CategoryEmployee Relations

Who is the Real Scrooge? The Boss….or The Employee?

We are all familiar with the story “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens in which Ebenezer Scrooge, a miser of a boss, is visited by his dead partner and then three Christmas ghosts that help him see the error of his ways in order to turn over a new leaf before its too late.

In 1988, the film “Scrooged” starring Bill Murray took a modern spin on the story with Murray starring as Frank Cross – a cynical television programming executive who found great success and wealth, but only by becoming cold-hearted and cruel.  As his station recreates the story as a live play, Cross finds himself living out the play in his real life – mirroring the storyline.

Whether or not it was the intent of Charles Dickens when he wrote the story (which is actually loosely based on his real life and feelings regarding his father), audiences have always found themselves viewing Scrooge as the villain and his employee as the victim.  Especially in today’s job market where so many are working for low wages along with grueling hours, and thanks in part to the introduction of the Internet and social media/email keeping us connect to work 24/7, many workers find themselves feeling as if they are living the part of Bob Cratchit/Grace Cooley.  Many may even dream, this time of year, that their bosses would be “visited” and suddenly have a change of heart!

So one’s first inclination to discuss how HR plays a role in a situation like this would be to say that HR needs to address the boss and let him know just how unfair and disgruntled his employees are.

  • Is he truly blind to the workplace situation or purposefully ignoring the needs of his employees and focused solely on turning a profit?
  • If he/she knew that a “simple” act of kindness would have an enormous effect on the employees and their morale, would he/she do it?
  • Would he/she part with the money needed to upgrade the work environment, grant pay raises or even add more attractive benefits in order to keep trained and experienced employees? Does he/she really not care about the employees and doing what is needed to retain the talent or are employees viewed as easily replaceable?


If, as an HR professional, those are the questions that first come to mind, then you aren’t doing your job right. 

Remember: every situation has two sides to the story and one’s “perception” based on only some of the information can result in the wrong answers.  An HR professional truly is in a position to help garner change at a company so you need to first look at both sides.

Employees only see part of the situation at work and focus on what affects them and their lives.   Managers normally have to deal with much more that is rarely revealed as part of their decision process.

When people are placed into management roles, it is for a variety of reasons: based on skills/experience needed, to fill a need for someone to lead, because they are a family member, because it seems the next logical step in their career, and so many more.  Point is: not all those that go into a management role are ready for it and almost all bring with them some sort of baggage that affects the decisions in their new role.  One of the biggest factors is the manager’s past experience at the employee level – some work to change things for the better in their new position but some will use their position to control what they couldn’t control before…the ones we say are on a “power trip.”

So, when you come across a situation where the employee is complaining about their manager and “unfair treatment,” are you focusing on the solution they want….or do you try to uncover why their manager is acting the way they are or making the decisions they have made?  Employees aren’t going to focus on the manager or their problems…they only care about themselves which is, in a way, the definition of a “scrooge” even though we don’t automatically think that.  They are acting just like the person they are complaining about…do you see?

What both “A Christmas Carol” and “Scrooged” show is that the lead character didn’t start out the way he was…at one time, he was loving and hopeful.  Circumstances in his life caused him to change – and without having anyone to talk to about it, he changed for the worse instead of finding help and healing.  The ghostly visits eventually bring him down that path.

HR needs to remember that their role in the workplace is “human relations” which includes ALL employees of the company: from the owner to the managers to the employees.  All deserve the same consideration and treatment and not be labeled based on assumptions or skewed perceptions.  Remember: your job is to listen to both sides and help them see the others’ point of view so that both sides can work together – regardless of their role – to create a happy and profitable workplace.

You – Mr/Ms HR Professional…are the Ghosts of the Past, Present and Future all rolled into one! Happy Haunting!


This post was written by Barb Buckner. Barb Buckner is has over 15 years experience as a HR professional across a wide variety of industries including: banking, retail, pharmaceuticals, professional services and real estate. Read more of her writings and connect with her at her blog “Chicago HR Coach”

HR Rock, Paper, Scissors … SHOOT!!

I came across an interesting employee relations issue a few months ago. Here’s a quick summary of what happened …

A White female employee made a complaint about her Hispanic male supervisor, claiming he was treating her unfairly and was generally derelict in his duties as a manager. HR investigated the issue but we were unable to substantiate the claim. The supervisor was issued a basic warning, everyone was sent back to work and the supervisor’s supervisor (a Black female over 40 years old) was instructed to keep an eye on both parties.

Within 2 weeks, another complaint was lodged. The Black female over 40 years old called the White female to get the details of the latest complaint against the Hispanic male. A confrontation ensued where the White female used inappropriate and profane language in speaking with the Black female over 40 years old. The White female was suspended pending investigation into the confrontation. A few days later, she was terminated for initiating and escalating the conflict. She later filed claim with the EEOC claiming the Black female over 40 years old terminated lured her into conflict and conspired with HR to terminate her in retaliation for her complaint against the Hispanic male.

Handling employee issues like these often feels like a bad game of Rock – Paper – Scissors …

  • Female covers Male
  • Minority covers White
  • Old covers Young


Most guidance on employee relations teaches us to consider protected class status in our recommendations and decisions on discipline. Right or wrong, we cannot ignore it and honestly claim to be protecting our organizations from separation litigation risk. Adverse action and adverse impact are still very much a real and legitimate problem — and government agencies are still on the lookout for it. We have a responsibility to be both mindful of and able to account for decisions we make that may seem discriminatory.

However, as our workplaces continue to become more diverse, it is rare to encounter an issue where more than one protected class of people isn’t represented. In the example above, there is race, gender and age all in the mix — and I forgot to mention the Hispanic male is also a devout Christian and the Black female over 40 years old is also homosexual. I think that covers just about everything but genetic information!

So what is a HR person to do when everyone in the employee conflict is covered by protected class status?

The answer is the simple:

Consider the policy, past practice and precedents — then do what is in the best interest of the reputation and goals of your organization

 To do this, we have to focus on the facts … In our story, the facts are that an employee complained about a supervisor, the investigation was unable to substantiate a violation, appropriate warnings were issued and the employee was later terminated for flagrant insubordination toward a member of management in the process of filing another complaint. With some legal guidance, there is no reason the company cannot successfully defend this decisions.

Don’t get caught in the losing game of HR Rock – Paper – Scissors. When employee conflicts decisions start to look confusing and difficult, that’s the time for HR to keep it simple and be decisive. It is not the time for games.

“The Choice is Clear” — A Lesson in Conflict Resolution

It’s never easy for a manager to resolve conflict between employees. And we are often the most unprepared for handling it when we start out. Many managers never gain the skills needed to successfully manage and resolve conflict.

Mike was one of those managers.

Two of his employees, Kim and Tina, just could not seem to get along. It wasn’t a big deal when they were just co-workers in the same department — but it became a huge problem when Kim got promoted and became Tina’s boss … Within a month, Tina was in Mike’s office to complain about Kim and request a transfer to an area outside of Kim’s supervision and influence.

And, of course, Mike came to my office for advice and guidance.

Did Kim violate a policy as it relates to her supervision of Tina?

No, Kim hasn’t done anything in violation of policy. It’s more that Tina doesn’t like her and isn’t responding to her management style

How’s Tina’s performance level?

Tina is just OK. She’s not top of the group, but she’s not the bottom.

Are you in favor of moving her to another area?

I don’t really have another place to put her. And Kim’s still learning the other areas so I can’t move her. At least not right now. I have 3 other people that have put in to be moved when an opening comes.

I gave him a blank stare.

I know this sounds silly to you. But it’s hard for me. I don’t want to choose!

It’s too late for that. You’ve already made your choice.

When an organization promotes someone into management, they agree to have that person’s back. The organization is saying they trust this person’s decision-making and behavior to represent and lookout for the company’s interests. And barring a violation of this trust, the organization agrees to support this person’s choices.

Mike chose Kim when he promoted her over Tina. Since Kim had not violated any company policy, we had no cause to discipline her. Tina’s request for transfer was duly noted but we would not process it at that time because there was no opening — and we weren’t going to push a transfer through for a mediocre performer just because she didn’t like her supervisor. The real world of work doesn’t operate that way. Tina’s request for transfer would eventually be processed alongside all other requests according to procedure.

When I shared this story with some of my HR friends, they gasped and criticized me. They said the decision not to move Tina was leaving the company at risk … Perhaps they’re right. However, I believe HR is responsible to mitigate risk not eliminate it. There will always be risk. No matter how good the leadership and HR is at what they do, risk will never go away.

When issues are brought to our attention, HR has a duty is to investigate, determine if a violation of policy has occurred and correct the problem. We are not fairy godmothers, pixies or genies here to make every employee want, whim and wish come true. If the investigation finds no violation, there is no problem to correct and no additional action to be taken. Conducting a complete, thorough investigation which exonerates the person accused of wrong-doing is the best and correct answer.

The choice is clear.



No More And Then! (A Lesson in Employee Relations)

I really try not to use my blog to air my personal gripes … I can’t remember the last time, if ever, that I have … So forgive me for this one …

I’ve had the same living room furniture since like 2002. I decided it was time to upgrade! So I headed off to a local furniture store to pick out a new set. Delivery was scheduled for about a week later so I could setup junk pickup of my old stuff in the meanwhile.

On delivery day, they couldn’t get the furniture into my house, which was hard to believe because we’d measured twice to be sure. The delivery team really didn’t propose any alternatives except sending everything back … And then we sent it back. And then I had to go back to the store, which is 35 minutes away, to pick out something else. And then, due to issues with their computers, it took a week to clear the old furniture and schedule the new. And then, on delivery day 2, no one called or showed up. And then I called to learn the delivery had been cancelled. And then the store blamed me for the cancellation error. And then the person on the phone got rude. And then I put a cape on — and I got SUPER rude!

Don’t judge me. I’m only human.

So as I write this post, my living room still has no furniture in it. And I’m waiting to see if and how the store is able to turn this around. Because, as pissed off as I am, I really don’t want to go thru the hassle of starting this whole process over again and being without furniture in the meanwhile.

I’m hoping to turn this from an “and then” to a “but then” situation.

Another “And Then” would be just one more negative tale, one more bad experience added on top of the already really poor experiences I’ve had. Another “and then” would prove the company doesn’t care, leaving me no choice but to go elsewhere … However, a “But Then” would be a different, better experience to stop the craziness and end the story on a positive, mutually-satisfying note.

What does a “but then” look like? Hmm … But then the manager got a UHaul truck and delivered the furniture himself. But then the manager offered to expedite my delivery and refund my delivery fees. But then the manager waived my first 3 months of payments. But then the manager gave me an extra lamp and end table. But then the manager took 20% off the price … But then someone stepped in and made it right, once and for all!

In my fury over all these mishaps and mishandlings, it dawned on me that this is what our employees are feeling when they have issues in our workplaces. They start work in our organizations with excitement and good intentions … And then something inevitably goes wrong … And then someone tries to fix it but doesn’t really … And then something goes wrong again … And then they bring the issues to HR … And then they wait to see what we’ll do with it, to see how and if we will make it right and fix it once and for all. Because, as pissed off as they are, they don’t want to hassle of searching for a new job or separation litigation.

So what are we gonna do, HR? Another “and then” — or a “but then.”

The choice is yours.

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