Workplace Violence –


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CUOMO CONTROVERSY – teachable moments not to be shoved under rugs. 

Over the past several months we have often announced to each other at noon “It’s Cuomo Time” and now it is starting to look more like “Cuomo’s Time May Be Up.” Personally, I hope not but time will tell.

I will share that I am rather familiar with Sexual Harassment. As a victim, as a trainee, as a trainer of prevention and awareness, as a workplace investigator, and as a policy writer. Once, while trying to coach an executive on the subject, he responded: “I’m really good at this so no one needs to teach me how!” Well, times have changed my friends. Starting in 1991 when so many of us witnessed the explicit trial of Anita Hill vs. Clarence Thomas, and I clearly remember where I was while watching, amidst several male coworkers. A bit uncomfortable to say the least.

Today, we are hearing multiple allegations of incidents that occurred in the past against the outspoken and amiable Governor of New York. Why don’t these accusers come forward at the time? What about the Me, too? For some, silence is golden. And in some cases, sure, biting our tongues may be the right thing to do.

But for others, silence, or internalizing these experiences will not help anyone. Not you, nor any other prospective victims. Speaking out in a timely manner is more than freeing; it is the right thing to do.

We live in a ‘see something say something’ world. We are all on watch at airports. We are more aware at shopping malls than ever before. We look over our shoulders all the time. If we do witness something in the workplace – we are required to acknowledge and report, even if the victim is unwilling.

So, these recent allegations came through Tweets! Really? Damn that bird, setting precedence once again. Why would these accusers not follow formal or official channels? And why now? Could there be political motivations or retaliation? These questions are not intended to accuse the accused. They are simply questions.

The former president of the United States has had at least 18 claims against him for sexual harassment and misconduct, and worse. We have all witnessed his inappropriate and unprofessional behavior during his campaign, his rallies, and since. Yet he was not asked to step down by his party. But calls for Cuomo’s resignation are loud and clear.

Many behaviors can be considered harassing, bullying, inappropriate, immoral, or just simply ignorant. Does the accused realize what they are doing or saying is felt as a threat? One would hope so, particularly with high profile, highly educated, and even elected officials.

Types of ‘sexual’ harassment are physical, verbal, and visual. Not all harassing behaviors are sexual in nature. However, they can be intentional behaviors that are found or felt to be disturbing or threatening.

The EEOC defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”. Even if no sexual affronts or intrusions occurred, it is also illegal in the U.S. to harass a person at work simply because of the person’s sex or gender.

We live in a ‘see something say something’ world. We are all on watch at airports. We are more aware at shopping malls than ever before. We look over our shoulders all the time. Anyone accusing someone should first tell that person that their conversation, their behavior is unwelcome, and it needs to stop. Then, if it continues, it is time to report it.

In most workplaces today, people are reluctant to speak truth to power with often disastrous consequences. Leaders must do more to encourage speaking up. There are employee assistance call centers for employees to anonymously report concerns. In the most ironic situation where one cannot comfortably go to their Human Resources office – because maybe someone there is the person doing the harassing, then it needs to go higher. Today, not next year. The time may never seem right, but the behaviors will always be wrong.

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If you have quit a job that you recently started: WHY?

Appreciative of your participation.

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On Bringing People Back to Work

republished from mid-2020

It will happen, sooner than later. And we all hope that there are no further interruptions to our workplaces and businesses. That will largely depend on the behavior of others: rules followed or broken; being proactive vs. re-active; and leaders hopefully leading – by example.

I am speaking from own experience in various industries, most in 365/24/7 operations, and a few from the more routine office hours.  Some of these open to and serving the public; others with little incoming traffic from outsiders.

How one business opens all the way will be different from another. Whether essential or not – there will be quite a few challenges – unique to each organization.

Putting my strong-scheduling experience hat on for a bit, I came up with just a couple of ideas. Maybe they will appeal to management in one type of workplace for another. Here are four(4) scenarios to consider: office settings, restaurants, salons, and schools.

SCENARIO #1 Offices                                                                                                                           

Picture a traditional, professional office environment housing a few hundred employees or more; one company, over a dozen floors or so. The majority of people work on the same floor — one that requires an elevator ride. While most commute to work by car, there is a significant group that takes scheduled public transportation. Most of these staffers come into work and punch in around 9am, a bit leisurely being the norm. Since the quarantine rules were honored, a high number of people are currently working from home with proper equipment and support, etc. But the time will come to start bringing people back to work. How can they maintain social distancing when they all arrive and leave around the same time, and while they work physically close together in comfortable but segmented departments? And of course, pack into elevators on their way in and out, and yet again – back ‘n forth for lunch breaks. We will keep smoking breaks out of this.

  • Consider first, how many people could fit in that one elevator while keeping distanced. Let’s presume there is ample space to stay apart while waiting for the elevator.
  • Approximate how long that elevator takes to get from the 1st floor entrance to the main floor.
  • So, how many people could punch in and get to their workstations if they all start at the same time?
  • A fix for going forward: Stagger start times. Maybe a 7am, 8am and 9am start time. Of course, the times to punch out will be staggered as well. There will be gradual traffic in/out over a two-hour period. The more employees, the more start times you might consider; possibly on the ½ hour over that two-hour time frame. (7a, 730a, 8a, 830a, 9a, and 930a)
  • Your challenges as managers: Choosing which people or operation/departments could have staggered start times. Will this be a random selection over the entire staff, or left up to departmental and operational management?
  • Another challenge will be to gain willing participation and not have to enforce it. This could be a temporary scheduling adjustment before we all return to whatever a new normal may be.
  • And yet another challenge for managers – managing the socialization that often occurs when people start their workday, especially when returning to the workplace after a significant time away. But this is one of the many things we manage – people. Leadership should help communicate these guidelines in support.
  • If department areas still feel crowded, management may consider encouraging alternate days of work – especially if there are reasons to streamline operations or to reduce staff.
  • A potential benefit – more coverage in certain departments for customers coast-to-coast with varying time zones. Customers may appreciate the fact that they can reach your business earlier or later than normal, rather than within a very restricted time frame within your own time zone.

SCENARIO #2 Dining Out

Think about New Year’s Eve when making reservations for a celebratory dinner for two, or more – and being home before midnight. Most fine-dining restaurants schedule seating times. They provide 90-minute or longer intervals to turn tables to seat their guest capacity. This is also dependent on staffing.

  • Restaurants in general, family style or fast casual, etc., just have an ongoing flow of traffic with open door policies. Sometimes they offer “call-ahead seating.” Every scenario offers pros and cons – from generating revenue or lost revenue due to no-shows.
  • When there are no procedures in place, people are waiting in congested cashier areas, especially when the servers are not the ones to collect payment. Congestion coming in, and congestion trying to leave and pay your check. And of course, do not forget to generously tip your server. Difficult to distance ourselves from others.
  • Reservations for everyone. All dining venues that have servers can require reservations. This helps management with staffing and so many operational concerns.
  • All tables are organized or sectioned off to be at least 8ft. apart. Those seated together won’t likely be following social distancing at this point. This provides the servers a bit of space as well.
  • If there are stationary booths, block every other one.
  • While servers should wear masks and gloves – diners can arrive with masks, but of course – are there to dine. Essentially, enforcing safe practices on their way to and from their assigned tables.
  • Hostesses that escort diners to their table will need to be firm with diners to not wearing masks, etc. This may require some supportive training or additional staff.
  • For restaurants that collect money at a check-out area, be sure that there is some area marked off for people to remain 6ft apart, if not more.
  • Keep your customers informed, and don’t make it so difficult to dine in. Have phone numbers posted clearly outside – in case a call-ahead seating is available.
  • For fast casual places, where one stands in line and waits to order, collects the order and then finds a seat…similar practices can be maintained. Blocking off every other booth or table. Clearly mark off areas for distancing. Have signage on a door that reads “restaurant capacity is limited at this time” or something along those lines. People want to be heard and communicated to – and avoid confusion.
  • There are several fast food restaurants that currently do not offer drive-thru service. Maybe it’s time to relocate or reconstruct your current place to provide that service.

SCENARIO #3 Salons

Salons are so varied these days – from at home yet very professional salons, to studio suites that stylists rent, to larger salons and those that I label as fast-casual (the chains and those catering to men only). Let’s pretend we’re in Japan and first, remove shoes at the door. Or offer shoe coverings.    Then take a temperature.

  • All services to require appointments, no more drop-ins welcome.
  • For smaller or at-home salons, stagger appointments so that clients don’t cross paths. Allow for a 15- minute window for cleaning/sanitizing in-between clients. While most salons are a great place to socialize, meet other people, etc., socialization will need to be kept between stylist and client – for now.
  • The stylists will assure their own protection and PPE as should their clients. Temperatures can be taken at the door.

And finally, last but not least.

SCENARIO #3 Schools

I graduated high school decades ago with a class of 997 students. In that era, it was unheard of and I don’t recall hearing of such a large class since, but I know they are in force somewhere.

  • The school district was divided into two locations for Freshman/Sophomore year and then one location for Junior/Senior year. During those 4 years – we were seriously overcrowded. The solution – splitting shifts. It worked. Not always convenient and a bit non-traditional, but we’re in non-traditional times. If it worked then, it could work now. Whether at the elementary level or just high school.
  • The hours spent at school could be adjusted while still meeting educational requirements.
  • An early schedule may start at 730am and the next start at 1230pm. Lunch breaks will be shortened but class times will as well, even by 10-minutes. Lunch at the desks of the most current class.
  • There are highly educated administrators and educators out there who could come up with a great plan – if they are open to it.
  • Splitting school schedules will provide for smaller class sizes and thereby social distancing.
  • Announcements that require a larger audience can be held with proper spacing in an auditorium, between the morning and afternoon shifts.

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We know all too well that words matter. They matter to the masses, literally and figuratively. They are contagious. Their impact may be short or long term. They can soothe your soul or cut like a knife. Words can be comforting or hateful, empathetic, or intimidating. They can be taken in stride or taken to heart. For better or worse, our words are an indication of our values and beliefs. The intention may be clear but still can send a mixed message.

My thoughts this week turn to workplace communications, in particular — recruitment.

I often share relevant job postings that come across my desk with others. In recent weeks I have noticed an influx of job offers. Offers of employment! To most, these statements will be taken in stride. Statements like “It is our pleasure to extend the following offer of employment…” or “We look forward to a long-lasting and beneficial relationship and are confident your abilities will play a key role in our company.”

These statements in print, online or within unsolicited email messages, are implying that an offer is being made, by a specific company and even a specific position.  The intent was likely to grab the active or passive job seeker’s attention and encourage them to apply.

The language used in recruiting messages throughout interview processes can be binding. The misinterpretation by some may be due to mixed signals from the various parties involved in screening and selection of potential hires.

Nearly all states in the U.S. are employment-at-will. Organizations must be careful to avoid communicating an implied contract of employment. Interviewers must be careful with their words and language used during this process.

  • Avoid promises or assurances of employment.
  • Confirmation of annual reviews or pay raises need to be avoided (these things change).
  • Comments such as “you’ll be great here, when can you start, you’ll be working with…, we have an excellent opening and would be pleased to have you our dynamic team” should be avoided.

Consider the maybe naïve candidate, inexperienced at interviews or maybe feeling desperate for work. The unintentional message of “you’re hired” may be heard and taken seriously. The candidate may indeed (if currently employed) quit a job they already have even though there was no official decision made or job offer. Then what?  Though it may be difficult to prove, if a job offer is inadvertently implied by the employer’s actions, the offer is binding.

Do not put your organization at risk. Be sure to have policies in place and provide regular coaching for managers on best practices for interviewing and how to avoid accidental or implied job offers. Many of us have been there, certain that we got the job! And yet we did not. While there are many rules and laws that could be broken during these encounters, having those participating in the hiring decisions should be appropriately prepared. At the same time, it is certainly okay to express satisfaction with a candidate; just tread lightly.

Verbal vs. Written Offers of Employment – I’ll be saving that topic for another week.

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Workplace Violence

Shooting in Aurora, Illinois

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The tragedy that plagued an organization and the families it employs has been front-page news since Friday. These workplace shootings are far too common, as are those in schools and other places.What steps has your organization put in place (or are they at least planning to) in order to prepare for such an unexpected eventAt the very least, it should start with comprehensive pre-employment screening that should include background checks that reach beyond your current county or state.A zero-tolerance policy should be developed that accompanies appropriate disciplinary and grievance procedures.What about violence prevention training, for all employees?We have fire drills, of course. However, such a traumatic event such as active shooting in or around a workplace, will cause confusion and chaos and potentially lead to more tragic consequences when no one is prepared.

Workplace violence is not just about a shooting. From vandalism to product contamination, from stalking to domestic violence, from arson to attempted homicide, or worse – homicide – as we are all witnessing too close to home. An incident could be a personal attack on an entire organization or just on one person, and not always from inside the organization, but also from outside the organization. Consider what happened at Mercy Hospital only months ago; still traumatizing staff to this day.

So, we are addressing employers today. How are you preparing your organization? If such an event were to occur — do your employees know where they should go? Is there a safe place to hide? How does one take personal protection from your position in the building? How should someone respond if coming face to face with the aggressor? Is your organization prepared appropriately when conducting a termination, from security staff to a secured area?There are many measures that employers can take, and of course – they will depend upon the type of industry involved; whether accessed by the public or only vendors. There are so many factors. We are interested in your thoughts on this matter, one staring us all in the face.