I have one direct report. He requested a month off for a vacation and I was only able to approve three weeks, which he still seemed happy about. A few days later, HR reached out to let me know he’ll no longer be reporting to me. HR also said that they have received multiple complaints about me being rude and aggressive. I believe that I’ve always been polite and respectful when I’m in the office. My manager said he didn’t know about my direct report being moved, or about the complaints. Is HR allowed to make decisions like this? Do you think I am at risk of being terminated? What should I do about the complaints of me being rude?
THE FIRST ANSWER
Keka DasGupta, corporate trainer, Art of Life-ing, Toronto
Given that complaints were made against you, even if complainants wish to remain anonymous, it’s reasonable to expect your HR department, as a neutral party, to conduct an investigation, documenting both sides of the story.
As such, request a meeting with HR for more context behind these complaints in the spirit of improving communications and mutual understanding, and ask to have your perspective noted. Consider asking your manager to be present as well, to be on the same page with you.
Generally speaking, management and HR will take progressive disciplinary actions with an employee if issues arise, before terminating them without cause, so a surprise firing is unlikely.
As to whether HR can do this, the answer is: it depends. Several factors can impact this, including reporting structures, whether title or departmental changes were made, whether your direct report was moved laterally to another manager in your department, etc.
Take time to reflect honestly on where you can advance your managerial skills. This is an area where we can always improve. Are your mannerisms being misunderstood? Can you become a better listener? Do people feel safe sharing opposing viewpoints with you? Great managers change their communications approach to meet their team members’ needs.
Look into internal management training, or research external programs and pitch them to your manager. When grievances are filed, it can help you to demonstrate that you’re being proactive about bettering your capabilities. So, working with your manager and HR, create an action plan for improvement.
THE SECOND ANSWER
Hemalee Sisodraker, director of people and culture, Endy, Toronto
I can understand where your confusion is coming from. To help get some clarity, I recommend asking for feedback from your HR team regarding the situation. Be sure to ask for as much detail as they can provide. Feedback can often be viewed as negative, but the transparency is an opportunity for you to learn and grow as a leader. Your HR team may have additional resources and learning opportunities that they can provide you to help better your managerial and communication skills. These are some of the toughest skills to learn and anyone in a management position can always benefit from courses or self-guided learning. Assessing your risk of termination is difficult without a full understanding of the situation. It is dependent on your contract, company policy and the severity of the allegations.
The HR team is allowed to make this structural change. However, ideally they would have discussed it with you and your manager beforehand. To avoid a situation like this in the future, have a candid conversation with your manager and HR about feedback and how you would like for it to be given. Feedback should be provided with a constructive purpose and in a timely manner so that you have an opportunity to improve in real-time. Feedback is a skill that should be continuously practised like any other, and it requires dedicated and consistent work. A key part of this is being open to and accepting of constructive criticism when it is given. I know this is a stressful situation for you, but my advice would be to lean into the uncomfortable and use it as an opportunity to grow.
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