Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Remark

The employee made a tasteless remark in a break room. The other people in the room groaned and the subject was changed. Management learned of the comment and immediately investigated. There was no denial. The person admitted that the remark was made. There was also no indication that the person had intended to offend anyone and there was no evidence of previous misconduct. The other people who were present said the comment was tasteless but that they were not offended and that it would not affect their ability to work with the person. It is unlikely that any group other than the hypersensitive would be upset by the remark.

The comment was not racist or sexist. It was a lapse in good manners. It was unprofessional.

Now in a sane world, the manager might call in the offender and say, "Clean up your act in the break room. Use some discretion. Be professional. Don't let this happen again or I'll really start to question your judgment. Do you have any questions? Good. Now, let's go get some coffee and talk about tomorrow's meeting."

In some organizations, however, this incident would be blown up. Lawyers would be consulted. A reprimand would be drafted. Perhaps a suspension without pay would occur.

And the employee's offense would be transformed from Unprofessional Behavior to a very different sin: Rendering the Organization Vulnerable to Embarrassment and/or Litigation. The organization would be more interested in protecting itself than in dispensing any sort of measured justice.

All of the indignation over the remark would ring hollow because the real motive for the escalation would be one of crass self-interest. This does not please employees. It feeds their cynicism.

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