As is often the way with the things I write, let’s start this off with a nice big disclaimer. Whilst I highly doubt that anyone I work with reads what I write, I just want to state that any events I make reference to in this article are not in reference to my current place of work, where I have been for almost three years. As I spent a lot of my working life in temporary roles, I have had a lot of jobs. I am really lucky that 95% of my colleagues are lovely, and I have not so far, touch wood, had any problems in my current job.
Disclaimer again- I am not a HR (Human Resources, formerly Personnel) specialist or employment law specialist. If you feel that you need advice, please seek this from a professional.
I have the unfortunate experience of being on both sides of a disciplinary. For those who don’t know, this a formal action taken by HR when someone has committed an offense. There is misconduct or gross misconduct, and these will carry different repercussions. Your work should have a list of these available to you. It would be the difference for example between being late every day and stealing money. One is an issue, and one is a big issue.
If you are being disciplined, please make sure you seek support in an appropriate way- from HR, from a suitable colleague (unless you are not allowed to do this, HR will advise you) your union representative or in some cases, an employment law solicitor. Please tell the truth, please follow the HR procedure carefully and ensure you are prepared. If you don’t understand what is happening or why, make sure you find out. I don’t like to sound like my mother but I mean what I say- you make it much worse if you lie.
Disciplinary or grievances are awful for everyone involved. It is a serious matter, if it has got this far, and it involves a great deal of work and emotional stress. So, here is a rough guide that may be of some help.
1. Try to solve the matter informally
If this is possible. I totally get that in some cases it won’t be. But seriously, it will help everyone if you can show that you at least tried. Discuss with your line manager, if possible, the concerns you have and why. Try to remain professional and explain what is wrong, and why it is bothering you. Say for example another colleague made a comment you’re uncomfortable with- it really is the better plan to talk to someone appropriate and tell them, rather than immediately taking this to the furthest level.
2. What is your goal?
If your intention is to get people in trouble, then you may need to have a little think about this. You are never going to like all of your colleagues, but the point is that you don’t have to. It does not say anywhere in any contract of employment ever that you have to be BFFL’s with who you work with. You have to be polite and work with them, but you don’t need to go round theirs of a Saturday and have a bottle of red and a takeaway.
If you want to take action because something a colleague is doing is upsetting you, preventing you from working properly or making you dread going to work and you want it to stop, if you are concerned about the actions of a colleague or if you feel that management need to know there is a problem, then that’s fine. If you just hate someone and want to see them squirm, don’t bother.
3. Be prepared
I mean this in a million ways- be ready for how emotionally draining it’s going to be. Make sure you have any notes, policies or support you need. If you are taking action about things someone has been saying then you need dates and times. Remember, if you can’t prove it, what’s going to happen? If it is your word against someone else’s and there is nothing to prove what happened either way, nothing will happen. I know it sounds like I’m telling you not to bother, and I’m sorry if it does, but people lie all the time, and your boss is not just going to say “Oh, you said she did it? Okay, she’s fired.”
Make sure you outline your concerns clearly and concisely. Facts first, feelings later. Use appropriate language, be professional and make sure you can make your concerns known in the best possible way. If there is an issue, it needs to be sorted. But it needs to be sorted properly.
4. Consider the repercussions
Okay, right, HR are going to tell you not to discuss what happened outside of the room the meeting takes place in. Can you smell that? It’s the scent of bullshit. People talk. Gossip happens. People are going to find out. A grievance can tear apart a really strong team, as people are going to have ties to one another. That lady you met by the water cooler and said “Greg from accounts is a total arsepipe isn’t he?” She could well be his best mate. People talk, and they talk all the time. You could very well become the black sheep of the office. I am not in any way saying not to address a huge issue because of this, I’m just saying it might happen and you need to know this.
Basically, this is going to be unpleasant. But sometimes it needs to happen. You may well find yourself in some hot water, and you may well have to take some action yourself. You deserve to be happy at work, and if someone or something is stopping this, you need to do something about it. But you need to do it right. Take your time, consider your actions, beware of gossip, follow the rules, read your policies and seek advice from the right people. The very best of luck to you if you find yourself in the midst of this. I hope any issues you may be having get sorted.