Copernicus Was Wrong

Copernicus said the earth revolves around the sun. Copernicus was only partially correct.

The earth does not always revolve around the sun. In some workplaces, the earth revolves around an employee. Yes, I can tell that each of you is thinking of a particular employee. Let’s hope no one is thinking of you!

Seriously, how do you deal with the employee who is the sun for the workplace’s earth? Let’s be clear that we need to be careful with the words that we use.  The most common:  narcissism.

Often, these individuals are solipsistic, not narcissistic.  But it is more than a matter of vocabulary semantics. Using the word “narcissistic” is dangerous.  It is a psychiatric condition (axis II).

Calling someone a narcissist may make them rich, if not narcissistic, as a result of the perceived disability claim that you have handed them.  Remember, under the ADA, an individual is protected not only if he or she is disabled, but also if he or she is perceived to be disabled.

So, perhaps we need to remove the psychological labels and simply call it what it is. Some use “selfish,” “self‑centered”  or “ego-centric.” But these words are problematic for different reasons.

They are problematic not because they invite ADA claims.  They are problematic because they invite robust debates on who the person is as opposed to his or her behavior.  “How can you call me selfish when I do so much for others…”

Let’s forget the labels altogether.  Let’s focus on the behaviors.  Consider the following option:

You are a valued employee.  But we ask that you focus on the impact of the change on all of us, and not just you.

Sometimes, subtle does not work. So don’t be afraid to be a little more direct. Just do so respectfully. Consider the following:

I get it.  But I need to consider the perceptions of others.  Your viewpoint is not the only one we must consider.

If that fails, try this: You are not center of the world.

We should engage our employees.  And we should do our best to consider their input. But don’t be the earth to your employee’s sun.  Stop revolving around an employee who thinks that he or she is the center of the universe. It is not fair to the rest. After all, your most valuable asset is your time and you have only so much to give.

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Care About Employees, But Be Careful

I have conducted a number of management training programs in which I have asked managers what they think employees expect of them. Among the most common answers: respect, recognition, consistency, fairness and open communication.

All of these are necessary. But they are not sufficient.

Less frequently raised is the reality that employees want to know that their manager cares about them. No employee wants to be “just a number.”

Employees who feel cared for are more engaged. And, companies with engaged employees are more profitable.

In her article “Lead with Love and You’ll Love the Results,” TalentCulture CEO Meghan M. Biro cites an important study by the Boston Consulting Group.  According to the study, since 2001, companies that embrace “whole person” employee engagement have consistently outpaced growth in S&P average cumulative share price by margins of up to 99%. In other words, the “soft” stuff affects “hard” numbers.

In engagement surveys I have reviewed, comments frequently focus on the degree to which an employee feels his or her manager cares for him or her as a person, not just as an employee. Indeed, whether an employee “feels” cared for often affects whether he or she cares about the company.

Biro states in her article:  “It’s easy to roll our eyes at the power of love in the workplace, to be cynical, to dismiss all the touchy feely nonsense…Big mistake!” She’s right.

Of course, managers should not tell each employee that he or she is loved. Equally true, however, managers need to show, by their words and their actions, that they care about the employee as a whole person.

Unfortunately, however, the laudable anti-discrimination laws can make caring dicey. That is, as leaders, we need to be careful in terms of how we care.

Take, for example, an employee who appears palpably depressed. If you ask the employee whether he is depressed, the answer you may hear is: “Not anymore. You have just given me a perceived disability claim under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).”

But that does not mean that we should ignore the employee who appears to be suffering. It just means that we need to be thoughtful on how we are thoughtful.

For example, the manager could say something like: “I just wanted to make sure everything is OK.  Do you want to talk?”

If the employee does not want to talk, he can simply say, “No.” But the employee knows that the manager cares.

Some lawyers might say even this question by management creates some risk. How so? The employee could disclose a physical or emotional problem. This could result in a duty to accommodate. Also, if adverse action is taken later, the employee could argue that the adverse action was based upon the knowledge it obtained by asking a very human question.

But not asking the question is not risk-free. Cold, unfeeling leaders create disengaged employees, and that has a major impact on the bottom line.

Let’s take another example. An employee has on her desk pictures of children. The pictures are brand new. Should the manager say anything? From a purely legal standpoint, it is safest to say nothing. But that reaction is an overreaction to the potential legal risk.

Don’t ask the employee whether the children are hers. And, certainly, don’t ask the employee whether she intends to have more.

However, you could say something as simple as, “Nice pictures.” If the employee wants to provide more detail, she can. Or, not. In either case, it is existential recognition of the whole person without prying.

We hear a lot about micro-inequities. Well, there are also micro-equities. That is, there are little things that as leaders we can do that mean a lot to employees.

Companies should “actively care” about their employees, to paraphrase Biro. We just need to do so in such a way that the unintended adverse consequence of our caring is not litigation.

This blog is not legal advice and should not be construed as applying to specific factual situations.

About the Author: Jonathan A. Segal is a partner at Duane Morris LLP in the Employment, Labor, Benefits and Immigration Practice Group. He is also the managing principal of the Duane Morris Institute, which provides training for human resource professionals, in-house counsel, benefits administrators and managers at Duane Morris, at client sites and by way of webinar on myriad employment, labor, benefits and immigration matters.

photo credit: quinn.anya via photopin cc

Legal Hangovers After The Holiday Party

Every January, after the holiday season, I receive at least a half-dozen calls from clients whose employees have raised, formally and informally, complaints about conduct occurring during the holiday party. Can all risks be avoided? Of course not. But the legal and employee relations risks can be minimized if you follow these 7 recommendations:

1. Call it a holiday party rather than a Christmas party. Not everyone celebrates Christmas. But it is okay to mention “Christmas” in the invitation. Please don’t exclude Christmas (says the Jewish guy). Just include other holidays, too, such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. As always it’s about inclusion not exclusion.

2. The same is true with decorations, if you have them. A beautiful Christmas tree is well…beautiful. But also include, for example, a menorah and a Kwanzaa basket. And, yes, size matters. A munchkin menorah next to a 12-foot tree may send the wrong message. By the way, invite employees to make suggestions for decorations so that you can reflect holidays you may not have thought of, such as the Buddhist holiday of Bodhi Day.

3. Remind employees in advance of the party that they should act responsibly and that the anti-harassment policy applies to the party. Managers should not only be models of appropriate behavior but also look out for inappropriate behavior, such as twerking, and respond proactively. The Chief Twerk Officer should be removed from where he or she can cause harm. And, remember, you cannot blame it on Jack Daniel’s or Jim Beam. Those poor guys get blamed for everything.

4. Limit the alcohol consumption. For example, don’t have self-service. Have non-alcoholic beverages. Serve plenty of food. Have cab vouchers for those who cannot drive safely. The only way to avoid any risk is to avoid the alcohol, but you can minimize the risk by careful planning.

5. More on alcohol—make clear minors cannot drink and adults cannot buy drinks for minors. And make clear that if anyone breaks this rule the consequences will be severe.

6. Be clear attendance is optional. You can be welcoming without suggesting that employees should attend. Why? If you effectively require attendance by strong encouragement, the time may be considered working time. You don’t want to start the new year with a wage-and-hour claim.

7. No after parties. Many lawyers have summer homes because of bad behavior at after parties. Make clear the company neither sponsors them and no company funds can be used at them.

What should you do? Thank those who did good work with and for you. Meet people you have not yet met. This is a great opportunity for social engagement that will help increase overall engagement.

Let me close by saying: If you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Bodhi Day, I wish you a peaceful and meaningful holiday that corresponds with your faith. If you celebrate another holiday, I apologize for not referencing it by name, but I wish you a peaceful and meaningful holiday, too. If you celebrate no holidays or a holiday at another time of year, I wish you well just the same.

This blog should not be construed as legal advice or pertain to specific factual situations.

About the Author: Jonathan A. Segal is a partner at Duane Morris LLP in the Employment, Labor, Benefits and Immigration Practice Group.

photo credit: Lisa Brewster via photopin cc