Do you think you are good at telling the truth? I am not talking about the “do I look fat in this dress” kind of truth but truth in the business place.
Most people think it’s easy for supervisors and employees to be totally honest. After all it’s business, not personal. That is just not so. Everyone is eager to give out good news – raises, promotions, accolades, good things that are happening. Ah, but when the news is not so good everyone does the dance. Employees are not so honest and supervisors do their best to avoid it.
My first lesson in employment truth came way before my HR years. Early on I worked as an analyst in a construction department of a large company. I did well (mostly) and was very well liked. Heck, I was young and perky, what’s not to like? The job was 75% interesting. That included interactions with some hunky construction foreman (hey, I was young!) and the projects themselves were interesting. I learned a lot about construction.
That uninteresting 25% included a monthly report I had to do on what work had been completed. There were budget costs, manpower hours, overruns and project statistics. To complete the report I had to glean details from a foot-high pile of green line spreadsheets that were 11 inches x 17 inches. This was before computer programs did the calculations for you. It was horrible and it took a full week.
It’s not that I was bad at numbers, it just wasn’t my interest. I was on top of my class in algebra but for me, it was all about problem-solving. I drove my teacher crazy because I could do equations that went on forever but couldn’t add 2 and 2. That came back to bite me,
One month I was off big time. I had no idea what went wrong and couldn’t recreate my error. My supervisor, who really liked me, had to have “the talk” with me. We discussed that maybe this wasn’t what I was cut out to do. He also talked about how hard it was to tell me that my work sucked. It was a huge lesson for me. I did some soul-searching and decided that hot construction workers weren’t going to make me successful. I had to move on. That was a turning point for me and I had a lot of respect for that supervisor.
When I became a supervisor, I remembered that lesson and worked to be as honest and truthful as possible. I quickly found out that I was not the standard. Most supervisors ignored problems, swept issues under the rug or even reassigned work based on who could do what. The more capable you were the more work you got. Then I moved to human resources. (sigh.)
I vowed that employees would get the best truth that I could give. Sometimes it was painful and required chocolate and wine at night (for me). Other times it was joyous as the employee understood and appreciated the information. Sometimes I was hated, sometimes I was feared and once in a while I was loved.
There was an employee who was laid off during a downsizing. She applied when some jobs became available. She had good work habits and there was nothing in her performance reviews that reflected anything negative but her former supervisor was not interested in a rehire. When pressed, he said she was too slow – too slow to learn and too slow with work. He couldn’t tell me why that wasn’t discussed with her or noted on reviews. (Huge HR sad sigh!) I called her and explained why we wouldn’t rehire her in detail with examples. She was stunned but thanked me and moved on. That was better than making up an excuse only to have her continue to reapply.
I have a lot of these kinds of stories. Even angry employees who stomped out and threatened to sue called back in a year and said it was the best thing that happened to them.
Too often we fear being the bearer of bad news. Here is another way to look at it — we are bearers of good long-term news. We are giving them opportunity and encouragement to do something that they know they need to do. Who wants to be employed where their work isn’t appreciated and they have no chance of advancement? Tell them and let them move on!
I know the job climate isn’t great now but in the past year I have seen quite a few people move into a better job. They are out there. You have to work harder and step out of your comfort zone.
It’s not just in work either. I shake my head when I hear that someone broke up with their spouse or friend in an email.
By the way, you should never tell someone they look fat no matter what unless you are in the medical profession. That is the only lie that is permissible.
Oh yes, a hot construction worker can still make me smile. I am not dead.
Photos courtesy of some unknown people. Sorry I can’t give credit!