By Miriam Dube & Matshepo Selepe
Though most organisations put considerable effort in towards the wellbeing of their employees, poorly managed workplace issue can present serious challenges for both the organisation and employees, of which some of these challenges calls for highly specialised HR knowledge. Here are some answers to questions we have received on our “Ask Miriam” segment, which we felt were very important to publish. We have asked HR expert Matshepo Selepe, to collaborate with us in responding to some of the questions received in how employees can tackle the avenues available to them at work. As a highly experienced HR and Transformation manager, with a demonstrated history of working in different industries, Matshepo used her wealth of insight and provided clarity on what employees should do to sail across the challenges.
- My manager has repeatedly denied me rotation for my development
- How do I help my star specialist performer transition into a leadership role
- I was demoted unfairly because I fell ill
- I am scared to disclose my illness at work
- Difficult relationship between employee and manager
- Performance or Relationship Management
- Manager having relationship with subordinate
- Abuse of power
- Managers friendship with team member is making the team uncomfortable
- Top performer slacking after experiencing a tragedy at home
I have been asking my manager to be rotated to a different department for a year now, but he keeps making excuses about capacity. We used to be a team of eight, but we are currently a team of five. This is because people were not replaced when they resigned and most of their workload has fallen on us. This means there is now a lot of pressure in the current department I am in; and he uses this as a reason to not let me go. I do not want to be stuck in my current position any longer and the only way for me to gain a new skill is to rotate elsewhere.
It is always good to see employees take their development seriously by carving out a career path they desire for themselves. However, development works extremely well if it is supported by your leader. The first thing that you need to do is draft a 1-3-year career path or plan for yourself. This plan should include things like training that will help you function better in the new position, where the training is offered, the cost, as well as duration. You must also explore and include other avenues that will get you there – one of them could be highlighted as a department to be rotated to. When your ambitions are backed up by a plan, support from your manager should naturally follow.
It is important that you look at this from your manager’s perspective as well – given that you are already experiencing constraints in your department, ask yourself how the gap you will be leaving will be filled should you be allowed to be rotated to another department for 3 months or so.
Also, check with the manager from the department or area in which you wish to be rotated to if they have the appetite and capacity to host you for the duration of the rotation period. They will need to draw up a plan and support you during your time there to ensure that you learn as much as possible. These are some of the steps your current manager can help you with.
Apart from actually moving to another department, you could perhaps look at taking on extra work or small projects from the department. The current economic climate has caused for many companies to downsize, which has led to the need for those remaining in their employ to multi-skill in order to be able to maintain their service levels. You could therefore see this as an opportunity to gain new skills while you are still in your current position.
My advice is that you approach your manager again, this time with a detailed plan that specifies all the operational needs that your rotation could address. Remember, employee progression is a two-way stream that has to meet both employee and organisational needs.
Leadership vs specialist
My employee who is a specialist recently asked me to give her more managerial responsibilities. She is very good at what she does, but I do not think she is quite ready to lead people. How do I tell her without demotivating her?
Your employee could not have come to you at a better time. Often, highly specialised employees are promoted into leadership roles because they are exceptional in what they do, and not necessarily because of the leadership qualities they have. The lack of those leadership qualities often goes unnoticed until the team starts falling apart and a visit to HR becomes the norm.
One of the most important requirements of being a people manager is having to have difficult conversations which often include feedback that is not always desirable. This feedback needs to be constructive in its nature, and in this case, you will need to give it to her as such (i.e. in a way that will build and encourage her).
Given that she has the potential and appetite for growth into a leadership role, it will be best to let her know that while this is the case, there are some developmental gaps that she will need to close to be ready for this change. There are a couple of avenues you can take to assist her in building those leadership competencies:
- Sit with her and try to understand her current stance on the matter, as well as her career aspirations. Let her frame her next steps as she sees them and determine whether you are aligned with them
- Discuss the role that she has expressed an interest in or help her think through various roles that might be of interest to her.
- Based on the key competencies identified in the job spec for her desired role, identify the developmental gaps that you think she will need to close in order to occupy that leadership role, as well as the type of support (e.g. formal training, soft skills training, on-the-job training, mentoring, etc.) she will need to close those gaps.
- Look at the current department she is in and see if there are any opportunities you can leverage to give her exposure without having to move her. An example would be asking her to become a sounding board or mentor to junior staff or graduates. Use the feedback you get from them to fill out any gaps in her style of leadership.
- Regularly check in with her and give her feedback from your own observations. Do this in a supportive way so she can understand and believe that you want the best for her.
I work in FMCG as a co-truck driver. I do not do long distance driving, but provisional trips, and the longest I drive is four hours. I was diagnosed with type B diabetes and as a result, started falling asleep during trips. I reported this to my manager and HR and they offered me a desk job which is a level lower than the co-truck driver position. I was also informed that my salary will be cut to match the new role. How do I fight this?
NOTE: based on the limited information received, we couldn’t quite get a full view of what conversations took place and how the agreement was reached.
I don’t think it’s unfair. They have found reasonable accommodation in place of dismissal for incapacity due to illness. This sounds like a fair solution especially if you can confirm that the medical report deemed you unfit for this role (as you also admit that you were falling asleep during trips which means you were not performing satisfactorily in the role), You were consulted by the company before you were given the desk job (as you say it was offered which means there was an opportunity to either say yes or no and chose to accept). Unfortunately letting you keep your salary in a lower position will create great salary anomalies in the organisation. Also remember that the organisation still needs to fill your old position and give the right salary for that job. It is ultimately up to the company if they want to let you keep your salary, but doing it for you will create a precedence that the company may not be able to sustain should similar cases arise in future.
Wellness issues have always been one of the trickiest to deal with for managers and HR. The fact that you were falling asleep on duty means there was a great risk attached to you continuing as a driver, and as such, the company must have felt compelled to provide you with an alternative role.
Difficulty with disclosure
My sister is a flight attendant and has recently complained about her feet getting swollen to an extent where she cannot stand for long periods. She unfortunately does international flights quite frequently as the demand is high. She is scared she will lose her job if she declares her issue as she does not think there are other opportunities available.
Firstly, it is not your sister’s job to worry about what jobs might or might not be available, the company should. Her health should be her main priority. If she continues to hide her discomfort, it can only make things worse if for whatever reason, there is a spill over into her work. Ask your sister to speak to someone in HR in confidence first to advise her on what to do in this instance.
She also needs to see a doctor and get proper diagnoses of what is wrong with her feet and if they can be treated. For all you know, this is something minor that can be treated easily and quickly without the need to disclose anything. If it is something serious, it would be important for the company to know, so that they can support her. There are a couple of procedural steps that companies need to follow when someone is unable to fulfil their duties due to an illness.
Difficult relationship with manager
I have had a tough relationship with my manager for some time now, we just never see eye to eye. I was recently diagnosed with cancer and have been on a treatment plan. I have on and off days and I get very ill sometimes, but I cannot bring myself to tell him as I do not want his sympathy. I always felt that he was extra hard on me and thus do not feel like letting him into my personal life. What do I do?
It is going to be very tricky to remain silent about your condition, especially if you have on and off days that are brought on by your treatment. Having a difficult relationship with your manager is common and understandable, however withholding something as serious as this is not advisable. I am not sure what you tell your manager whenever you are off sick or experiencing a ‘low’ moment, as those would be the times that he can probe.
It is not a must for employees to disclose their diagnoses, however it would serve both of you better if he knows. That will help him to structure your work accordingly and set expectations that you can meet. Him knowing creates an opportunity for him to understand when you cannot deliver or feel incapacitated.
The benefit of disclosing also allows the company to offer you alternatives or reasonable accommodation should your condition worsen or render you incapacitated to fulfil your duties in full. In this instance I would say, focus less of the relationship and more on your wellbeing.
Even if he is hard on you, company policy on reasonable accommodation has to be applied consistently and fairly, irrespective of how your relationship with your manager is. If you keep quiet and your work deteriorates, it will quickly be interpreted as a performance issue and lead to other unnecessary stress for you. Similarly, should you continue to feel the lack of support and continue to experience unfairness under his leadership after disclosing, you have company grievance procedures that you can follow that are there to support employees in unfair circumstances. Be transparent, and you could also benefit from whatever internal programmes the company offers such as in-house doctors, councillors, psychologists or discounted medical care.
Performance or Relationship management
For the past 4 years I have always been regarded as an exceptional performer and my performance ratings have reflected as such. However, last year I got a new manager, and he made many changes to the team. I continue to give my best, but he has recently criticised a lot of my work and the feedback he gives me is always negative. I feel as if he wants to disprove that I am good at what I do. Two months ago, he gave my performance feedback for the year and he told me I need improvement. I challenged the rating, but it remained the same. What else can and could I have done? I feel like since he joined the team, he made a decision to dislike me and this has broken me so much that I want to leave the department altogether. The problem is that this rating is now going to follow me everywhere and has messed up my stellar record.
There is a difference between what is fact versus what you think is happening. It is therefore important for you to sit down with your manager and unpack the concerns you have. Be honest in what your perception of the situation is and how it has affected your confidence, and ultimately your performance. Understand what a good performer is in his books as his standards are clearly different from the previous manager’s. I always tell employees that, ‘what made you good yesterday may not necessarily even be relevant tomorrow’. You can therefore not rely on the notion that how you performed last year will receive the same recognition this year.
Now that you have lost the rating appeal, sit down and properly discuss expectations going forward. Establish a base of the different performance levels that you must reach against those objectives or tasks. The outcome of your rating is a reflection of how he sees your contribution, and it becomes critical that you do not only rely on your own assessment of your performance. Allow your manager to respond to how you feel, or what you think is happening and take it from there. If you are as good as you say you are, then do not let pride and frustration drive you out of what you like doing without giving yourself the opportunity to address it.
In terms of the rating following you around; I have worked with many directors and senior executives who have had unsatisfactory ratings in the past. Instead of focusing on those, they saw it as an opportunity to put in more effort and turn things around. One of them once shared that, if it was not for that rating serving as wakeup call, he would not be where he is today. In fact, he is now the director managing the very same people that once gave him that rating. A bad rating should never be discouraging, it should be an opportunity for you to refocus your efforts and energy. It is up to you to turn it around. If it follows you, then just like that director, you will have a good story to tell one day.
Manager is friends with subordinate
My manager and one of my team members are friends. They try to hide it, but we know that they hang out with each other on weekends and do lunches that she does not do with any of us. We are a team of eight individuals, so it is easy for the seven of us to talk about things. She delegates a lot to the friend, asks her to stand in for her when she is away, and forces her onto us as a coach. We also know that they talk about us sometimes and that she takes things we say amongst each other to the manager. How do we approach HR on the matter as we do not have evidence, but we know that this is happening?
As far as I know, I have never seen a policy on friendships at work. These types of situations can however create a serious divide within the team, especially if the friendship benefits them at the expense of others in the team.
Check If there is any difference in treatment. There is nothing stopping them from being friends outside work, as long as it does not affect the work or create room for unfair practices, gains and or advantages. You can speak to your HR about the instances you feel that the action was taken as an outcome of the friendship talks and request that HR facilitates a meeting or team building session in which you constructively address your collective concerns as a team. Such a request should not be a surprise to your manager and should be raised with her before you strain the relationship with assumptions.
The manager also has a duty towards her subordinates and cannot simply force coaching on them by their fellow colleague. What reasons did she provide for imposing her on you guys if any? Though the manager is free to delegate to whoever she wants, I would suggest perhaps she rotates the delegation, but also – this is not a must.
The delegation however provides one person with exposure and if she considered that person as talented and is grooming her for the next role, then that is also acceptable. I would suggest you separate the issues of where your discomfort lies with the friendship and address the specifics with and not what you think is happening.
Relationship with subordinate
Hi, what must one do when they find out that one of the managers in the company is secretly dating one of the people that report directly to them, and that that person could possibly be pregnant with the manager’s child?
Generally, companies have policies that guide instances in which romantic relationships are allowed. Some companies allow it, provided the one does not report to the other or has direct influence over the performance and other key inputs such as increases or bonuses. The issue with such relationships presents a lot of bias claim and possible reputational risks for the employee in question and/or the company.
The fact that the relationship is being kept a secret already tells me that the manager himself knows it is not right. This is an ethical issue that should be investigated by senior management and not by you as an employee. Companies have anonymous channels that employees can use to report such cases like Tip Offs Anonymous. It will be right for you to report this so that it is investigated and, if proven to be the case, the right steps can be taken by management in accordance with their internal policies.
Abuse of power
One of the senior managers is sleeping with a lot of the temp staff and is promising to place them at one of the call centres I work at. They are scared to report him as he is the big boss. They know that their team leaders have no power and because they really want the jobs, they give in.
The abuse of power is a really serious misconduct and misuse of authority. Should this behaviour come out, it could hurt the company very badly. The head is committing an unlawful act and what is worse is that he is committing it in his official capacity. The fact that he is even promising jobs in exchange for sex as the driving factor is awful.
My advice would be to find a way to report this, either directly to his manager, HR, employee relations or, if there is a whistle blow system in place, follow that. The whistle blow route if often the route that scared employees take as it protects them from being harassed or victimised for speaking out. You will also need to check if any of the women who were subjected to this behaviour are willing to come forward. I would assume you know this because either you experienced the same or know someone who did. It is actually not your job to investigate but to simply report it.
Given the nature of the claims, it is critical to have substantiating facts or testimonies that will support it. If it is merely hearsay and there is no one to back you up, this might be problematic. I would therefore caution you from making claims to anyone about something as serious as this that has not been verified. Alternatively, go and speak to your HR in a hypothetical way and hear what advise they will give you. Perhaps they may ask you questions and give you ideas on how to report the issue in a manner that will not compromise you or your job.
A slacking performer
I have an employee who is really good at her job. Last year she had a family tragedy and since then, her performance has dropped and her engagement levels are at their lowest. I do not know what to say to her because I cannot undo the tragedy, but I am afraid it is becoming evident to the team that she is slacking and they will start accusing me of favouritism. Truth is, I really like her and always protect her, but I will not be able to any longer.
It is admirable that you want to protect your star performer in this instance, as I can imagine that you do not want to lose her or put her under the same pressure that you are feeling right now because of her performance. This however does not save or help her in anyway. If anything, the longer you leave it, the harder it is going to be to remedy. Here are a few interventions I suggest you try:
- Sit her down and assess the emotional state she is in. Ask questions and get a sense of how she is interpreting her performance and engagement levels
- Ask if she has seen or is currently seeing a counsellor or psychologist for the trauma. This will help you ascertain if she is dealing with the tragedy on her own or if she is seeking professional help. These types of questions will help you understand the underlying problems and how solvable they are by you and or outsourced help.
- Once you get the wellness aspect out of the way, ask her about how she believes her performance is going. Build your feedback into how you are observing the performance as well as any specific examples you have. This is just to demonstrate the point and the seriousness of the situation you find yourselves in. When giving her feedback, ensure that you also acknowledge and appreciate the good work she is currently doing
- Offer her the support she needs and create a plan with her on how you are both going to improve and build up the performance again
- Suggest weekly check ins with her so that you remain aware of her progress and state of mind. Also check with her if she needs time off. That will also help her regroup and come back with renewed energy
- Set clear expectations on what you want to see and hold her accountable. In other words, for example, it must be clear to her that if she does not meet and exceed her targets she will not get a satisfactory performance rating, which will ultimately affect other financial rewards such as increases or bonuses. Your fairness and transparency in this situation will go a long way in helping her back to her performing way and ensure that you are not accused of favouritism.
Ultimately, as her manager, it would serve in your best interest to take the lead in helping her get back to her ‘old self’.