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Behavioral Issues in the Workplace
Behavioral issues in the workplace are often a case of good people behaving badly and if you think you’ve got it bad where you work, wait until you hear today’s guest. Cornelia Gamlem is a human resources veteran who has co-authored, They Did What? Tales From the Workplace. It’s the book every HR professional threatens to write about the unbelievable situations they wrestle with every week in the process of managing employee relations.
What You’ll Discover About Behavioral Issues in the Workplace (highlights & transcript):
* How the “creative nonfiction” book They Did What? is based in facts. [1:50]
* How effectively dealing with behavioral issues in the workplace is a function of experience. [5:30]
* Why dealing with behavioral issues in the workplace is requires judgment calls. [11:24]
* The most common themes and patterns of behavioral issues in the workplace. [15:11]
* The leadership challenges of human resources and managing behavior issues in the workplace [21:36]
* And much MORE.
Hanna Hasl-Kelchner: [00:00:00] Behavioral issues in the workplace are often a case of good people behaving badly for one reason or another. And if you think you’ve got it bad where you work, wait till you hear today’s guest. She’s a human resources veteran who’s written the book that every H.R. professional threatens to write about the unbelievable situations that cross their desk.
Announcer: [00:00:23] This is Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner helping U.S. business issues hiding in plain view that matter to your bottom line.
Hanna: [00:00:35] Welcome to Business Confidential Now. I’m your host, Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, and today’s guest is Cornelia Gamlem the co-author of the new book titled They Did What? Unbelievable Tales from the Workplace. This book is another creation from the writing partnership Cornelia has forged with her co-author, Barbara Mitchell. Their previous collaboration resulted in the 2012 release of The Big Book of HR. They’ve since gone on to write more books, celebrate their translations into other languages, and even received prestigious awards along the way.
Cornelia Gamlem is passionate about helping organizations develop and maintain respectful workplaces. That’s the reason she took her expertise and founded the GEM’s Group, a management consulting firm that offers solutions to a variety of HR and business issues because managing people is the most challenging part of any business leaders’ day. She’s here today to talk about her upcoming book. They Did What? Unbelievable Tales from the Workplace. So this ought to be fun. Welcome to Business Confidential Now, Cornelia.
Cornelia Gamlem: [00:01:48] Hi, Hanna. It’s a pleasure to be here.
From Facts to Creative Fiction to Facts
Hanna: [00:01:50] Well, it’s so nice to have you back on the show, especially with this new book, because I love the title. They Did What? Unbelievable Tales in the Workplace. You know, I’ve always said that fact is stranger than fiction. But then I understand this book is creative nonfiction. So help me understand that creative part.
Cornelia: [00:02:10] Ok, so what we did, we wanted to use some real stories and real examples, but of course we wanted to make sure that we could write them in a compelling way and not disclose the identity of anybody or any organization. So we developed a backdrop to tell these stories, and we came up with a fictitious company and a fictitious cast of characters, some of whom work in the company, and then others who are just good colleagues of the main character, Marianne, who’s the chief HR officer of this company. So there’s lots of opportunities for people to sit and talk and share their experiences and get advice from each other, all in a way of crafting it around the story.
Hanna: [00:03:01] I see that. Yeah, that’s where the creative part comes in. Ok, so the names of the guilty parties have been changed to protect the not so innocent, shall we say? All right.
Cornelia: [00:03:12] That’s exactly right. .
Hanna: [00:03:15] Yeah. Confidentiality. I get it. And that’s only fair
Cornelia: [00:03:18] Yeah, yeah, yeah. No real names, no real places. Just everything in the backdrop is fictitious. And the other thing you know, we did, we heard so many stories that often times we would combine things so as to even mask what really happened that much more.
Hanna: [00:03:37] So if I read between the lines, it sounds like a good portion of this. I mean, outside of trying to camouflage names and dates and company and so forth, is really based on true events.
Cornelia: [00:03:51] Absolutely. And the really remarkable thing is so many times we heard similar stories that, you know, you start to scratch your head, but you come to the realization that so many of these kinds of behaviors happen over and over and over again. And in fact, it was funny. I was doing a workplace investigation last week and a few things came up, just a couple of comments that were made or a few situations that came out, and I kept going through this. It was a little bit like something I’ve heard before and I think we’ve written about in the book. So it’s like there’s no new ideas. There’re really no new stories either.
The Squirrel Bite and Workers’ Comp
Hanna: [00:04:31] So I’m curious, what’s one of your favorite little vignettes from the book, like one of those head scratchers that people outside of your profession would go? No, they really didn’t do that, did they?
Cornelia: [00:04:44] Oh, goodness. There was so many of them. And I think there were a couple that we heard that involve people and encounters with animals. And in one situation, somebody had run over a squirrel on their way to work. Tried to assist the squirrel and squirrel bit them and came back to work and tried to claim worker’s comp because, well, they were on their way to work when this happened.
Hanna: [00:05:13] Well, that’s an interesting twist, definitely.
Cornelia: [00:05:18] Obviously, she did not get worker’s comp for her injury.
Hanna: [00:05:23] Oh, my, oh, my, so, yeah, so what prompted you to write this book?
Nuances of Employee Relations
Cornelia: [00:05:30] But, you know, quite a number of years ago, I was teaching in H.R. course and somebody came up to me at the end and said, because we were going through the different facets of H.R., she said, how do you learn employee relations? And I kind of thought to myself, you know, that’s a good question. We can talk a lot about the basics of, you know, having good policies and, you know, how you implement those policies. But it’s really about having some practical experience. You know, it’s a little bit of learning by the seat of your pants, if you will. And hopefully you’ve got a good mentor along the way. And at one point I think it was when we were writing The Big Book of H.R. and I had finished writing my chapter on employee relations, that conversation came back to me and that was kind of the genesis of this idea. And I went back to Barbara and I said, you know, when we get this book finished, we ought to think about doing something entirely different. Of course, we’ve been working on it for a number of years now. But, you know, the idea of getting stories and using stories as a way to teach people, we thought might be a novel approach. So that that was that’s what got us on the path to putting this book together.
Hanna: [00:06:50] Well, it’s definitely novel, and I think it’s really fascinating. What do you think is the biggest challenge that H.R. professionals and frontline managers face when dealing with employees that have these behavioral issues? You know, whether it’s trying to make a worker’s comp claim out of, you know, going to work or I’m sure there’s a whole lot of other examples that you could give that that aren’t necessarily straight out of a policy manual where it’s very black and white, where you could say, well, that’s it, it falls in that category -that requires discretion and probably a really straight face on your part.
Cornelia: [00:07:27] Sometimes they are, but it’s funny when you talk about, you know, not being black and white because we kind of picked up on that theme throughout the book and kept talking about, you know, you’re managing in this gray zone when you’re dealing with employee behavior. And I think the biggest issue for managers and relatively new H.R. professionals is if they’ve never encountered it before, they think, oh, my God, how are we going to deal with this? This is so unique. And they really don’t have a baseline for understanding what it is they have to do. You know, how they have to go about trying to solve this problem and get the right information and put it in place. And that was one of our goals in putting this book together. You know, first of all, say, hey, you’re not alone. And in fact, you know, one of the people that’s given us an endorsement said, if you think crazy things happen only in your company, this will make you feel a lot better because crazy things happen all over the place. And I think the repetition of stories, too, we have a lot of scenes where Maryann is sitting down with her colleagues who are from outside the organization and they get together just to try to get ideas from each other. And one of them will start talking about, you won’t believe what happened to me this week. And then somebody else jumps in with, oh, yeah, I had a similar situation. So hopefully this will give the reader an idea of saying, hey, these things happen more frequently than perhaps I thought. And here are some different ways that different organizations have approached them.
Hanna: [00:09:10] Well, I think that’s going to be very helpful. I mean, when I was working in a legal department at a large corporation, I always found that things hit the fan around three o’clock on Friday. Do you notice any time when it happened?
Cornelia: [00:09:23] (Laughter) It’s funny you say that. I’m trying to think back when I was in-house, but, the last situation I had actually hit me, you know, on a Friday afternoon. Can you come and help us? We need some help looking into the situation. And yeah, it’s always, if not a Friday, it’s often late in the day when people are kind of exhausted and scrambling and getting ready to go home. It’s all of a sudden oops, we’ve got to start dealing with this now.
Hanna: [00:09:56] Well, who do you think is the ideal audience for your book? Who will this appeal to besides other H.R. professionals that say, oh yeah, that happened to me where just last week.
Cornelia: [00:10:08] Yeah. Hopefully we have spent a lot of time thinking about that and who is our ideal audience. Obviously it is going to be a lot of H.R. professionals. But I think beyond that it’s a refresher of situations that actually occur that will help managers as well to say, hey, wait a minute, I’ve had to deal with something similar. And as I you know, as I read this book, I realized I handled it really well. Or maybe I could have done a couple of things a little bit differently. But I think even beyond that, the conversational tone that we wrote the book in, because we wanted to put it in this narrative format and tell stories, it really makes it readable for anybody. And I think anyone who’s been curious about what happens, that they hear about things in the workplace, they see a certain result or they think there’s been no result. Hopefully that will enlighten a lot of employees and say, wait a minute, there’s a lot more that goes on around these issues and a lot more that goes on that we have no awareness of. And they’re a lot more complicated than perhaps we thought they were.
Making Judgement Calls
Hanna: [00:11:24] So are these a lot of things that that fall between the cracks in policies that maybe you don’t even want to have policies for? Or would they inform creating even more policies?
Cornelia: [00:11:37] I think it’s a combination of the two. And I think a lot of it has to do with where a particular organization is. If you’re in a very large organization, you probably have a lot of policies and some good guidance. But even the policies, you need a certain amount of interpretation. And there isn’t always one right way to handle every single situation because you’ve got to look at all of the facts that are involved and oftentimes the history perhaps with a particular individual. With a situation where I dealt with recently, you know, I’m the objective third party on the outside. I don’t know anything about the policies that they have in the organization. I’m just looking at the facts of what occurred and talking to people. And, you know, in one instance, I was working with an attorney on the case and I said to her, well, you know, there’s enough information here that that I would say could justify terminating this individual. But I don’t know what the facts are regarding this person’s employment history.
Cornelia: [00:12:46] Have there been other instances with this person? And if somebody had alluded to this was it the first time. The company’s got to take all of those things into consideration and they’ve got to look at the employment history and they’ve also got to look at things like how have we implemented policies in the past, how we treated people in the past. So a lot of that comes out in the book because we really wanted to send that strong message that when you’re looking at situations, you’ve got to take all of this stuff into consideration. And sometimes things pop up that that you didn’t realize or weren’t disclosed initially. And then you’ve got to go back and look at some other things so that that’s what we hope, particularly HR people will get out of this. Don’t think you can just open the book and say the policy says this because there are other factors that have to be taken into consideration.
Hanna: [00:13:49] Yeah, I definitely understand, especially the message that it sends to other employees who even when you try to keep it as quiet as possible, things have a way of leaking out because whatever it is that caused somebody to come to your office and say, “we need to talk about Hanna.” Other people have seen it, too. And they’re like, OK, what are they going to do now? Are they going to do anything? Yeah, you’re right. It gets complicated. But in some ways, I would think it’s also pretty simple because the company needs to be consistent or it really ties itself into some big knots.
Cornelia: [00:14:25] Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s the biggest factor that that companies don’t realize. You know, it’s like, well, we kind of like this person, so we’ll give him a pass, but we won’t give the other guy a pass because we don’t like him as well. You know, now it can be a situation of, well, Joe’s been here a really long time and this is kind of the first time he’s messed up. So we may treat him a little bit differently than we’re going to treat Ed over here, because it’s only been with us a couple of months and this is the third time he’s messed up. And I think it’s time for Ed to go, but we’re willing to give Joe, you know, a little bit more of a chance and a little bit more time to straighten things out.
Common Themes and Patterns of Workplace (Mis)behavior
Hanna: [00:15:11] Exactly. So with all of these stories, is there a pattern in terms of the types of topics that have unifying threads, whether I mean, you mentioned the workers comp, you know, and people trying to stretch a definition there. Are there other clusters of topics that you can identify and share with us without giving away too much of the book?
Cornelia: [00:15:36] Yeah, absolutely. In fact, the interesting thing was when we set out to write this book, you know, we started to talk to colleagues, people that we have we’ve worked with, people that we’ve known for a long time and kind of, you know, tell us some of your best stories, tell us some of the biggest challenges that that you’ve had to deal with. And we were just, you know, recording what we heard from them initially. And once we started to gather a lot of stories, a pattern certainly did emerge. There were there were a number of issues around problems that occurred during interviews, problems that occurred during the termination process. Obviously, we heard a lot about sexual harassment, which, you know, there’s a chapter on a number of things around workplace affairs and people acting out and engaging in sexual behavior in the workplace, and I was surprised at how many stories we heard around that particular theme. I had mentioned the workers comp and we had had a couple that that were around people dealing with animals that were quite amusing. So, yes, there are definitely things and that’s why we ended up organizing the book and putting them into a particular chapter so we could talk about some specific issues altogether in one chapter. Another big one was social media and how organizations are dealing with some of those challenges these days.
Hanna: [00:17:18] Well, let’s talk about social media for a moment. What are the big hiccups with social media that you’ve seen?
Cornelia: [00:17:27] I think one of the biggest issues is people don’t often realize when they put something out on social media, they can be implicating the company even if they don’t intend to. You know, in a classic example and we had several of these that people told us, somebody will you know, they have a Facebook page that they put their profile out there on Facebook and they may name X, Y, Z company as my employer. Then they put something out that has nothing – that’s not work related at all. But they’ll put something negative on social media. And it has come back to the company. People calling the company and saying, do you know what one of your employees did? And do you understand what happened? And now the company is involved in this situation and even though the employee didn’t say anything about the company particularly. So it’s trying to get employees to recognize, and getting managers to recognize as well, that even though this may be personal behavior, sometimes the company gets implicated in a situation because of social media and it’s kind of hard to disentangle all of that.
Hanna: [00:18:50] I see that. I mean, on Facebook, I think, is a good example of, almost anything goes on Facebook. They’re trying to introduce some policies. But what about LinkedIn, which tends to be a more professional social media site where people are actually using it to network and maybe find a new job? Do you see the same types of factors working there as well? Because they do want to mention their name, the company name.
Hanna: [00:19:20] I mean, yes, I guess. Yeah. Yeah, they do. And I think people when they’re using LinkedIn that they need to be aware of that who else is a LinkedIn? Who else are they connected with if they don’t want their employer to know that they’re actively looking for a job. They’ve got to take steps to reach out individually to some of the people in their network and not to put something out there publicly, you know? And I think one thing is, it probably gives you some more opportunities to be able to do that. You can message people and reach them that way and of course, if you’ve been laid off and you are out of work, it’s easier to kind of broadcast that a little bit. But the other thing with LinkedIn, too, is it gives you an opportunity to search and also see what other companies might have positions that are available. So there is a job board element to that. So you can kind of do that discreetly.
Hanna: [00:20:31] Well, I think you put your finger on it about doing it discreetly. But people still have to be able to find ways to network effectively for a job search. So that that’s an important factor. And at least we have something like LinkedIn, which is great.
Cornelia: [00:20:48] So, yeah, we’ve definitely covered a lot of things here as far as topics where people are just kind of missing the mark, everything from the interview and termination process to harassment and workplace affairs. There’s a lot of sex involved here. I mean, yeah, I shouldn’t be surprised.
Cornelia: [00:21:08] It’s not what we started to do. But, you know, it’s kind of like this was a story that, as I said to Barbara, because somebody commented on that and they said, you know, hopefully it drives home the message to people that just this happens a lot more than you think it might. It’s not some random thing that occurs. So but, yeah, there’s there are quite, quite a few other areas that we cover in the course of the book.
The Leadership Challenge of HR
Hanna: [00:21:36] So what would you want a reader to take away from your book, regardless of whether it’s a manager or whether it’s an H.R. professional? What’s the overarching message that you’re sending?
Cornelia: [00:21:48] What we really hope readers take away is that HR is not an easy job to do, I think a lot of times people think it is and there are so many things that an H.R. person has to deal with. It’s not just processing benefits and, you know, making sure people get paid appropriately and that their compensation is correct and their raises get processed. There are those days when you sit down and you have your day mapped out as an HR professional and then all hell breaks loose because one of these situations occurs and you’ve got to stop and you’ve got to be able to deal with that. And there’s a couple of examples of that that are in the book where suddenly a day goes topsy turvy because something has occurred and it needs immediate attention. And oftentimes people don’t realize that that as I said earlier, there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes. So it’s it can take up a lot of time and energy and it takes a lot of skill to be able to handle these situations and handle them appropriately so that they have a good outcome for everyone.
Hanna: [00:23:10] I think you’re absolutely right that there is a lot of heat that’s involved and there’s a sense of immediacy and it is emotionally exhausting for everyone involved and it’s not easy to thread that needle and navigate it. So in terms of, you know, this sounds like a lovely book with all these wonderful stories that, oh, my God, here’s how it hit the fan. You know, you’re not alone. This could happen to you, too. But in terms of looking forward and being able to guide people and help them avoid and sidestep these situations, any recommendations there?
Cornelia: [00:23:51] I think we get back to the issues of policy and the issues of communicating with employees, you know, as organizations. If they understand that, no, you can’t always get around, or you can’t avoid people doing stuff that they ought not be doing in the workplace; but, if you treat people fairly, if you’ve got a good culture in your organization, and if you communicate to people that these are our expectations of you, then there are going to be no surprises. When somebody does mess up and if they’re terminated and other people see that they’re terminated and other people were affected by the behavior, then people are going to say, OK, you know, the company is being fair. They’re doing what they said they’re going to do. And, you know, let’s heed and use some caution here before we decide to engage in the same kind of behavior. And I think that that’s a powerful message that that hopefully everybody takes away from this.
Hanna: [00:25:03] Well, that’s wonderful. Thank you so much, Cornelia. The book again is They Did What Unbelievable Tales From the Workplace. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Cornelia: [00:25:15] Thank you very much. It was my pleasure, Hanna.
Hanna: [00:25:18] That’s our show for today. Thank you for joining me. If you’d like to learn more about today’s guest, you can go to our website at BusinessConfidentialRadio.com. It’s got a lot of other powerful information and resources available to help your business grow. So be sure to check that out. The website again is BusinessConfidentialRadio.com.
Hanna: [00:25:39] I’m Hanna Hasl-Kelchner you’ve been listening to. Have a great rest of the day and an even better tomorrow.
Guest: Cornelia Gamlem
Cornelia Gamlem is the co-author of the new book titled: They Did What? Unbelievable Tales from the Workplace. This book is another creation from the writing partnership Cornelia has forged with her co-author Barbara Mitchell. Their previous collaboration resulted in the 2012 release of The Big Book of HR. Since then they have gone on to write more books, celebrate their translations into other languages, and receive prestigious awards.
Cornelia Gamlem is passionate about helping organizations develop and maintain respectful workplaces. For that reason, she took her HR expertise and founded the Gems Group, a management consulting firm that offers solutions to a variety of HR and business issues because managing people is the most challenging part of any leader’s day.
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