The Role of Managers in Offensive Employee Behavior: Is This Your Real Sexual Harassment Policy

Posted March 1, 2012 by Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D.
Categories: offensive behavior

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Dear Employees,

At our company, we like to pretend that we have a zero tolerance for offensive behavior.  This is to make our legal and HR department happy.   In reality, we don’t care what you do as long as you’re getting your job done and making us a profit.

This is especially true of our managers.  Look, your manager got promoted because she was better than you.  As such, s/he gets special treatment and will not be held to the same behavior standard that you will.  So don’t even think that, just because your manager gets away with it, you will.

And, another thing.  Your manager was hired to make money.  S/he does not like taking time out of his or her valuable day to listen to a bunch of whining about something someone else said or did.  So don’t be surprised if he or she is annoyed when you make a complaint.   And don’t be surprised if he or she isn’t quite as friendly afterward; after all, you’ve blown the whistle on somebody that you work with.  That’s not part of the “good employee” code.

The Role of Managers in Offensive Employee Behavior

Any lawyer would go screaming  into the street at the thought of  his or her corporate client adopting this kind of offensive behavior policy.  So would HR.  And yet, this “policy” is communicated by the actions and attitudes of managers who either participate in, or turn a blind eye, to  dishonest, ethical or illegal behavior.

Managers commit more fraud, steal more money, and does so in larger amounts than rank-and-file employees ever did, yet they often have exempt status when it comes to accountability for their behavior.   In addition, their attitudes and practices establish the caliber of management oversight.  When managers are perceived as uncaring or unconcerned about abusive behavior, the blind eye is perceived as an approving eye.

The Bottom Line

What management does is much more important than what management says.  Managers who stand by, or participate, in offensive behavior significantly infleunce the level of management or subordinate tacit or direct involvemnet in abusive behavior, the legnth of time this behavior goes on, and why employees who have knowledge or reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing do not expose it.

Evaluating Credibility in Sexual Harassment Investigations

Posted February 8, 2012 by Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D.
Categories: investigation

Tags: , , , ,

One of the biggest challenges investigators face during sexual harassment investigations is deciding whether or not a witness is telling the truth.  In fact, according to a 2009 article in Legal and Criminological Psychology, even judges aren’t’ so hot at it.  And one of the reasons is the way most of us go about making credibility assessments.

For one thing, research indicates that we are heavily influenced by schemas (cognitive maps) we’ve developed based on our past experiences with similar individuals.  The old adage, “to a policeman, everyone is a criminal” is an example of the tendency we all have to judge new people based on our past experiences with others.  This can be problematic for those of us in HR who get railroaded into being the head of the unofficial “employee complaint department.”  Dealing with minor (and seemingly ridiculous) employee complaints day in and day out can unconsciously skew our view of new or legitimate complaints in the direction of skepticism and disbelief.

Second, we all have some pretty understandable – and false – beliefs about how to actually evaluate someone’s truthfulness.  It is common wisdom, for example, that liars often exhibit nervous gestures (longer pauses, not looking the other person in the eyes, speech disturbance) when research actually suggests the opposite.  Throw cultural differences into the mix and the usefulness of relying upon body language to detect deception is virtually nil.

Third, most of us make snap judgments of the general trustworthiness of a witness immediately upon seeing him or her for the first time.  Not only is this intuition unreliable, it can influence how we gather, and interpret, future evidence.  In a study of criminal investigators, those who presumed guilt were more skeptical about evidence that suggested innocent than they were about information that confirmed their preexisting belief.   In other words, we tend to see what we believe.

Here’s the good news.  First, we need to throw out any ideas we might have that credibility assessment is a common sense matter and that our intuition is a useful guide.  Second, we need to let go of any notions that we can tell someone is lying by his shifty gaze or nervous hand wringing.  We need to be aware of how our past experiences with complainants might influence our approach to a new sexual harassment investigation.  And we need to build in safeguards (a second opinion, critical thinking that objectively evaluates all evidence, clearly thinking through and documenting why we are taking each step in an investigation).  This doesn’t guarantee that we’ll make the right decision; but it does raise the odds that we’ll make a fair one.

Panic Attack at the Office: When Anxiety Spirals out of Control

Posted June 30, 2010 by Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D.
Categories: Uncategorized

Read the rest of this post »

Anxiety and the Office Bully

Posted June 22, 2010 by Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D.
Categories: human resources, Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , ,

Read the rest of this post »

What to Do – IMMEDIATELY – When You’re about to Lose Your Temper at Work

Posted June 16, 2010 by Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D.
Categories: Uncategorized

Read the rest of this post »

How to Talk to a Depressed Employee

Posted June 11, 2010 by Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D.
Categories: human resources

Tags: , , , , ,

Read the rest of this post »

Employee Misconduct Investigations: When Punting to a Third Party Can Save the Game

Posted June 9, 2010 by Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D.
Categories: human resources

Tags: , , ,

Read the rest of this post »