You are at a senior managerial post in an innovative technical company. By enlarge the company environment is that of commaradie and the competition is healthy. You had employed Rita at a managerial post few months ago. You value her talent and her input to the company is crucial. She is an amicable personality and excellent with her work. One day she steps into your office with a grim expression on her face and informs you that she has decided to look for a new job and would appreciate a reference from you. After briefly discussing with her you realize that she likes her work and she is leaving because she feels marginalized and isolated by the other office colleagues. You have been aware of socializing of office staff, mainly male staff, at a beer joint over the weekends for quite some time, and have encouraged it by going there yourself along with them occasionally as it seemed to increase their commaradie. You did not pay much attention to a few who seemed to avoid going there for example Ramesh who has two elder sisters who are to be married and an ailing mother. He chooses not to go for his family responsibilities. Harsh too who is a single parent does not visit the joint as he has to pick up his child from the day care, nor does Ritesh who does not drink. Rita too does not visit the joint as she is the only woman in the office.
Many a times office information is informally circulated amongst the staff members at this joint and it also seems to encourage mentoring of rookies. Govind who visits the joint regularly learnt of one such possible opening in the organization a few months prior to its announcement at the joint. He then strategically placed himself in such a manner that he would be the most eligible person fitting the profile for the position by the time it was announced. Rita who is technically sound would have been better suited for the post were she aware of the information before hand like Govind or if the information was released simultaneously to all.
Rita hit her limit when she found this out and feels left out of the crucial information which could have been a crucial promotional move upwards for her career. She believes this will be an ongoing phenomenon in the company politics as she is excluded from the group and therefore wants to move. You value her talents and skills and do not want to lose her. You now realize that those who are not in the beer joint clique feel isolated and left out although the clique does not intentionally sets themselves out to be exclusive. You also know that such cliques are a part of regular office politics but cannot deny that they provide few with benefits that give them a head start to many promotions. You wonder whether you have been complicit in this matter and how you could promote an atmosphere of inclusiveness or even how you could help Rita.
This incidence has opened your eyes to the following facts:
• These socializing outside of office colleagues having similar interests like sports, gym, hobby classes, bars, prayer places etc is natural and unavoidable. The inclusion of those based on the commonalities of gender or religion or lifestyle, although unintentional, provides them with opportunities to pass on crucial company information as a privilege of being a part of the ‘haves’ clique.
• The loyalty and intimacy amongst the ‘haves’ community which allows these special privileges is obvious to them. While they enjoy the benefits it also creates a self doubt and they are bound to worry about securing the same based on purely their merits and abilities, especially since they may not receive specific and honest feedback on their shortcomings.
• On the other hand, the ‘have nots’ are undeniably going to feel that such favoritism is unfair and will be demoralized. Tying opportunity and promotion to anything other than performance hurts the morale of the workers leading to poor performance, mistrust and reluctance to seek guidance when necessary.
• A leader who is aware of these dynamics but tolerates such inequalities is unlikely to be respected both by the haves and the have nots because at some level both the cliques know the practices are unfair. Given these facts t0 transform this atmosphere into an all inclusive environment is not possible.
The leaders could deal with such situation the following ways:
• Explicit information about the expectations and performance evaluations must be given to the staff. Feedback must be timely, specific and direct.
• You could introduce the inclusive policy while formulating project teams to promote collaboration and opportunities for staff from diverse backgrounds to interact and bond with each other in an mentorless environment.
• If the managers don’t have the skills to mentor people different from themselves, companies could provide training and coaching to the managers. Such training when done on a regular basis reflects company’s policies to be fair and caring.
• Special socializing work- based opportunities could be provided by the company for all. Many companies have now introduced sports based activities for the same.
• Leaders should be prepared to face resistance by the haves as they may perceive it as a loss of a status or privilege as they can be frightening and disorienting. This could lead to targeting the have-nots as scapegoat or sheer rage towards the have nots. Leaders have to be firm in setting limits and consequences of such behaviour.
• Rita’s situation is not irreversible but will require sensitive understanding and communication to her about many such past hurts and upsets. Talk to her about how things could be changed and what kind of a support would she like from the company to make her feel comfortable.
• Help her identify mentors and supportive co workers, encourage them to include her professionally both in office and outside the office.
• Insist and encourage Rita to include herself in social activities and accept invitations for the same although she may not enjoy it initially.
• Help her to gain insight that awareness of emotions could help her to make free and powerful decisions rather than limit her. Most wise decisions are not solely based on how a person feels rather takes both the emotions and thoughts into consideration. That she could still go ahead and socialize based on logical choices and decisions if she wants to move up the corporate ladder and that handling her own momentary uncomfortable feelings is not that difficult.
An inclusive and welcoming workplace will improve not only company morale but also the company’s bottom line, too.