a resource, my insights, and news

She is just being 'oversensitive'.

The most introspective of souls are often those that have been hurt the most

- Shannon Alder 

 

One of the many reasons I love Foxtel is the fact that on any given day there is at least one episode of Law & Order or CSI I can record to watch at some later point.  I quite enjoy the forensic nature of this stable of shows (for obvious reasons).  In addition, I quite enjoy seeing rapists,  murderers and child molesters get their come-uppance.  It’s very rare that I don't have a wide selection of these shows on my planner to watch at my leisure.

In Law & Order: Criminal Intent recently (Ok , it was a repeat, as are most of them) – a show called Baggage – Goren and Eames were investigating the murder of a female supervisor at an airline.  The woman supervised a number of  baggage handlers, all men, some of whom had been sexually harassing her.  At the risk of spoiling the ending, the murder actually had nothing to do with the sexual harassment, but her promotion to a management position.

This was a fictional story, yet it was easy to imagine this happening in real life

I found my blood boiling though at some of the detail of her claims of sexual harassment and bullying and how they were investigated.  The victim had kept a journal detailing the harassment, which included:

  • physical intimidation (standing in her way in passageways, requiring her to brush past them, standing over her desk)
  • organising team drinks at strip clubs
  • putting up playboy posters next to her locker
  • sexual, anonymous phone calls
  • unwelcome text messages
  • comments on her clothing and looks
  • threats of rape if she reported the harassment
  • urine and semen on her belongings in her locker

As well as her journal, she had told her father about the harassment.  His advice was to ignore it, and it would go away.  Which of course it didn't.

Regrettably, the HR Manager did not engage an external, independent investigator when the employee raised her concerns.  In the words of the Manager, it was determined, without investigating thoroughly, that she was ‘over-sensitive’ and exaggerating. 

Investigations involving sexual harassment are often difficult when only the complainant and the respondent have their versions of events. If this were a real case, a good investigator would have been able to speak to the father, would have seen her journal, and accessed phone records to back up claims of the harassing phone calls and texts, without pre-judging the issue based on personalities or biases.

Why an external investigator?

Dispassionate objectivity is itself a passion, for the real and for the truth.

- Abraham Maslow

Many organisations, when faced with a complaint of bullying or sexual harassment, or other misconduct, elect to conduct the investigation ‘in-house’.  The ‘easy’ path is not necessarily the best one.  There are numerous examples of flawed or incomplete internal investigations resulting in criticisms from the Fair Work Commission and in some cases reinstatement following termination.  This, to be honest, is just awkward.

There are many advantages in engaging one:

  • Your internal resources may be stretched.  Investigations can be very time consuming and an external investigator can dedicate the necessary time and resources to get it completed in a timely way.
  • It is a stressful process for all involved — complainant, respondent and the witnesses, as well as other senior staff.  An external investigator can complete the investigation in a way that reduces the stress for the parties, and your internal HR team.
  • Investigations can have an enormous emotional impact on staff when they are conducted internally, when they know the people involved, as well as a strain on them intellectually, if they are not familiar with process and procedure.  External investigators are not emotionally invested in the outcome of the investigation, being engaged to investigate and report on the facts.  
  • An external investigator is completely impartial.  Without knowing the personalities of the people involved an external investigator brings no pre-conceived ideas or biases to the investigation.  This means it is likely to be perceived as a 'fairer' process.
  • Having an external investigator means that your HR Manager, or other senior staff member who would ordinarily conduct the investigation, is able to provide 'emotional scaffolding', if needed, to the staff involved.
  • The seniority of the people involved may require an external investigator.  If, for example, the complaint involves someone to whom your HR Manager reports, it is not appropriate for that person to conduct the investigation.
  • Perceptions of other staff can be more easily managed — internal investigations might be perceived as a ‘white wash’ or a ‘ticking boxes’ exercise, and looked upon with cynicism.  Bringing in an external investigator shows staff that management takes the issue seriously.
  • An external investigator is more experienced in conducting investigations and able to extract information others may not be able to.  Professional investigators are very used to the charmers, the silent aggressors, the blamers, the people who don’t want to be involved and the underminers, and know how to deal with them.
  • When an external investigator is engaged, it is unlikely to result in allegations of a lack of natural justice.
  • Where recommendations are called for, management can act on them, as advice from the Investigator.  This takes some pressure off management in terms of perceptions of staff in how the matter has been handled.

There is always a place for investigations to be conducted internally, but don’t under-estimate the value in having an external investigator deal with a difficult issue for you.

 

Power, Position, Prestige - and deafening silence

Every closed eye is not sleeping, and every open eye is not seeing.

- Bill Cosby

I used to be a huge Bill Cosby fan.  I was a fan long before his days as Dr Cliff Huxtable, the patriarch of the Huxtable family in The Cosby Show (it never occurred to me to query then why it was called The Cosby Show when the main character was Dr Huxtable, but I suspect narcissism is the answer.  But I digress...)

When he was just a comedian, I used to listen to many audio recordings of his comedy routines including Fat Albert (“Fat Albert had a car”) and his hilarious take on parenthood (“I ran out of petrol, just shutting the car door”).  When he starred in The Cosby Show as Dr Huxtable, the head of a household of five children with a working wife (a lawyer, no less) it was both hilarious and honest, and he became much admired as not just a comedian, but a successful TV star and an admired family man.  Many grieved when his only son was killed in a tragic accident, because they felt they knew him.

Sadly my fan girl days for Bill Cosby are long gone with the increasingly long line of women alleging sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape at his hands.  At last count there were more than 50 women who have come forward with these allegations.

I am far from a fan of trial by media; however even if only 10% of the claims are true, they are horrifying.  It is not a numbers game — that figure of 10% is to answer the many people who are asking 'why now?', and 'are they just in it for the money?'.  Let’s assume for a moment that all of the claims are true (and note that none of these claims have yet been tested in Court) —  how is it possible for a man to avoid prosecution or publicity over the course of  such a long career of harassing women?

The answer is that power, prestige and position engender silence.

Clint Smith (educator and poet), in an excellent, and short, TED talk on the danger of silence, said:

“Silence is the residue of fear.”

He was not talking about sexual harassment specifically, but his words are very true.

In my work as an Investigator, I find that very often women who claim to have been sexually harassed have been reluctant to make the allegations, and this is largely borne out of fear.  They are still fearful even once they have plucked up the courage to come forward- and that decision is not taken lightly.

Fear takes many forms.  One of them is fear for your job.  For example, I once listened to a single mother of two children who was, or had been, on probation in a new job when she experienced sexual harassment.  She said at the time that she feared being terminated while on probation if she raised the issue at the time.  She said “What chance did I have of succeeding in bringing this to a good resolution, when he could have terminated me at any time, and for no reason?  I had two children to feed and I needed that job”.  Unfortunately she tolerated sexual harassment and, from what she told me, sexual assault for fear of being sacked, until she found another job and left.  She left, and her boss is probably treating someone else the same way.

Another very genuine fear  for women is job prospects.  If the person doing the harassing is someone with decision making power over salary or promotions, raising an allegation of sexual harassment can put someone in a difficult position, particularly when there was no one else able to make that kind of decision.  Also, in a structure where the perpetrator is the only one 'talking up' to his immediate supervisor, the likeliood of support is perceived as low.

In Bill Cosby’s case, many of the women were young actresses hoping for a “break” in the industry who needed to work, and the old adage that “You’ll never work in this town again” was no doubt going through their minds at the thought of raising an allegation against the much loved Bill Cosby, after the shock of discovering that the person they were meeting with was not the loveable Cliff Huxtable, but a sexual predator.

Fear of not being believed is  another very genuine fear that women have.  And this is more relevant where the perpetrator does have power, prestige and position.  Who would believe that Dr Cliff Huxtable, the loveable father of five (and note Bill Cosby was also a “happily married” father of five children at the time) could be responsible for such despicable acts?

The same goes for senior men in organisations who appear to have a lot of power and prestige that goes with their position.  When men put on a public face of being happily married, a good boss, kind to animals, or whatever else they want people to believe, it is hard for people to believe they could be capable of assualt or sexual harassment.  In fact, peopld don't want to believe it.

At work, as much as in Hollywood, women fear not being believed, fear losing their jobs or fear that their careers will stall if they speak up.

Silence can be deafening.  Shame associated with the events surrounding the allegations can also be responsible for the silence around this issue.  In cases where alcohol or drug use is involved, after hours, many women feel partially or completely responsible for what happened and do not want the spotlight turned on them, questioning their own behaviour and their contribution to the events that transpired.  This is so akin to victim blaming in rape cases it’s not funny — it's just a question of degrees.  In the words of Beverly Johnson in Vanity Fair:

“I sat there still stunned by what happened the night before, confused and devastated by the idea that someone I admired so much had tried to take advantage of me, and use drugs to do so.  Had I done something to encourage his actions? …

For a long time I thought it was something that only happened to me, and that I was somehow responsible.  So I kept my secret to myself, believing this truth needed to remain in the darkness.  But the last four weeks have changed everything, as so many women have shared similar stories, of which the press have belatedly taken heed.”

Shame is easy to come by; hard to get rid of.  A client I spoke to recently said that she once offered to drive her very drunk boss home from a work function, and that he made a pass at her in the car — at the time she was embarrassed but made no complaint.  However, having rejected his advances, she then became the target of bullying behaviour.  When she plucked up the courage to speak to HR, the first words she was greeted with was 'Why on earth did you get into a car with him?'.  The first reaction was to somehow hold her responsible for his actions.

What is interesting is that in the Bill Cosby case, once someone came forward, other alleged victims of Bill Cosby have also come forward and their stories are disturbingly similar.  In workplaces, it is unlikely that someone who indulges in the sexual harassment of female employees does it only once.  Whilst silence can be golden, it can also mean that the act goes unpunished and other women will suffer the consequences.

Break the silence.  Tell your truth.

 

 

Psychopaths in the workplace

If you know someone who cares more about power and material things than people, watch them very closely. You may be dealing with a psychopath.

- Michelle Parsons

 

Workplace psychopaths can appear normal.  They are also mostly charming, on the surface at least, because charm is one of the many tricks they use to manipulate others, and they  lack empathy, meaning that they cannot understand the feelings of others, or put themselves in the shoes of others.  They are almost always narcissists as well – making every situation all about them, particularly if something has gone wrong – it becomes about what they did right and everyone else did wrong.  These people are walking amongst us!

By the time you recognise an office psychopath it may be too late, as the damage they have done to the workplace will be enormous.

Professor Robert Hare, a criminal psychologist, developed a diagnostic test to determine whether someone is a psychopath or not (called the PCL-R).  For more information see the article here.  

This is a list of 20 criteria, each given a score of 0 if it doesn’t apply, 1 if it somewhat applies and 2 if it fully applies.

Some of these (and I am not including those relating to criminal psychopathic behaviour here) include:

  • Glibness/superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Pathological lying
  • Being cunning/manipulative
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Emotional Shallowness (genuine emotion is very short-lived, probably fake  and egocentric, i.e. it becomes about them)
  • Callousness; lack of empathy
  • Unwillingness to accept responsibility for own actions
  • Tendency  to be bored easily
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Lack of behavioural control
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility

 

A score of 30 or more  out of a possible 40 would qualify someone as psychopathic, according to Hare.

Recognise anyone with whom you work?  Or live with? The latter is potentially scary.

Psychopaths can be fun to work with, for a while – a tendency to be bored can be seen as someone who is always coming up with good and interesting ideas.  Being charming means that they are good at giving compliments (even if they are manipulating you by doing so).  A grandiose sense of self worth will at first appear to be nothing more than confidence.  Impulsivity can extrovert as having a keen sense of fun.

But be warned – a psychopath is a dangerous work colleague or employee.  They  will never accept responsibility for a failed project; any goals they fail to achieve (no matter how unrealistic)  will be the fault of someone else; they will lie to get out of any difficulty; they will turn any success into being about them.  If a psychopath is in a position of power and the only one doing the talking to management senior to him or her, you can be sure nothing good is being said about any work colleagues or junior employees.  Because they are so charming and often, as I call them ‘kiss up and kick down’ people’, senior management is unlikely to believe someone who raises a concern about their behaviour.

Psychopaths are also unlikely to bully anyone overtly – bullying will take the form of undermining, isolation, exclusion, gossip, and other subtle means.

A recent article listed the top 10 careers for the highest percentages of psychopaths – there are few surprises here (although I was surprised by the addition of clergy on the list).   

Of course the good news is that only 4% of CEOs are diagnosable as psychopaths – 4 times that of the general population.  But it is important to focus on the positive – that 96% of CEOs are not. Of course where does that leave lawyers who become CEOs?  Is that a double whammy?

As an investigator, I am always on the lookout for psychopathic traits that could impact evidence - particularly the tendency to be charming, as they will no doubt try to charm me to influence the outcome.  I am not easily fooled.

 

 

Belle Gibson - the art of attention seeking

God hath given you one face, and you make yourself another

- Shakespeare

Belle Gibson, the now disgraced ‘social media entrepreneur’ has become the poster girl for deceit on a large scale in Australia. 

Last night on 60 Minutes, Tara Brown interviewed her, to try and get answers out of Ms Gibson as to how, and why, she managed to deceive so many people for so long, about her cancer diagnosis and recovery, through diet and in particular whole foods.  Ms Gibson made millions out of  a cookbook and an App developed from her cookbook.  Worse, she convinced many people to ignore the advice of oncologists and traditional medical intervention on the basis of her miraculous recovery.  You can see the interview here.  It is clear from the whole fiasco that Ms Gibson is a chronic liar and shameless attention seeker. I still can't believe how few people called Belle Gibson's version of events into question - the whole sorry saga could have easily been prevented.  Sadly, like every other narcissist, Ms Gibson blames everyone but herself for the situation in which she now finds herself.

This is unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence and also occurs in employment relationships.

On a smaller scale, I have twice now investigated employees who have been suspected of faking cancer for both sympathy, and to avoid performance management.  I still say ‘suspected’ because in both cases, the employee resigned before formal performance management commenced, although many years later they are both still very much alive and healthy.

In investigating this type of issue it is important to tread lightly.  While suspicions are aroused for any number of reasons, the truth is that the employee may be terribly ill, in one way or another.   However in both of these cases the following issues arose:

  • Performance was not at the expected level for the role and this continued for a significant period of time
  • The employee was under 30 years of age
  • The employee had regular ‘dramatic’ events in life, not related to health, requiring their absence from work, and garnering a great deal of sympathy
  • The employee was considered to be very ‘brave’ in coming to work when so ill, and gained sympathy and attention from colleagues, making management of the employee difficult.  In one case, other employees had organised fund raising activities for the ‘sick’ employee, as well as home cooked meals
  • The investigation started because the ill health suddenly became dramatically worse when performance issues were raised – in one case, cancer which had been in remission for a number of years, suddenly returned as a secondary cancer
  • The employee refused to allow me to obtain a report from their treating oncologist as the effect of performance management on their treatment and health.  Neither would tell me the name of the treating oncologist, notwithstanding that every other facet of their illness had been freely and embarrassingly shared with other in the workplace
  • Lengthy research had to be done in relation to common treatment regimes for the particular cancers which bore little resemblance to the treatment the employees said they had, or were, undergoing
  • The employee had gone to great lengths to look sick during work hours (including shaved heads and scarves)  yet social media accounts (which were not private) showed them to be enjoying busy social lives which also included heavy drinking and smoking – when challenged as to absence from work on a Monday the reason given was usually treatment rather than a hangover
  • An examination of email and work provided mobile phone records proved the employees had lied about their whereabouts at times of medical appointments or other events requiring their absence from work, including occasions when compassionate leave had been granted
  • The employee resigned when asked to respond to issues raised with them

 

I suspect this was a pattern of behaviour -  leaving their employment when the deceit was discovered and probably starting the deceit again.  It should be noted, however, that at no stage was an allegation put to the employee about having 'faked' being sick. The allegations were about lying about other events related to their employment, but in also asking for details of their treating oncologist, each will have known that suspicions had been raised.

Following their departure from the organisations, further investigations revealed other instances of deceit involving credit, taxi vouchers and various other work related benefits.

The level of hurt and anger in those organisations when the level of the deception was uncovered cannot be described.  Staff who had been through treatment for cancer or who had lost a loved one to cancer were among those who had provided support.

Sadly, I believe in one of these cases the employee was psychiatrically ill, but in the other the employee was no more than a narcissistic attention seeker, who was a chronic liar!  I don’t know if either sought help, but the most important lesson from this for me was to trust my instincts.  I thought something was not quite right from a short time after their employment commenced.

For employers, as with all investigations, policies which allow workplace investigators to review email correspondence and phone records for work provided mobile phones are vital to uncovering the truth.  Unlike most workplace investigations which involve allegations made by one person against another,  this type of investigation requires a slow and steady approach, particularly as the employee may be seriously ill.

 

 

Investigations - so you think your Facebook is private?

A team is not a group of people who work together.  A team is a group of people who trust each other

- Simon Sinek

More and more in my work as an investigator, the use of social media is brought into complaints about behaviour, predominantly as evidence of bullying or other misconduct.

A recent investigation into bullying produced an interesting turn of events.  A witness produced a screen shot of a Facebook group message sent to her and others in the workplace.  She said she had felt uncomfortable about it at the time, but had mentioned it to no one at the time at the time either, not wanting to 'get involved'.  She told me that she had not participated in the conversation and had 'left' the conversation once other messages came in so she only had the one screen shot.  What was telling, was that the respondent to the bullying allegation had sent a group message saying:

'I can't stand that stupid bitch. I  am determined to make her life so f***ing miserable that she'll wish she had never applied for the job in the first place.  Who's with me?'

Case closed?  Not so fast, unfortunately.  Bullying has to happen 'at work' for it to be considered to be workplace bullying, so the usefulness of this one Facebook message, between several people from the workplace, sent at night outside work hours, only goes so far.  It is important to note that no name was mentioned in the Facebook message, even though the witness said she understood it to be referring to the complainant.

The behaviour complained of 'at work' needs to meet the litmus test, on the balance of probabilities, that it is bullying.  The screen shot however was useful as supporting material as to intent, and the probability that the behaviour was unreasonable.  The evidence of bullying was such that it was proven, on the balance of probabilities, to have occurred, over several months and in several different ways.  The person who sent the message was the respondent, and the behaviour complained of commenced at approximately the same time as the message.  But the message itself, was not sufficient.

The important lesson for both employees and employers is that even if Facebook pages and other forms of social media are set to 'private', it is still possible to access this information.  Others may copy or print off posts or forward them to other people, in the workplace and to a wider audience.  Technological advances also mean that employees with smart phones provided by their employer may have their private social media presence monitored from time to time.  Employers must review their policies on a regular basis to ensure their policies keep pace with technology, and that staff are aware of those policies.  This client also amended their policy to include a 'bystander' clause to encourage those who witness inappropriate behaviour to step up and support the recipient.

Of course, the number one lesson is that people should always treat their work colleagues with respect - it is not that hard to be kind, to be honest.

Social media has many advantages but it comes with great responsibility as well.  Anything you post, even if you think it is private, can still be used as evidence against you, and others in some cases,  in an investigation

 

 

Is your Valentine a co-worker?

Human behaviour flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.

- Plato

Office romances are as old as, well, office buildings.  It is hardly a surprise given the numbers of people who work, and the amount of time they spend there.  Often people spend more time with work colleagues than with anyone else, including partners and children in some cases.  Throw in a stressful job, a work colleague who understands the pressures, common interests, and romance is sure to follow, at least for those who are otherwise unattached or in committed relationships.  One of the most successful relationships that started in the office is that of Michelle and Barack Obama. Michelle Robinson as she then was, was assigned to mentor the young Barack Obama, as a work experience student. On the other side of the Presidential coin however is the more infamous office romance between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

A recent survey by Vault.com called 'Love is in the Air' has some interesting statistics for us on office romances.  For both men and women, 8% said they found their permanent partners at work, while about 50% of each (slightly more men) admitted to having a relationship with a work colleague.

So office romance and relationships are here to stay, but unfortunately can give rise to many and varied problems in the workplace - not least of which of course is the secret relationship that is found out in the most embarrassing of ways by ending up on the front page of the newspaper, and as the latest youtube hit.  For this unfortunate couple, they learned the hard way (pardon the pun), that  in the current technologically literate world, a  sexual interlude after business hours, can be caught on camera and shared. Even more regrettable is the fact that the partner and former partner of the two involved (and in one case, children) have been embarrassed by the publicity.  And while as a general rule relationships are no one else's business, in this case their employer has been embarrassed as well, by being named.  It is likely that because of the way Google works, this article may well be the first that comes up when one searches Marsh Ltd.

While it is unlikely, according to news reports,  they will lose their jobs over this incident, it is said that they will no longer be able to work together (and they may still face disciplinary action).  Of course the embarrassment and identification of the parties involved may mean that they leave the workplace voluntarily.

Leaving aside infidelity for the purposes of this article, working together is one of the most difficult aspects of office based romances. The emphasis is on the word work, because you are still expected to be able to do your job, while conducting a personal relationship. This is largely because those involved in office romances try to keep it a secret.   

So consider this - what is the reason for it being kept a secret?  The very fact that you don't want anyone to know indicates that perhaps you think there may be a perception of impropriety.

If you are considering throwing caution to the wind, consider these problem situations:

Is one of you in a position to affect decisions about promotion or salary?

In this situation you need not just to decline to  participate in a discussion about promotion or salary, you need to absent yourself from the room.  Other people may feel that they can't speak freely if you are in the room.  So clearly this is difficult to do if the relationship is a secret.

Can you honestly avoid allegations of favouritism?

Imagine if you have contributed to an important decision about your lover - and it comes to light after the event that you were in a relationship at the time.  Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the decision, there will always be a perception of impropriety.

Are you in a situation where one reports to the other?

This situation can also lead to accusations of favouritism - the best work, always good feedback, favourable treatment re leave, taking holidays together. Allegations of conflict of interest may arise.   Sadly, if the relationship doesn't last, it will be unworkable unless both parties are extraordinarily mature.

If you want to be part of the 8% who meet their permanent partners at work, honesty is the best policy. On that note, be aware that use of company funds to conduct a relationship with a co-worker can lead to summary dismissal.  So beware the conference attendance together, flights and miscellaneous lunches that get put on the company credit card, or exorbitant phone bills including texts and phone calls between you.  If your employer is looking for a reason to dismiss you, this will be the reason, not the relationship itself.

'Secrecy, once accepted, becomes an addiction' - Edward Teller