Q: I am a network engineer, 36, and when I recently decided to change jobs, it took only one phone call before I had a job. My new employer, an information technology company, flew me to company headquarters, where they put us through an intense training program called New Hire camp. One day was spent doing exercises such as climbing a 40-foot telephone pole and then jumping off to grab for a brass ring.
That night we were taken to a hotel for an audiovisual presentation that wasn't very informative. Several new hires, including me, left the room and went to the hotel bar to toast our making it through a pretty tough day. None of us was drunk, and we had only one or two drinks. We were in the bar for about 30 minutes talking about our mutual team-building experiences when a man we hadn't met before came up and asked us loudly if we were employees of the company. "Are we boring you?," he blurted out. The man, who turned out to be a division vice president, told us to go back to the meeting.
Within the next few days, two of my new colleagues had been fired for what they were told was misconduct because of the bar incident. I ended up resigning in protest, and so did my supervisor. We quickly found other jobs. In my opinion, this company is severely handicapped in achieving its vision by the excessive and irrational decisions of a single executive. Also, the money spent training us and the potential lost revenue we would have earned for them is in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars. I feel they treated us with total disrespect.
A: Dumb, dumb, dumb.
Let's do the easy stuff here first. New employees should always think twice about bellying up to the bar, especially while a company meeting is underway. Only a few decades ago, many Americans thought alcohol such an evil they prohibited its sale.
On the other hand, the company should consider whether sponsoring events that blur the lines between vacation activities and work might confuse some new hires.
"This company lost a ton, a ton," said organizational consultant Beverly Kaye, co-author of the new book "Love 'Em or Lose 'Em; Getting Good People to Stay." "These knowledge workers vote with their feet. They've got power and they know it."
But change within organizations seldom occurs painlessly. For workers and managers accustomed to an era when employees were grateful for having a job, the transition to a new age is difficult. "The boss is not being respected for guidance and savvy," Kaye said. "It's a blow to them."
But Kaye also says some young workers exhibit an exaggerated sense of their own worth. "Sometimes I just want to smack these young upstarts around a bit," she said with a laugh. "I want to say, 'Don't be so damn arrogant.' "
Q: My son was employed as a security manager at a hospital. A woman security officer told him she was being sexually harassed by her male supervisor. My son immediately contacted both the man and the woman, and asked them to meet with him so they could settle the matter informally. However, the woman contacted management about the meeting, and before it could take place, my son was dismissed for not reporting the incident to higher-ups. My son previously had a successful record and had never received a formal disciplinary action. Was the dismissal too severe for a first offense?
A: Yes, the punishment was too harsh, said Ellen Bravo, executive director of 9to5, the National Association of Working Women, who is one of the nation's foremost experts on sexual harassment in the workplace and how companies should handle it. But, she added, the security manager mishandled the situation.
In an interview, Bravo said your son apparently had received no training on how to manage sexual harassment complaints, and that he didn't realize how coercive it would be to bring a subordinate employee into a meeting with a supervisor whom she was accusing of harassment. "Sexual harassment is not a 'personality conflict' in which both parties need to listen and be willing to compromise," Bravo wrote in her 1992 book, "The 9to5 Guide to Combatting Sexual Harassment."
Bravo said managers who lack instruction in how to handle sexual harassment complaints should take the issue to higher management, preferably to trained human resource officials, because of the possibility of company exposure to legal and financial liability. These matters are difficult to investigate properly and fairly because everyone involved is usually ashamed or embarrassed by the topic, and because the allegations are usually vehemently denied. In addition, she said, harassers who are supervisors can threaten the jobs of all the workers involved, including witnesses, which can make it difficult to determine what really happened.
Beyond that, the son, like most nonunionized employees, is covered by the "employment at will" doctrine, which allows companies to fire workers whenever they wish, as long as their civil rights weren't violated. Most likely the company was completely within its rights, although it certainly seems less than fair.
A few months ago, we ran a letter from a business owner looking for guidance on how to fire a worker whom he described as "bright and eager to please" but who made numerous little mistakes. We got several interesting letters from people who have attention deficit disorder. None doubted the manager's dilemma, but they suggested the worker should seek a medical opinion on whether she has ADD, which could cause such problems.
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