It’s hard to be effective at your job when you feel your personal life is under a microscope. That’s how admin Donna feels, thanks to a co-worker who makes her uncomfortable by spewing judgmental comments about her life choices.
She wonders what to do about it. Is the human resources department obligated to fix the problem? Or does this situation call for a frank co-worker-to-co-worker conversation?
That depends on what the judgmental co-worker is saying, says Paul Falcone, vice president of human resources for Time Warner Cable and author of 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees: A Manager’s Guide to Addressing Performance, Conduct, and Discipline Challenges.
But do employees need to run to HR every time a co-worker mumbles some frustration under his breath? No.
“We don’t want people to feel like they have to tattletale on their co-workers every time,” Falcone says. A “Big Brother” culture kills.
The bigger problem, according to Falcone, is that aggressive, threatening or bullying behavior is allowed to persist because employees and managers alike are afraid to escalate the problem to HR’s attention.
“Rather than simply fixing a perception problem while it’s still a relatively small concern, negative behaviors perpetuate themselves,” he says. Result: an unhappy environment for workers and a liability for the company.
His advice: When in doubt, err on the side of caution and escalate the issue to HR.
Some comments are absolutely offensive and egregious in nature, he says, and HR would want to know about them. An HR pro could address the issue up front “and, if necessary, create a written record of the company’s response—typically in the form of—to show that the organization acted as a responsible corporate citizen,” Falcone says.
Even if the words aren’t caustic, if they’re said in an aggressive, threatening or bullying manner, it would warrant HR’s immediate involvement.
Says Falcone, “Donna should feel free to speak with her co-worker first, if she feels that’s appropriate. But she should feel just as comfortable running that problem up the proverbial corporate chain so that it can get fixed once and for all, which is to her company’s as well as her co-worker’s benefit.”
The bottom line: Don’t think “either – or.” Think “both – and.”