Businesses set very high standards for their employees. Typically, the expectations are that they will perform diligently, accurately, and uncomplainingly. Furthermore, it is often assumed that they’ll stay until they get the job done; take on new responsibilities at the drop of a hat; be friendly, energetic and driven to excel. Also, we want them to be change enthusiasts, agile and forward-looking. We want them to be committed to continuous improvement, customer service and quality. And we expect their loyalty and (dare I say it) gratitude for employing them in the first place, and paying their wages.
It’s a tough ask, but it’s remarkable how many employees actually fit this bill, despite being treated in unforgiveable ways by self-serving masters who exploit their good nature. Too many people are being driven into the ground by unreasonable and unhinged managers who take their staff’s loyalty for granted.
Of course, not all managers are like this, and the very fact that there are great managers out there shines a light on those who appear to practice the dark arts. The contrast is so stark. It’s all too common for managers to jump down someone’s throat when they mess up. In some organisation cultures, it’s the norm to punish, threaten, blame and scapegoat people when things go wrong. The only feedback they receive isn’t feedback at all, it’s a kick in the teeth.
As a manager some things are unforgivable, just as some things are unforgivable for an employee. Let’s look at some examples:The Manager’s Unforgivable ListThe Employee’s Unforgivable ListBullyingDefrauding the companyFavouritism and Personal BiasDivulging sensitive company data without authorisationExpecting people to make sacrifices that they won’t make themselvesAbusive behaviour based on a person’s gender, sexuality, race, creed, disability and ageBlaming people when things go wrongNot turning up when they are fit and well to do soDiscrimination on the grounds of gender, sexuality, race, creed, disability and ageDigging their heels in when change is necessaryCheating & LyingSmoking, fighting and using drugs or alcohol on siteFailing to take personal accountabilityRefusing to learn and developBreaking staff confidences for personal gainRepeatedly failing to deliver on commitments when everything is in place to support delivery
With the above list, it’s clear that there are some things we should not and must not tolerate on both sides. It is legitimate to say that these are unforgivable and that we will take decisive action against the perpetrator. Sadly, I’ve observed that we tend more towards taking action when employees fail than when manager’s fail; tolerating management incompetence for much longer than we should.
Here’s my list of things that we need to stop punishing employees for. These things are forgivable.
Making a mistake once (if we learn from it, make the right adjustment, and don’t repeat it).
Taking risks that might not always come off (because without risk, there is no discovery).
Getting tired (because we are working too hard or too long. People deserve a break).
Getting upset (because this is a sign that people care).
Speaking out when injustices are observed (because speaking out takes courage).
Saying ‘No’ sometimes (because people have to prioritise).
Asking for reasons why a decision has been made (because people need to know what’s expected of them, what’s in it for them, and why they should take it seriously).
Going home after working your normal hours (because people have lives and responsibilities outside the workplace which feed their productivity when in work)
Switching work phones off and not checking emails between 6pm and 7am (because our ability to be successful is heavily dependent on building in recovery time and having varied interests and activities)
Setting high expectations is one thing, but expecting people to behave like robots is unforgivable. The fact that people have independent thought, visceral emotions, and physical limitations means that we have to respect these things. With respect comes permission, allowances and forgiveness.