Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Dilemma

This is a very personal blog about a situation for my family that I am finding very frustrating on a professional level.  One that I have the answers to, but which I am unable to do anything about.

Its a bit of a rant.  Switch off now if you're not interested, but be sure to come back for my next post.

So my fiancee is unhappy at work.  She works for a professional services organisation that only has three employees.  A husband and wife duo who happen to own the business, and my fiancee.  Both the owner-managers appear to lack interpersonal, leadership and management skills of any kind, and put no stock by employment rights or any kind of good practice HR.

And its making her unhappy.  She comes home and tells me about it, and with my HR hat on I know what she should do and what should happen.  With my coaching hat on I know how I can help the owner-managers too.

My fiancee qualified in her profession around 12 months ago, but at the time was on maternity leave.  Wanting to return to work part-time but unable to, she found what looked like an ideal part-time role close to our home, that allowed her to work just three days a week and spend time with our daughter too.  From a work-life balance standpoint it was, and is, a perfect job.  In other ways though its not a perfect job - she took a significant pay reduction to move there, and as the company is only small it only offers statutory minimum terms and conditions, whereas previously she'd been on a good salary and generous terms and conditions.

In general though it was a case of prioritising the various factors, and work/life balance came top, to the exclusion of everything else.

She found it difficult to move from a company employing hundreds of people, to one employing just four (later to become three when one employee was dismissed).  I think this is probably an adjustment many people struggle with.

And yet what does one do when one has a personality clash and problems relating to one's fellow employees?  In a large company there are lots of things that can happen - mediation, moving jobs internally, even just a physical move away from each other, and more.

But what if the employees you have problems with are the ONLY other employees there?

And what if those employees, those ONLY employees, happen to be the owner-managers?

Its a tough one.

The owner-managers do appear to place little value on good employment relations or even good management practice.  For a start my fiancee has had only ONE lunch break in six months (her Xmas meal) - she simply daren't ask to leave her desk during the working day, and even feels guilty getting up to go to the toilet, as if such breaks are monitored.  She eats at her desk, carrying on working.

I've had a go at this from an HR and H&S perspective but to no avail. The owner-managers are that intimidating that she will not assert her rights, fearing punishment if she does.

She's found evidence that her work emails are routinely checked by the owner-managers, and whilst this isn't an unheard of practice in some larger organisations, it is being done seemingly to search for mistakes and create opportunities for criticism and that's a worry.  Again, I've commented on this from an HR perspective but got nowhere.

With only statutory minimum annual leave you'd think it would be relatively easy to book, but its not.  She's never had any confirmation of holidays booked or taken, and requests to obtain this have been vaguely brushed away.  And has holidays left to take at the end of the year but has been refused opportunities to take them.  Again, I've commented on this from an HR perspective but she daren't do anything to assert her rights in case her life is made worse.

She has been quite ill this last month and did not dare take any time off sick not just because of the financial consequences, but mainly because of the way in which the owner-managers would view sickness absence and out of fear that she would be dismissed for taking sick leave.  In the end she was so ill she was unable to physically drive to work and DID take sick leave, and thankfully there were no consequences, but the fear was still there.

There are lots of examples of poor interpersonal skills too, from being shushed when asking a question then criticised for not asking questions, to regular and unjustified criticism, to vague and conflicting sets of instructions, and a general lack of care.  From a coaching perspective I sense the owner-managers are genuinely unaware of the impact they are having and have probably had no development in a leadership or management perspective, and I want to intervene.

But I can't.

And its having a horrible effect on my fiancee.  When she gets in from work, she has to get it all off her chest and ends up moaning at me, which impacts our relationship.  Even during the working day I will get a message from her saying she hates her job, or that she is crying in the toilets.

And I can't do anything.

But from an HR perspective I know exactly how I'd sort this out.  I can see exactly what's wrong, and how to put it right.

From a coaching and leadership perspective I know exactly how I could help the owner-managers to improve their leadership skills and to create a better working environment for everyone.  

From a fiance perspective I'm a man with a typical male problem solving mind.  I hear issues presented to me by a woman in my life, and I immediately start solving those problems in my head, and then out loud.  I suspect its not required, and that my fiancee simply needs to get things off her chest, but I can't help it.

I want to do something besides rant on here.

But she won't let me.  She is afraid to say anything to them because of a fear that it will make the situation worse - that complaining will somehow bring about punishment or more unfair treatment. That her working life will become hell.

And that sounds a likely outcome.  At just six months service, we all know that they could dismiss her with no reason and as long as it isn't discrimination, there's little we can do about it.

I've told her to leave, but because of the impact that would have on our childcare arrangements (still having to pay for a nursery space but without the salary to pay for it) she can't afford to leave until she has another job.  So she's looking around.

Ultimately, this highlights a few problems with our workforce and its rights in the UK.  Owner-managers in particular in small organisations can more or less run the organisation as a dictatorship.  One could say that they have earned the right to be able to do so by creating or buying the company, but it seems wrong somehow.  It seems that our hard-fought employment rights offer little protection in such situations, and so one wonders how many other people work in such situations, hating their jobs and the owner-managers and not being able to stand up for their rights.

It also surprises me that there are people out there in leadership, and business ownership, positions who have not had ANY development in a leadership sense and who are simply uninterested in good management practice.  As someone who has spent a good % of his career developing leaders and managers and implementing good management practices, I find this incredible but disturbing in equal part.

And it also makes me wonder what use my own professional knowledge and skills are when I can't help the person I'm closest to?

Finally, it also highlights that sometimes people make choices to stay in a certain organisation based on one overwhelming positive (work/life balance) and despite multiple overwhelming negatives (as described above).  Everyone will be different, but should such sacrifices be allowed to be made?  From an employee engagement perspective, surely not?

I wonder what can be done about all of this in a general sense, not specifically about our situation?

Is there a way to bring owner-managers to account and to enforce better employment rights?

Is there a way to protect employee's rights and provide better experiences in small organisations?

I hope so.

Send me your ideas.

Till next time...


PS Merry Christmas

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