If your owners won’t back you in a dispute with fellow employees, you may need to reconsider some things

Question: 

After five years in my job, during which I’ve received many accolades, I almost walked out this morning. The owners I work for provide quality professional services but lack management experience and hired me as senior administrator to run their firm.

When I took over, the firm hovered near bankruptcy, partially as a result of how the owners caved in to employees pressuring them. Whenever an employee asked an owner for a raise or extra paid time off because “she’d done so much,” the owner gave in, resulting in an out-of-control payroll.

Employees goofed off during the day, eating breakfast and lunch on work time as they spent their lunch hours off-site, but then stayed late and charged the firm overtime. Employees came in on holidays to “work” and charged double-time for eight hours, but actually arrived late, left early and enjoyed two-hour holiday “hardship” lunches. I reined all this in.

As you can imagine I wasn’t popular, though most employees interact well with me and the ones who didn’t like the “new regime” left. Then two weeks ago, an employee who hates my guts told the owners I’d said I’d hired a computer security firm because then I could “bring the clinic down” if the owners ever discharged me. I of course didn’t say this; in fact, I said the opposite. Unfortunately, this employee talked her co-worker best friend into backing up the story and the second employee told the owners she’d overheard me say exactly this when I was on the phone. This, and other untrue statements made by these two mean-spirited women, led the owners to hold secret meetings with other employees.

Although none of the other employees told outright lies, the sheer volume of petty grievances led the owners to pull me in to a meeting last night. They told me that while they know I have a “thankless” job and rely on me to be the “tough guy,” they thought the “waters needed smoothing.” The owners presented me with a document listing the complaints, but didn’t give me a chance to face my accusers, defend myself or give my side of things. Instead, they insisted I apologize to the employees at a meeting this morning.

I’ve worked too hard to get where I am to allow someone with an agenda to take my job. So as horrible as it felt, I apologized. Shortly after that, I had a confrontation with my nemesis and she fled in tears to tell her side of it to the owners. Luckily, our contract bookkeeper saw the whole thing and told the owners the situation wasn’t what the employee said it was. What do I need to do?    

Answer: 

First, rethink whether you want to stay. Your company’s owners should have shown you the same respect they showed the other employees, and listened to what you had to say. If they had, they might have gained a more balanced view of this situation.

Meanwhile, whether you decide to stay or leave, take a fresh look at the employees’ complaints. While many may stem from your laying down the law, do others ring true? For example, do you tell and show your employees you value and appreciate them? Do you take their concerns seriously? All of us have an Achilles’ heel, and it costs nothing for a leader to say she’s sorry for times in which she could have done better — yet can have a huge payoff.   

If you stay, realize what you’re up against: fearful owners, widespread employee discontent and a mutiny leader willing to distort the truth and effective at creating uproar. To handle this, you need a level head and the ability to convince your owners to look at the full picture. Would they be willing to bring in a neutral third party to review the entire situation? If so, you may learn you have things to fix, and the owners may learn they’ve been partially scammed.

© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at www.bullywhisperer.com

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