A reader writes: As an employee, how do you handle a situation if you know your manager is being dishonest? A few employees have already approached HR, but they didn’t take the issue seriously. What do we do next?

There is normally a hierarchy for these things in most companies. And it would depend upon the severity of the accusations. Since the question said “A few employees have already approached HR”, I am assuming that it isn’t a single incident and it’s large enough issue that affects multiple people.

My first recommendation is to take a step back and recognize that you don’t exactly know what is going on.  What may seem to you as dishonest — may be something entirely different.  The face that your HR manager doesn’t see it the same way, illustrates that something else may be going on.  Focus on getting clarity (versus proving someone is being dishonest).   If you go in with the mindset that your boss is being dishonest, everything he does will look dishonest. And everyone that doesn’t see him as being “dishonest” will seem like the enemy.  Instead, focus on getting a better understanding of what exactly is going on.  Once you focus on getting clarity and more information, you will see several available options in front of you.
A few things to consider doing:
1)Revisit HR and ask them the status of this situation.  You may have misinterpreted HR’s interest in the matter at your first meeting. That you interpreted as “disinterest” could be HR ‘thinking’ about the appropriate next step.  HR probably could not promise you anything at that time because he/she wasn’t sure how to approach the topic.  Allow HR a few days to investigate on their own.   Then revisit HR after a few days to get status.   If you approach HR as a group (the group of employees that previously reported together), HR will recognize that this isn’t going away.
**Document this step with email to HR(and cc the employees that have already reported this to HR as well).  Keeping a log of your steps through email and email notification will give your situation more leverage and credibility.

2) If HR isn’t taking it seriously, it may be a sign that you and your co-workers may not know the entire situation. There may be extenuating circumstances or a gag-order in place or legal ramifications for the manager to tell his team what is actually going on. It could be that the HR manager understands this, but is under the same legal obligations to say and do nothing. That could be the reason HR seems to not be taking it seriously.  Call a meeting with the offending manager, the few employees that have already approached HR”, and the HR manager.
Do not publish the meeting to people that are not already involved. Don’t make this a bigger deal than it should be. Limit this closed meeting to only those already talking about this.   The purpose of the meeting is to clarify any misunderstanding around this particular situation to stop the rumors and innuendos. Since the HR manager is already informed of the situation, having the HR manager present gives additional professionalism and balance to the meeting.  Allow the HR manager to invite and include anyone else he/she feels appropriate for this purpose.  Allow HR lead the meeting, and submit your own agenda and Q&A to be covered in the meeting (ahead of time).  If this is an honest misunderstanding, the manager, employees and HR (as a group) can quickly and openly clear up the issue.
**Document this step with email to HR(and cc the employees that have already reported this to HR as well).  Keeping a log of your steps (including phone and hallway conversations) through email and email notification will give your situation more leverage and credibility.Keep all your correspondence regarding this matter.


3) YOU calling the meeting and openly inviting the HR manager and manager — avoids HR inactivity. YOU providing the purpose, agenda and Q&A for the meeting (ahead of time), allows HR to meet the manager before the meeting to discuss the issue privately.  This illustrates that your only intention is to get clarification and not accuse or judge anyone.   Setting an meeting appointment is a reasonable forcing function  (for more information on Reasonable Forcing Functions, contact LauraRose@RoseCoaching.info

The item will be discussed — even if it’s to merely to say “We understand your confusing right now. There are some exciting things happening that we are not at liberty to discuss.” At this point, HR and your manager understands that by not attending the meeting and attending to this issue — only creates more confusion and a bigger problem.
**Document the fact that HR and manager refuses to meet with email to HR and manager (and cc the employees that have already reported this to HR as well).  Keeping a log of your steps through email and email notification will give your situation more leverage and credibility.

4) There is also a hierarchy in most organizations. If the HR and manager does not accept your invitation (document that), then tell them that you plan to take it to their managers or executive level — because it is affecting morale and productivity.  Being up-front with your next step plans allows HR to decide what to do next.  Having all your steps documented with the actual email dates and HR responses will be useful when approaching executive level.

5) Take it to the next line. If the HR manager is not providing the required service, then you request a meeting with the HR second-line manager and your manager’s second-line. Mention that there is an issue that is affecting morale on the office/production line that you would like to make the executive branch aware of. Mention that you require their consult on this issue.

Conclusion:   If your attitude is one of  “inquiry” versus an accusation, you will not need to take it past HR.  The only thing you are sure about is that ‘you don’t fully know what is going on’. The only thing you know for sure is that you are confused. Approach your talks to solve your confusion only. Don’t approach the situation as ‘trying to prove to people that your boss is dishonest’. When you approach it as your need to get clarity — people are more willing to meet with you. When you approach it with a chip on your shoulder, people are more likely to avoid you.

Giving everyone the benefit of the doubt is a diplomatic and honest way to approach many difficult issues.  Believing that everyone involved wants this issue resolved quickly and quietly will benefit you greatly.

For more information on Reasonable Forcing Functions and Handling Difficult Office Situations, sign up for my on-line laser coaching series: GoTo Academy: Soft Skills for the GoTo Professional.

In my GoTo Academy: Soft Skill Tools for the GoTo Professional continuous online coaching series, I go into these things in detail.
If you are interested in more training in these areas, please sign-up for the continuing online coaching series.

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