Tell Me About It: Should I express my concerns to senior management?
PROBLEM: I am a junior member of staff working for a most prestigious employer. I studied and trained for several years to gain this position. I love my job and am very ambitious for the future.
The organisation I work for is a very large national institution and outside of it there are very few opportunities for those with my professional background. In the past few months I have noted that many colleagues at all grades take shortcuts and avoid policy and regulation when undertaking their tasks.
I am certain that these actions will have unknown consequences for those who avail of the organisation’s services, some of which could potentially be life changing.
I brought my concerns to my line manager several months ago, who assured me that she would highlight these issues to senior management. Nothing seems to have changed and she tends to avoid contact with me. I have also received a negative performance review from her, which could impact on my future progress. I cannot say for certain that this was related to my complaint, but I am suspicious. My friends and family have encouraged me not to escalate the issue any further and to get on with enjoying my work.
My partner, however, has strongly suggested that I write to senior management. She feels that I will always regret it if I were to become aware that any harm were to come to someone using our services.
ADVICE: You sound as though you are genuinely worried about the possibility of harm coming to users of the service you provide and yet you are not getting support for your complaints from those close to you. It may be that you are seen as vexatious by your line manager and your negative performance review might demonstrate that, but there is also the possibility that this is not the case.
I wonder if there is someone in the organisation with whom you could check out your concerns so that you know more clearly where you stand. Perhaps there is a union and you could speak to the representative; this would be done in confidence and your position would not be put at risk.
If none of these options are open to you, there is a natural next stage to expressing your concerns and this is either through HR or your manager’s manager. If you are to take this step, it would be in your interests to have huge clarity and evidence of your concerns and this will demand time and attention from you.
Most organisations of the large size that you mention have a Dignity and Respect (D&R) policy and you can invoke this policy initially by speaking to a D&R support person; they should be listed on the organisation’s website.
The initial meeting(s) are usually confidential and nothing is written so that you can speak freely and you will be given advice and support on how to progress your concerns. Then you can invoke the informal procedure which usually involves a mediated session with the person with whom you have a complaint (your manager who did not escalate your concerns).
At any time you can bring a formal complaint which involves a written statement and formal procedures. This process would be an example of following the organisation’s policies and procedures that you find so lacking so it might be an excellent place for you to conduct your complaint.
You will need a lot of support as you care deeply about the work and you might find that some of your colleagues are offended by your action
Firstly, you need to log your first meeting with your manager and everything you remember about the meeting and the promised action. All your complaints need to be validated by evidence of breach of codes of practice or ethics, and if you can provide these, you are on very valid ground for proceeding with your complaint.
However, there is the human side to taking on your organisation’s faults. You will need a lot of support as you care deeply about the work and you might find that some of your colleagues are offended by your action. This is why you should check and doubly check that you have evidence and right on your side as taking action when you are not certain, or only speculating, might have grave outcomes for you.
Have you had prior experiences where your sense of righteousness has been met with defensiveness or even scorn? If so, it might be worth looking at your method of delivery of these concerns.
Learning how to deliver criticism in a way that someone can receive it without offence is worth learning and cultivating. If this can be done, everybody benefits and feels good about the implementation of change.
A life coach might be able to help you with these communication skills and then you can both focus on your career track and the improvement of the organisation you are so pleased to be part of.