Workforce.com

When Offsite Behavior Clashes With Company Values

May 1, 1997
The Dilemma:

Dan is a vice president who has been heralded as a champion of diversity awareness. But you’ve been told he doesn’t carry this sensitive attitude into his personal life. Should you confront Dan about his public image? Or should you let it go assuming the report is untrue—or even if it’s true, dismiss it since he never has acted inappropriately on the job?

Readers Respond:

I would never confront an employee with an unsubstantiated claim, let alone a vice president. If the claim is true, however, then I would absolutely confront him. If you don’t "walk the talk," then you have no credibility—especially in an area as sensitive as workforce diversity. Eventually, Dan’s behavior will catch up with him and worse yet, his company.
Eric Burfeind
Manager HRIS and Payroll
Owens & Minor Inc.
Glen Allen, Virginia

There needs to be a line drawn between the workplace and the private lives of employees. Neither corporations nor government agencies should play Big Brother and legislate whom employees should socialize with outside work.

As long as Dan practices and preaches diversity in the workplace and is sensitive to diversity in handling work issues, problems and policies, then I see no need to discuss with Dan his private life and social interactions. Many individuals choose to live in neighborhoods that reflect their own political and religious beliefs, worship with others similar to them, select friends from groups who share interests and plan their social activities with relatives and people from their communities and schools.
Sherry Ann Kavaler
Director of Personnel
Fire Department of New York City
New York, New York

Having been told something doesn’t make it necessarily so. Talk to Dan. Let him know what’s being said and see if this is a perception problem rather than one of cognitive dissonance. Don’t see this as a disciplinary issue so much as one of fairness to Dan and the company.
Philip R. Fenimore
Labor Relations Administrator
Delaware Department of
Transportation (DelDOT)
Dover, Delaware

First it’s critical to obtain the facts. The only person who has the facts is Dan. Therefore, his supervisor must sit down and discuss what he or she has heard and ascertain if it’s valid. I suggest taking the following steps.

Explain to Dan what you’ve heard and why it concerns you. Ask for and listen openly to Dan’s explanation. If he admits to this divergence of attitude, ask him to explain how he plans to continue with his current responsibilities and maintain credibility. Present to Dan several options. 1) Suggest he develop a plan to change off-the-job attitudes to match his behavior on the job. 2) Suggest a reassignment. 3) Suggest resignation may be appropriate. Then ask for Dan’s suggestions.

Assuming the option selected is for Dan to change his behavior, then agree on the actions to be taken by each of you and set follow-up dates to review progress. The worst thing to do is to ignore this situation.
John A. (Jack) Tirrell
Founder & President
The Jethro Consultancy
Tucson, Arizona

It’s a poor manager, especially an HR manager, who isn’t willing to communicate openly with all levels of staff. The situation definitely needs to be discussed with Dan. If nothing else, Dan needs to be aware that there might be situations that he needs to look into regarding his public image or the fact that someone isn’t happy with him.

It’s usual that employers limit their interest to an employee’s actions and performance at the worksite. I don’t believe, however, that any of us would continue to employ a truck driver whom we’ve learned has DUIs (citations for driving under the influence) off the job. Therefore, it might be a hard situation to employ an individual responsible for diversity in the workplace, who had a reputation as a racist off the job.
Max Wagoner
Professional HR Generalist
Cypress, California

A VP can’t continue to function effectively if he or she demonstrates publicly known behaviors off the job that contradict the cause he or she champions at work. The advocate’s credibility is compromised, as is the cause. Ultimately, Dan must be advised that others have reported his contrary behavior and you’re concerned about his continued effectiveness. The question then is whether the contrary behavior is true. If it is, he can’t effectively continue in his current role. If the reports aren’t true, a strategy to counter the false information should be implemented.
Calvin S. Crawford
Vice President of HR
US Assist®
Bethesda, Maryland

Workforce, May 1997, Vol. 76, No. 5, pp. 105-106.