. The staff member does not want anyone else to know that he or she has this issue or that he or she is receiving an accommodation. You’ve had several other staff members ask you why he gets to go on several breaks and they can’t go outside and smoke, make phone calls, or go outside and get fresh air throughout the day whenever they want. You’re reluctant to say anything, and you’re starting to observe the other employees are ostracizing that staff member.
Here’s what I think. I think it’s really important, you want to make sure you’re complying with all of the regulations regarding Americans with Disabilities Act, that you have obviously entered into an interactive dialogue with the individual to figure out this accommodation is really necessary and helpful to the person. And I think that it’s fair to be transparent and say we really support it, we’re going to do it, but I want you to know that other people are going to watch you go out and see what’s going to happen. How do you want us to educate others on this? And then if the person says I don’t want anyone to know that I’m getting an accommodation, we’ll say, fair enough. I can understand that you don’t want people to know your medical condition, but trust me, others are going to see you leave through that exit door, you know, three or four times a day. We’re supportive of it, but help me craft the messaging so that people feel, at least that they are in the know as to your not getting an opportunity to go out and smoke, or whatever it is that is banned from the organization. So I’d ask for their help. And my guess is, this is not their first job. My guess is that this – they’ve had to face it in other places of employment, and they may have some ideas. If you don’t – if the two of you can’t come up with something, great time to involve HR, involve, maybe, your boss’s boss, get somebody else in there to help you brainstorm what is the way that you want to attack this in your particular environment. Because they’ll know this environment better, even better than you.
Yeah, I totally agree. Good, good insight.
Very hard one.
Our listener question today. A listener who completed a SHRM credit evaluation after listening to an earlier podcast, asked this question. “What are some ideas to increase visibility of fringe benefit programs we offer, like our EAP and telemedicine, that few of our employees take advantage of?”
It does drive me nuts when you – we have a wonderful benefit, and you see so low usage on it. So, I do think it’s important, you’ve got to get it in your employees’ faces multiple ways, multiple times throughout the year. I’ve seen companies be successful at at least annually sending out not only, you know, here’s your compensation, but here’s all the benefits we do offer you, and here’s what it costs us, so you know the real value of working here is XYZ. I think that’s just a nice once a year type of reminder, sending it to their homes so the whole family gets to see it, or whoever they choose to share it with. I think having posters up that talk about your telemedicine, maybe in the restroom where people are in there washing their hands, vigorously in the era of coronavirus, but they’re in there, singing happy birthday twice, let them read about telemedicine or your EAP program or your…whatever benefit that you really want to promote. I love having lunch and learns, just to amplify, here’s a benefit that we don’t talk about much, we want to make sure you know that we have this optional life insurance, we’re going to buy the pizza, or maybe buy something healthier since we’re talking life insurance, here’s what we’re going to be serving, and we want to make sure that you know how to tap into this or into that. I think that’s helpful. What other types of things have you seen companies do to promote their benefits, JoDee?
Well, I think all of the ones you said, and I think thinking about it in a format, too, maybe, where you can tell a story of how, you know, you mentioned optional life insurance. About – and it may be you might not want to use the names of the people, but, hey, we had an employee in our plant who passed away, or their spouse passed away and they had taken advantage of the optional life insurance, or additional life insurance. Or we had an employee who had an issue with their spouse and called the EAP. And sometimes, I think, especially something like an EAP, you can tell people about it 10 times, and if they don’t need it right then, it doesn’t mean anything to them. But when, in the moment when they can use it, to be getting that reminder of how helpful that could be and to know that someone else has used it, again, even if you don’t use names, or maybe, you may have a situation where an employee would share their own story. This happened to me, and I called the EAP, and wow, was it a positive experience. So anytime we can tell a story of how it helped someone else resonates a little bit more, sometimes, with people. And any of the venues that you just mentioned, or even doing a quick video, or at the end of a meeting.
I love that, or if you have a newsletter, or anything out on your website, have a “benefits corner” and let people give testimonials, I think can be really helpful. Yeah. Great choice. Well, good luck on that.
It’s time for in the news. OK, Boomer. JoDee, I’m not saying that to you. An expression that we have all heard, and for someone like me who is a Boomer, it can cause the recipient to cringe. When the expression is used, it’s often to poke fun at someone in the Baby Boom era, which, anyone born between 1946 and 1964, who may be being teased about not being up to date on whatever topic is being discussed. I’ve heard, with the coronavirus, jokes about, like, it’s a “Boomer Remover,” because the impact has been so great on people who are, you know, over the age of 60. All of that stuff is really wrong. And it’s important –
Yeah, when you hear things like that in the workplace, we’ve got to be careful and get it to stop. Suzanne Lucas, who’s also known as “The Real Evil HR Lady” on Twitter, wrote an article on November 11, 2019 that Inc.com published on this topic. Suzanne said, and I quote, “If you have an employee of any age, dropping the ‘OK, Boomer’ line against any employee who is over the age of 40, you have to take it seriously. You cannot dismiss it as harmless banter, just the same way you wouldn’t dismiss it if someone said, ‘OK, Mexican.’ It doesn’t matter whether the employee is Mexican or not or whether the target of ‘OK, Boomer’ is a Baby Boomer or not. It is not an appropriate joke. It can lead to patterns that create a hostile work environment, putting the company on the receiving end of a lawsuit.” And I unquote. So, age, like national origin and all the other protected classes, should not be joke material. And sometimes it takes you as the business leader or you as the HR person to be the heavy, but I’ve got to encourage you to be that heavy. What one person thinks is funny about a coworker’s uniqueness can be exposing your company to potential claims, and I bet not the culture that you’re trying to sustain. Now, we’re not trying to kill fun in the workplace. In fact, we advocate joy at work. Tell funny stories about your pets, your drive to work, your kids, your grandkids, how you responded to a situation. And if you are a manager or an HR professional, definitely not stand by if you hear staff teasing other people.
Good advice. Well, thank you for joining us today. Make it a JoyPowered® day.
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