A Supervisor is attempting to manage a sensitive Return to Work (RTW) situation with a direct report. The direct report is keen to return to active fieldwork duties. The Supervisor is concerned such activities would exacerbate the worker’s injury. The Supervisor seeks HR’s review of the email to be sent to the worker communicating the delayed RTW process. The HR Manager approves the email content and the email is sent by the Supervisor to the worker.
The worker is dissatisfied with the email and their delay in RTW, and responds via email requesting a dispute resolution process be entered into.
Subsequently a meeting (to address the RTW process) is held between the Supervisor and the worker in the presence of a union representative, the HR Manager and a Regional Director. During this meeting the worker raises specific concerns about the email content and general concerns about the Supervisor’s conduct.
The day after this meeting the Supervisor challenges the HR Manager as to why they did not disclose in the meeting the role HR had played in revising the email.
Within a day of this meeting the worker submitted a formal bullying complaint against the Supervisor.
An investigation takes place and the Supervisor suffers a psychiatric disorder, filing a claim for worker’s compensation.
Unfortunately this scenario is not a role play and the details have became known in the case of
A Senior Member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia found the lack of action by the HR Manager (to not inform the worker at any stage of the email review process) to be unreasonable management action that exacerbated the Supervisor's psychiatric disorder and contributed to the finding that the Supervisor’s injury was compensable.
The Senior Member noted this lack of ownership for one’s actions allowed the worker to believe the Supervisor had been acting singularly, maliciously and in a targeted manner rather than exposing the Supervisor’s attempts to act in a fair and appropriate manner.
Unfortunately, I see this type of scenario quite often - when a Senior Manager has instructed (or approved a recommendation by their direct report) for a course of action to be conducted by the direct report. But when the action has been followed through, an employee has interpreted the actions as being detrimental or targeted at them and purely driven by their Supervisor (without understanding that their Supervisor was being instructed or supported by their Manager to undertake that course of action). However at no stage does the Senior Manager take proactive steps to ‘set the record straight’.
Why does it so often take a bullying claim and a formal investigation to reveal that a more Senior Manager (or a HR Manager) should have, at a much earlier time, explicitly communicated their role in the course of action taken by their direct report?
My concern is the amount of personal distress, the damage to relationships, the negative conversations that cause tensions in teams, the financial and non-financial costs to workers and the business (relating to investigations and defending court cases) all can avoided (or minimised) if a more Senior Manager embeds themselves in the process to inform staff (or individual/s) of the decisions for change and the drivers for such actions (if reasonable for this to be shared).
Not taking ownership for one’s actions (or lack of) may seem insignificant at the time but in hindsight may be reviewed as a ‘very serious error in judgement’.
Leadership is about making the right decision at the right time, then owning that decision and confidently speaking up to explain or defend our actions arising from that decision.
But leadership is also about having the conviction to verbalise (early) one’s uncertainty about their decision,
Owning our decisions builds one capacity to self assess, to more objectively identify outcomes stemming from our decision and find ways to become a better decision maker.
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