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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

Workplace Doctor: When a senior manager doesn't seem to shape up

It is important that job descriptions and performance standards for all staff, including senior managers, are clearly defined and communicated

In the workplace, office relationships can be a tricky affair. Professionalism is key. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
In the workplace, office relationships can be a tricky affair. Professionalism is key. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

We recently took on a new senior manager in the role of business coordinator at our medium-sized e-commerce company. After a while it became apparent that this person was involved emotionally with one of the other senior managers. The problem is, this new person seems to think they do not have to actually do any of the tasks I and my team believe they should be responsible for, such as liaising with clients, arranging meetings and following up on ideas and pitches. When I approached this person about my concerns I was told in no uncertain terms that I had no right to raise such issues. A day later I was called into the other senior manager’s office and given a thorough dressing down regarding my “attitude” and “lack of respect” for senior managers. I am astounded and frankly I do not know how best to proceed.

BF, Dubai

The roles and responsibilities of senior managers often drive the culture and vision of an organisation and their behaviours should therefore set an example of conduct, performance and standards that others aspire to achieve. Your dilemma with this senior manager’s perceived lack of professionalism, compounded by the emotional involvement with another manager is challenging, and will require careful consideration of how to proceed.

That being said, it seems somewhat unusual for a senior manager to be recruited into a business coordinator role, and in particular the nature of the tasks that you have described. Be that as it may, it is important that job descriptions and performance standards for all staff, including senior managers, are clearly defined and communicated. This ensures that situations similar to what you are describing above allow for effective performance management and minimal misinterpretations of job expectations.

With reference to the emotional involvement of these two senior managers, research shows that workplace romance is a common affair. In fact, the actual number of people involved in workplace romances may be higher than you imagine. A survey by US-based CareerBuilder.com found 38 per cent of workers in America admitted that they have dated a co-worker during their career, with some having met their spouse or partner at work. In some respects, maybe this is not a big surprise given the amount of time we spend at work and the bonds we form with colleagues who share our stresses and pressures.

However, the workplace remains a professional environment and professional conduct, as well as the required performance levels, need to be maintained at all times, especially when it comes to senior management. Given that gossip is bound to take place once a relationship is identified, it is imperative that integrity, confidentiality, fairness and transparency are upheld at all cost. If any of these are compromised, the effects can be devastating and disruptive across teams and in the case of small to medium size businesses, the entire organisation. Further implications to consider include the laws and religious etiquette within respective countries. This is especially relevant in the UAE.

Most organisations have policies with regards to conduct within the workplace and specifically that of workplace relationships. Even if there is not a written policy, employees are likely to be aware of the company’s cultural view on workplace relationships. Clear boundaries should be set, such as not using special names for each other, not using any public displays of affection and not spending too much time in private. Where both parties are involved in business decisions or sensitive actions, it is important that appropriate governance is administered.

It is not clear what your role is within the company so the first question to ask is whether you are the appropriate line of authority to manage this person’s performance? If you are, given that you have already discussed it with him or her and got rebuffed, your next cause of action would be to consider who else you may be able to discuss this matter with.

If you are not, and this situation has a direct impact on you or your team, then this needs to be brought to the attention of the person responsible for this individual’s performance. If you are part of Human Resources, and there has been a breach in policy or a complaint about this individual’s personal relationship, then it is appropriate to raise it with his or her line manager.

Doctor’s Prescription:

Given the reaction of both these senior managers to your intervention, you need to be mindful of your scope of authority and potential exposure in how you approach this. Be sure that it is legitimately your responsibility to resolve the situation.