I looked with disgust at a news story last week that showed photos of a very successful UK business man, effectively pawing a young female employee. I’ve written before about power and the interface with inappropriate behaviour and actions. We cannot turn a blind eye and continue to suggest that these actions are a strange aberration.
If we want “good work” then how about starting with facing up to harassment and discrimination? How about facing into the fact that too many people go into work every day with a sense of dread? How about being honest that we have people in business, in society that are taken advantage of others, and we know?
If HR wants to stand for something, how about standing for workplaces free of inappropriate behaviour, free of harassment and free of intimidation. How about standing for something better.
That doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen. We cannot be all seeing, all knowing, omnipotent superheroes. But there is a long and significant continuum that reaches from deity, to turning a blind eye. And maybe we should be a little bit more focussed on shifting our performance along that line.
As I’ve said before, when these actions take place, somebody knows. And worse than that, often numerous people know. And even worse, often HR departments know. And if we know and we fail to act, we betray our organisations and our profession.
What if we came together and said. “no more”? That as a profession we would no longer work for, or in, organisations that failed to tackle underlying issues with harassment or constant inappropriate behaviour. That we would raise the issues internally and if they weren’t properly handled, externally. That we would stand for something bigger and better than just doing our jobs.
What if we were really about, trying to make work better for everyone?
Every day is full of a myriad of choices, the majority of these are small and seemingly meaningless. Whether you hold open the door for someone that’s coming toward you, or put your hand in your pocket for the person sat on the pavement on your way into work. But in cumulation, these actions, these micro choices are the things that define who you are and how you present.
Our choices and our actions define us.
And likewise in organisations, the myriad of small things also define who we are. We can make statements about what we want to be, or what we think we are. We can create vision and values models that provide us with a semblance of reassurance, but ultimately how we act is how we are, not what we believe.
As a simple case in point, I was looking at the Sunday Times, Best Companies the other day and to my surprise towards the top is a company that I know a little about. If I were to share with you some of the practices that have taken place, the way in which employees have been treated, you would – like me – question how they managed to remain operational never mind receiving accolades. But the badge must mean that they’re great…
Our responsibility as leaders of organisations, as leaders of people is to bring the highest ethical standards into our work. We have a responsibility that should weigh heavily on our shoulders beyond the desire for acclaim. We need to act with the highest levels of honesty and integrity, because it is the right thing to do, not because it will be recognised.
Ultimately we are all responsible for our own choices and actions, there is no mitigation, no explanation. We are, not how we think, but how we act.
I was struck by the news this morning of the deal between courier firm Hermes and the GMB Union on employment status. The latest in a line of challenges to self employment and the so called gig economy.
Employees will now be able to opt to have 28 days paid holiday and a guaranteed hourly rate above the minimum wage, in return they will have to accept to follow the delivery route set out by the company rather than choosing the order in which they deliver their parcels.
The logic presented by the company is that if they’re going to guarantee an hourly rate then they need to ensure that couriers take the most efficient route. Which on first reading makes sense, but also raises an underlying question.
Is the suggestion that people are less likely to seek the most productive route if they are paid by the hour, that they’re more likely to (for want of a better word) slack? Or is it that the company don’t care about lack of productivity if they’re not paying for it, that’s the courier’s (and subsequently the customer’s) problem?
Whichever way you look at it, it points to an interesting interpretation of the contract of employment – that “terms” trump the psychological aspects of the employment relationship between worker and employer. It suggests issues of trust.
My guess is that the company is trying to distinguish between the self employed and employed by taking away a freedom that their current couriers appreciate and enjoy. If you want the good stuff (holidays and guaranteed wage rates) then there’s a cost to you too – the deal is on the back of losing an earlier employment tribunal.
But regardless of the specifics of the case it raises questions for us all. What assumptions do we make about the behaviours of people that work for us? And do those assumptions help or hinder what we are collectively trying to achieve?
As a leader, you’re always being watched. People look to you to set the pace, the tempo, the mood and the energy. They take their lead from you, how you are and how you present. There is absolutely no getting away from it.
People will copy your language, your behaviours, your routine and even how you dress. And no matter how ridiculous you might feel that is, it is all part of social norming and human behaviour. Which is why it is critically important to be thoughtful and aware of the impact that you have.
Small, seemingly inconsequential behaviours can have a significant effect when they’re replicated on mass and become part of the cultural norm. As a simple example, let’s take emailing at weekends. If you’re a leader that emails regularly and systematically at weekends, you’ll maybe find that people start to check their emails to see what you’ve said and what you want.
“Hey Jo, No big deal but can you have a look at the latest figures for me on Monday. Neil “
“Sam, Neil needs the figures urgently on Monday, can you get ahead of the game? Jo”
“Jack, I need the latest figures first thing Monday for Neil. Sam”
Imagine that happening all over the organisation and the impact that it would start to have. And of course it is limited to this one example.
As a leader you need to be intentional about your actions and behaviour, you need to recognise that you’re not only making choices for yourself, but for others too. How you show up, how you are, the light and shade that you bring to a situation will be absorbed and multiplied. Being aware of your impact on others can help you get the most out of your team and the people around you, it can also help you make sure that they get the most out of you.