My colleague and I work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in a small office. I’ve been here for 11 years and my co-worker for six. Our female boss treated us like family; our kids played together and we visited each other’s homes on many occasions. All of a sudden, she stopped talking to us, got a security firm to install a camera that faces my desk only and we have reasons to think she also put something in our computers to monitor us. We have been loyal workers and we never lied or stolen from her. We are very hurt and can’t get past this insult. Our office doesn’t deal with money, only sales calls and customer service. Our business has been very slow and I approached my boss and offered to let her lay me off if she needed to and she refused. What can we do?
THE FIRST ANSWER
Chief people officer, Randstad Canada
You have a right to be concerned. These types of drastic changes in behaviour rarely come out of the blue; there must have been a trigger, either at work or in her personal life. It is best if you speak with her directly and since you have previously enjoyed a great relationship, I’d leverage it when bringing up the issue. She may not be aware of how upset you are.
Before you do that, think about what has happened recently. Have there been any other important changes that may have prompted such a reaction? Make sure to address her openly and don’t attack or accuse her. Rather, approach her by saying that you have noticed some changes recently that concern you and are making you uncomfortable. Ask whether she can share her decision about why she made those changes, and what concerns she may have in the work environment that she hopes video surveillance will fix.
Offer solutions and ask for her advice on how you can alleviate those concerns. Given that she declined to lay you off, she must appreciate your work, and hopefully that means she’s willing to work together. If you’re open and flexible, she may be willing to work together on alternatives. If she’s not open to discussing it, or doesn’t see the surveillance as an issue, you’re in a difficult position.
Ultimately, you have to decide whether you can work under those conditions, or whether it’s best to move on to a workplace with less Orwellian management.
THE SECOND ANSWER
Vice-president of human resources, League Financial Partners, Victoria
You have a difficult situation in front of you, and one that most of us in the workplace thankfully haven’t had to experience (yet). I suggest you look at it from a couple of different perspectives, starting with the relationship-driven approach.
Obviously something has happened, or your employer thinks something has happened, so approach her and see whether you can find out what is wrong and how you can help make things better. Do this off-site – take her for coffee or buy her lunch, anything to get her outside the office. Remind her of your long and friendly relationship and ask what you can do to help get back that trust and respect.
If that fails, are there policies in place that govern employee expectations of privacy? In Canada, there is an expectation that the employer will try to address the issue in less dramatic ways before resorting to surveillance. According to the federal privacy commissioner’s office, employers should disclose what personal information they are collecting from staff, why they are collecting it, and what they are doing with that information.
If you don’t get satisfaction, then you should take the next step and file a complaint with the appropriate regulator, most likely your provincial privacy commissioner’s office.
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