Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘employee’

The Myth of the Disgruntled Employee

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

marvin-e-krakow-LX322826-3[1]Removed from the distant wars currently in the news, it is easy to see how neighbors alike in so many ways must dehumanize one another in the midst of conflict. It’s a form of blindness that is common not just to war, but to all conflict – and one that I see all too often in my practice.

Let me introduce you to the people who come to our law office for help.   Many have worked for the same employer for long years, often for decades.  Most feel strong and warm connections to their employers and co-workers.  They struggle, as we all do, with the challenges of life, with their health, with family responsibilities, with financial reversals, and with their careers.  They come to see us, because their bosses have disrupted their work, their source of income, their identity. They are not irrational.  They are not trying to game the system.  They work with a seriousness of purpose.

Who are they?  They do every kind of work: executives, janitors, public servants, truck drivers, waiters, teachers, and artists. They come from every imaginable background.  They have advanced degrees; they did not learn to read.  Their families are established; they are recent immigrants, accompanied by their children who translate. Some are old, some young, some rich, some poor.  They are straight. They are gay.   They have strong religious beliefs.  They have no religious beliefs. They are breadwinners with obligations to pay college tuition or to support an elderly parent.  They are men and women near the ends of long careers who need another few years of work, because they cannot afford to retire.   They are from every racial and ethnic background.

If they share anything in common, it is that they are not happy to find themselves in a lawyer’s office.  When I ask potential clients about their previous dealings with lawyers, the most common response is that they have never hired a lawyer, and have never been involved in a lawsuit.  Most of them come to us reluctantly, and they apologize for doing so.  They will explain that they would prefer to consider all other options instead of filing suit.  They come, despite that reticence, because they feel they have been seriously hurt and profoundly disrespected by their employers.

Who brings a lawsuit?  Here are a few examples from my own recent experience: a store manager falsely accuses a 60-year old retail assistant of failing a drug test, and fires him.  New owners replace a worker who successfully led a computer software development department for over thirty years and replace her with a less qualified, younger man.  An executive needs time off to care for his dying wife; the owner fires him a week after she dies.

In each of these cases, the prevailing myth of the “disgruntled employee” hides the reality of our common humanity. It is impossible to hear the adjective “disgruntled” without filling in the noun “worker,” and conjuring an image of a madman spraying bullets from an automatic rifle.

The myth serves intertwining legal and psychological purposes for employers and their counsel.   A long term, productive employee is viewed as damaged.  He or she suddenly becomes a “complainer,” “a trouble maker,” “not a team player,” “unable to communicate,” “uncooperative,” “unresponsive to constructive criticism,” “an alarmist,” someone who “games the system,” “insubordinate.”  Managers targeting these employees sometimes send lengthy and detailed emails documenting “deficiencies” which were neither observed nor noted before the employee raised questions of discrimination or harassment on the job.  As part of this management mythology, employers assume that an employee who complains does so out of a failure of character: the employee must be permanently and irrationally dissatisfied by his or her lot in life, and with his or her workplace in particular.  They believe, or claim to believe, that the employee is dangerous.

Management’s goal is to cast the person as fundamentally unlikeable, less worthy of respect, “less human.”  Ultimately, management lawyers who demonize the worker who reports a problem by treating them as quasi-criminals, put the entire workforce at risk.  When the starting point is that complaints come mainly or exclusively from defective personalities, employers fail to take reports seriously. They fail to remedy problems before they grow more serious.  They ignore warning signs of sexual predators. They fail to correct safety hazards. They allow mistreatment of older workers. They make it harder for a parent to care for his or her children.

There is a better way.  When a manager puts aside defensiveness and character assassination, and sees the care and loyalty driving an employee complaint, he or she is likely to recognize issues that are critical to the well-being of the employer’s enterprise. Unfortunately, conflict feels less troubling when the enemy isn’t quite so human.  I sometimes think these employers missed a chance to get to know my clients in all their humanity.  But perhaps it is simply easier for them to forget the people they once knew.

This blog originally appeared in CELA VOICE on August 14, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://celavoice.org/author/marvin-krakow/.

About the author: Marvin Krakow (B.A., Yale, 1970, J.D. Yale, 1974), a founding partner of Alexander Krakow + Glick LLP, focuses on discrimination based on race, age, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, and ethnicity, wrongful termination of employment, civil rights, and class actions. He has won seven, and eight figure results. He helps victims of sexual harassment and rape, and represents whistle blowers. He argued landmark cases before the California Supreme Court, Loder v. City of Glendale and Superior Court v. Department of Health Services (McGinnis).

 

Signing a Card to Join a Group? What a Novel Idea.

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

If you have any interest in politics you have heard by now the big news about Senator Arlen Specter switching his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat. From what I can gather, the actual process to switch parties merely requires some paperwork. That’s it!

Sen. Specter does not want to join the ranks of the 434,000 people unemployed in Pennsylvania and made a strategic decision to sign-up to be a Democrat. Now, as a new member of an affiliation working to protect his job, President Obama has pledged to campaign for him and the fundraising juggernaut, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), already lists Specter as a Democrat to support in the 2010 political cycle.

In Senator Specter’s statement about switching parties, he noted his continued opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act. He stated,

“My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans. Unlike Senator Jeffords’ switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on Employees Free Choice (Card Check) will not change.”

Despite Sen. Specter’s betrayal by flip flopping his position on the Employee Free Choice Act last month, leaders and spokespeople within the labor movement have expressed subdued exuberance at the prospect of Sen. Specter joining the ranks of the Democrats. Sen. Specter’s party switch may indicate a compromise for the Employee Free Choice Act, and therefore, with Sen. Specter’s support, the bill could be closer to achieving the 60 votes needed for cloture.

I do not carry the heavy burden of a leader representing millions of members, so I can afford to be more skeptical and indignant. But the fact remains that Sen. Specter stated just one month ago that he would not support the bill and, as noted above, made a point of reiterating his position in his statement about switching parties. This is after he was on record for years as supporting the bill. He supported it when it was only theoretical since it didn’t have the votes to pass with Republicans holding the majority in Congress and President Bush in office vowing to veto it if it should ever come across his desk. And as a supporter of the theoretical bill, Sen. Specter enjoyed a great deal of support from unions.

Now, in 2009, with a Democratic President and majority in Congress the theoretical bill has become very real. Now is the time a person’s word and support means something. And Sen. Specter changed his position. His reasoning? He claims he cannot support legislation that would make it easier for working people to gain the protection and support of an organization that will bargain for wages, benefits and terms of employment until, wait for it – the economy improves. Well, he has a point. In a time of economic uncertainty, rampant layoffs, corporations asking employees for major givebacks while its managers award themselves multi-million dollar bonuses and travel by corporate jet – that’s certainly no time for workers to have some semblance of checks and balances looking out for their best interests.

So the question begs to be asked: Senator Specter – You signed a form and now belong to a group that will fight for your job and will represent your interests exactly at the time you really needed it. Wouldn’t it be great if we could ALL have that option?

Another Reason to Create a Winning Workplace: Less Litigation

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

In recent posts on our blog I’ve mentioned the following as ROI for small organizations that define employee engagement, build and utilize practices to engage employees, and turn to manager team building to create a strong culture that trickles down from leadership:

But there’s another one that has perhaps a greater impact on the bottom line than any of the above: greatly decreased chance of a stakeholder (employee, supplier, customer) bringing forth a lawsuit against your business.

I was astounded to read on HR Daily Advisor recently that according to a survey by the law firm Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., close to 4 out of 5 companies experienced new litigation in 2008.  Compare that to cases you could count on one hand among the 70 companies that make up our Top Small Workplaces Winners and Finalists over the last two years.

And virtually all of those were due not to egregious behavior by the managers or the leadership (not as a result of a toxic company culture), but by natural oversights or miscalculations in contracts and other arrangements between employees and the company.  In addition, to my knowledge these cases were settled quickly and amicably.

So if you want your organization to fall among the 21% that are litigation free, your seemingly “soft” focus on fostering good team building can go a long way toward making that happen.

Your thoughts?

Cross-posted from the Winning Workplaces blog.

About the Author: Mark Harbeke is Director of Content Development for Winning Workplaces.  Mark’s role is to ensure that content on Winning Workplaces’ website is up-to-date, accurate and engaging. He also writes and edits their monthly e-newsletter, Ideas, and provides graphic design and marketing support. His experience includes serving as editorial assistant for Meredith Corporation’s Midwest Living magazine title, publications editor for Visionation, Ltd., and proofreader for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University.Winning Workplaces is a not-for-profit providing consulting, training and information to help small and midsize organizations create great workplaces. Too often, the information and resources needed to create a high-performance workplace are out of reach for all but the largest organizations. Winning Workplaces is changing that by offering employers affordable consulting, training and information.

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