Are you under scrutiny at work for performance or disciplinary reasons? A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by a friend to be the support person for someone facing disciplinary action for misconduct. In the days that ensued, I had two separate client cases – one misconduct, one performance – and both resulted in termination of employment. Neither of the two individuals in my latter meetings had support people with them, and it was obvious that they were totally unprepared at all stages of the process.
It got me thinking about HR Hot Tip #45 in my book 101 HR Hot Tips: Handy Secrets for Success in the Workplace. This tip covers my recommendation to get advice and/or representation when you do come under scrutiny in the workplace for whatever reason. Regardless of the level you are on in the organisation (heck – two of the three mentioned above were considered senior leaders) it is important that you get advice from a qualified HR practitioner if you don’t have the knowledge or confidence to defend yourself on your own. Or you may just need some advice as to how to handle yourself if you do go it alone.
There are many benefits to having the support of a qualified HR practitioner during these times of adversity. A few of them are:
1. Technical knowledge
A good HR person knows what processes must be followed in order to effect a legal termination. They know all the steps in the process, the laws that apply, and the right questions to ask. In my first scenario above, the proper process was not followed. False expectations were set throughout the fact-finding process and termination was decided, prematurely. Had I not been involved in this process, my friend would have just accepted the termination without truly understanding the massive contravention that actually occurred. Of course, I won’t share the name of the company, but I won’t need to if the headlines do it for me.
How you react, the way you hold yourself, what you wear, whether you’re remorseful, your tone of voice (just to name a few) are all very relevant factors (in addition, of course, to the facts) which will be observed and may work in your favour. Your reaction and emotions are measured and observed. Think about what you want to have said about you when you’ve left the room. Will you gain respect for conducting yourself professionally during a very difficult time? Or will you be providing more grounds for separation based on your behaviour? It can be very challenging to manage these emotions, but it is possible to learn. Your care factor is on display here – make it high.
3. Because HR has been on the other side of the table. And we know what we want to see and hear
After having conducted literally dozens of investigations, I am always fascinated by humans’ reactions. They fly off the handle at what most reasonable people would consider a non-event, and then are very flippant about issues that are really important. The back-peddling, the processing of information, the eye movements… all these little pieces are evident and being observed. You can tell when someone is trying to lie to get out of a situation they found themselves in. My mother’s motto of “honesty is the best policy” really stands out here. What we want to see is a willingness to participate in any required process, and what we want to hear is the truth. I always caveat my investigations with the requirement to be truthful, however, I can’t say with confidence that this is what I get.
Of course, the merits of each individual case should be assessed on their own, but generally speaking, a bit of preparedness from an expert can go a long way, and can help to ease the pressure of a highly intense and stressful situation. In most cases, your support person will not be able to respond on your behalf, but they can prep you to respond and react in a way that is going to skew you in a positive light.
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