Wednesday, May 23, 2007

When the Relationship is the Problem

A scenario:

An employee, who is reasonably competent, complains that she is not treated respectfully by an associate. Management checks into the matter, finds that both sides are to blame, and issues the appropriate warnings. The employee then starts openly jotting down notes after conversations and lets it be known, through the grapevine, that she is thinking of filing a harassment complaint. The associate also starts documenting and makes noises about taking legal action because of what he deems false accusations. The situation deteriorates as factions form and various co-workers begin to avoid any interaction with both note-takers out of fear that they will get roped into a lawsuit. Management is reluctant to take any action against either employee because it fears litigation.

The twist:

If management only had to deal with one employee or the other, there would not be a problem. Put the other person into the mix, however, and the chemistry is poisonous.

The flaw:

Management's mistake is adopting the traditional approach of trying to find a person to blame. Each of these people has individual merit. The problem is their relationship and that is also the key to the solution. Management should make it clear that it is not going to play the sucker's game of sorting out which individual to discipline when it is not an individual problem. They each have an obligation to make their relationship work for the good of the company. If they do not, then both of them should be transferred or fired because they failed in a crucial part of their job responsibilities: Working well with others.


Does that sound harsh? In my experience, the co-workers would have quietly cheered. They are tired of being dragged into a daily soap opera and forced to choose sides. Management rarely moves against both parties and often winds up defending having taken less severe action against one than against the other. When the relationship is the culprit, then more than one person must be corrected or removed.


pawnking said...

My thoughts: There are two types of worker I deal with: Those who look for someone to blame and those who look to solve the problem. I don't find a lot of overlap between the two. I'll let you guess who I spend my time with as much as possible.

If a Company has a culture of the first, it isn't suprising to me that everyone is unhappy.

Eclecticity said...

Right on Michael! DF

Michael Wade said...

I've seen managers reach gridlock with these cases. Enough of those instances and you'll have a culture of factions and backbiting.

Rowan Manahan said...

Such is the human propensity to assign blame that a number of states in the US have introduced the "No Blame" concept into their divorce laws - presumably in an attempt to speed proceedings up and to take some of the pain out of the process (or am I being hopelessly naive?)

I would lean strongly toward the "Grow up and sort things out or you're both fired" school of thinking, but the blowback potential from that is considerable - because both parties, and their supporters, will be firmly fixed in their belief that while there may be faults on both sides, the OTHER side is more to blame than me ...

Ghastly situation and one that's really got me thinking. Bravo Michael

Hoots said...

Garden variety stuff. And you're on the money.
"Start acting like two adults or I will have to find two replacements who will."
One polite verbal warning, followed by one documented counseling if the verbal warning failed, complete with both signatures on the same document and a final notice that job security is on the line.
Job desctiptions normally include language that says: must play well with others. My employer even forbids third party involvement (except management mediation) in conflicts.

Michael Wade said...

A test to check the Blogger comment posting system.