I was visiting with one of my best friends the other day and I could tell she was having a tough day. She seemed a little distracted, sad, beat down. Eventually she got around to spilling it; she had been reprimanded at work for a safety violation.
It wasn’t the write-up that bothered her. She knew she was in the wrong. She had forgotten to replace her safety glasses after taking off her hoodie. She’s very conscientious and had not been written up before. It was the way it was handled. The guy got in her face and yelled, violating her personal space and embarrassing her in front of her workmates. She is not an overly-sensitive person. She has worked in the public her entire adult life (not to mention a good part of her adolescence). But he had frightened her and she was still rattled 12 hours later.
I suggested that my friend file a complaint with the human resources department, but she said she didn’t want to appear petty.
“Happy International Women’s Day, Mr. Safety Manager. I got you this. It’s a Free Pass.”
Now, this woman is smart, tactful, and has a wonderful vocabulary. I know that she could graciously accept her reprimand without accepting that kind of abuse from a superior. In reporting the incident, she would be doing herself, the safety manager, her fellow workers, the company, and society in general a good turn. Maybe the guy was just having a bad day, in which case nothing will likely come of it. But if it’s part of a pattern of bad behavior, maybe he needs training or reassignment.
So how do you complain about (or to) a supervisor while still maintaining a relationship and not looking like a whiner?
- Decide whether the incident deserves reporting. Was this a one-off or is there a pattern of misbehavior, poor communication, or abuse? If you’re lucky, you may be able to approach your manager with your concerns or wait for skip-level reviews, a chance for you to review your boss’s performance to his boss. If not…
- Review your company’s policy about up-level complaints. If you work for a company of any size, there will usually be a formal complaint process or skip-level performance reviews.
- Remember, there is a person behind your boss’s face, too. Bosses have bad days, sleepless nights, pressure from above, sick children, and cars that won’t start. If the complaint needs to be written, write it, but don’t be nasty.
- Just the facts. “On Monday, January 28, Mr. Safety saw me violate Safety Regulation 47(b). I appreciate the reminder and accept responsibility for the oversight. However, I felt the way he handled it was unprofessional. Mr. Safety approached me walking at a high rate of speed, got within 6 or 7 inches of my face and yelled at me for what seemed like a very long time, although it was probably on 15 or 20 seconds. He is quite a bit larger than I am, I’ve only met him twice before, and I felt very uncomfortable and a little afraid by what I perceived as an assault on my person. Company policy states that reprimands are to be done in a private area with one other manager present, but Mr. Safety yelled at me in front of my workmates. I was stunned and embarrassed. As a result, my mind was not on my job for the final 90 minutes of my workday, hampering productivity AND safety.”
I hope you never have an experience like this in the workplace (or anywhere!), but if you do, take responsibility for your own peace of mind by learning your rights. Reporting improper behavior is not weak or whiny. Done right, it’s the responsible thing to do.
What do you think?