Ask HR: My Co-Worker's Affair Is Disrupting Our Workplace

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP March 27, 2020
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Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.

SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.

 

Question: I've been working at the same company for five years now, and things seem to be going well. I'm bringing in new clients and they all enjoy working with me. However, my boss doesn't appreciate me, and I've been stuck in the same position for two of those years. Raises and bonuses are increasingly rare. Is it time to complain?

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Congratulations on winning new clients! That's a great feeling, though, I'm sure it could be better if you received more recognition.

In that respect, you're not alone. Fifty-eight percent of employees who leave a job because of workplace culture cited their manager as the reason behind their decision, and a big driver of that turnover is feeling undervalued or unrecognized

That said, I encourage you to reframe your view of this situation. Don't "complain." Instead, ask for clarity on your current position and future growth.

You can do so by starting a conversation with your boss about your feelings in a tactful, yet factual, manner.

While it might be uncomfortable, it's essential to understand precisely why you aren't receiving the recognition, compensation, and advancement you feel you deserve.

However, be sure to do your homework beforehand. Reflect on your strengths, what you do well, and what responsibilities you would like to take on over time (3 months, 6 months, one year, etc.). With these proof points, goals, and timelines in mind you will be prepared for a productive conversation.

When you meet with your manager:

  • Ask questions. Can they explain why raises and bonuses seem to be increasingly rare? Is it organization-wide or specific to you or your department?
  • Cite your accomplishments and explain why your success warrants a pay increase or bonus;
  • Share how you feel undervalued and unsure of your place in the organization. Can you and your boss can develop a plan to guide growth and development?

If this conversation doesn't spur progress, you might want to meet with HR to update them and learn more about your organization's approach to compensation.

Above all, don't be afraid to step up and ask. Even if you don't get a raise right away, it could bring you closer to receiving one soon.

Good luck!

 

Question: Eight months ago, it was brought to HR's attention that a member of the management team might be having an affair with a newly hired, younger subordinate. The office is seeing this employee enjoy favoritism while those who have spoken up about the potential affair face retaliation—including being spied on with an office camera. Our branch manager has tried to act, but always backs down because of intimidation from the member of management in question. This is a frustrating and toxic situation for my company and it's causing a lot of stress and unhappiness for everyone. HR continually tells us that things will change, but nothing has happened. Any idea why they are not addressing this situation?

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: You're right to feel frustrated. This has the hallmark signs of a messy situation, so I'm sorry you've found yourself in the middle of it.

As you may know, workplace romances are rather common—one in three Americans have had one. However, cases such as yours with a manager-subordinate dynamic involve greater dangers for employees and organizations—culturally, legally, and even financially.

First, check if your organization has a policy prohibiting romantic relationships between managers and subordinates. Typically, these types of frameworks are established to prevent the impacts you mentioned, such as favoritism, retaliation, and frustration

Second, I would ensure there is an affair occurring. Going to HR to check on this serious allegation should be supported by at least some evidence. (I only say this because you did not share whether you had direct knowledge or reported this previously to HR.)

Third, you noted HR had been notified eight months ago. Is there a chance they might already be handling it and the news hasn't yet reached you? It could be worth a gentle nudge and reiterating the stress this relationship is inflicting on you and the office at-large to help them act more swiftly.

If you find there is a policy violation and it's clear HR isn't acting, then you could notify the CEO or chief human resource officer. I say "could" because you need to know this executive's values. Will they want to solve this? Or, might they be part of a larger cultural problem?

I can't answer that for you. But if you believe it could help, be sure to state the facts, their impact on employees and the organization, and why you're elevating this issue to them.  

That said, if HR is not handling it, and there is no policy being violated, it could be the company doesn't find this to be serious enough to address.

In that case, it might be time to update your resume—and search for a workplace with a culture that will work for you.  

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