How do I deal when one of my directs is harassed by someone most closely classified as my peer? 

We're organized in something of a matrix style way. My directs are doing most of their work for other people (I call them clients, as I want to foster the thought of us being in a client-supplier like relationship, the clients are Sales People, so in this case generally extremely high I and D types, generally in that order. They 'encouraged' other personality types to leave). Now one of my directs has been ordered by our common boss to help out in a position she's been in before (and was glad to be out of there, due to harassment, but at that time she wasn't my direct).

The harassment will probably take the form of extremely crude jokes and possibly some 'mild' forms of mobbing coupled with extremely negative feedback from her 'client'. I've seen it in the past, but it never happened to one of my directs, so I could step away from the most immediate conflict. 

However now I can't get out of that - or at least I don't see a way out of it, without facing conflict. She has to work there; I don't have the option of declining that. My boss (which is also my 'client's' boss) specifically selected her. What can I tell her how we'll handle harassment situations? I feel peer feedback will be too weak a method. I was considering suggesting a three step model:


First time it happens: Talk to the client directly (and document it)

Second time it happens: I will talk to him (and I will document it)

Third Time: I go to the boss and ask him to intervene.


I'm not too confident this is a good solution - or one that does neither the team nor my direct any justice, but it's the best I could come up with.

Should it make a difference that she is my 'bottom performer' while the client is one of our better sales people? I feel it shouldn't - her performance is not that bad that I would suggest to get rid of her, and even if it were - I don't believe anyone should be made to bear harassment, no matter the performance. 


GlennR's picture

Given that I work in probably what is a totally different culture, here's what I would do.

First, bring my immediate supervisor into the loop and get him to sign off or give me feedback on my plan which is to:

  • Reach out to my peer in that department and share my concerns with him and let him know that I am concerned about the possibility of harassment based upon what has happened in the past. I am concerned for both the individual and the organization. I would prefer to do this face to face in as non-confrontational a dialogue as possible.*
  • Discuss this with my direct and let her know that I have her back and insist that she inform me immediately of any harassment.

Missing from this is the role your HR department plays, if any. I would also reach out to my counterpart in that department and secure that department's support..

Sure, it's likely that you're going to create one huge fur ball when this happens. But it is elementary that a leader takes care of his or her troops and represents the best interests of the organization. The key here is to express concern, not go in with guns a blazing. Please reread that last sentence.

Question: What's it cost to replace a direct? In my organization, replacing a front-line exempt staff person can cost us up to $90,000 to recruit and train a replacement. This includes lost income while the position is vacant. So your concern isn't just for the direct, you should also show concern for the company's bottom line.

I would graft my plan onto the "front end' of your plan.


*I would not have this conversation with my peers by email regardless of how much of a paper trail it leaves. I'd fly to the city where my peer offices if different than mine and meet with him face to face. If that doesn't work, I'd try a video conference where we could see each other's faces. Failing that, a telephone call. Later, you can send the emails.