Dr. Lee Kang Yam
Chief Learning Curator | Flame Centre
There is such a thing as appropriate and inappropriate behaviour in performance management. Many people in Singapore now associate inappropriate behaviours at the workplace with having extramarital affairs. However, there is a range of appropriate and inappropriate, or acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. Let me share my perspective on these behaviours.
Let’s start with a few examples of inappropriate behaviours.
Any form of workplace bullying, harassment, discrimination, intimidation and violence.
Spreading unverified rumours about colleagues, slandering and bad-mouthing others.
Using positional authority to gain advantage or favours from others. Or receiving preferential treatment from others.
Excessive closeness to colleagues (especially the opposite sex)
Excessive work hours.
Points 1 and 3 are quite self-explanatory, I shall not elaborate on them.
Let me share why point 4 is considered inappropriate.
I have witnessed cases where close ‘work buddies’ involving the opposite sex turned into ‘work spouses’ due to working long hours together. They share meals, discuss work and confide in personal issues like a regular couple. They might even spend more time together compared with their actual significant others. Such behaviours can cause marital problems when both work colleagues are married but not to each other.
Excessive work hours are inappropriate as subordinates might be forced to work similarly long work hours to keep up. I once heard a very senior leader wonder out loud how he received very quick email replies even at 1-2 am. He was unaware that his staff have been conditioned and felt the need to stay up late and reply to his emails even at odd hours. Being constantly engaged at work disrupts personal life, mental and body wellness.
In my performance management training, I often distinguish between the various types of appropriate and inappropriate behaviours. The following table illustrates my thinking on this:
Avoid - Avoid playing favourites, nepotism, potential conflicts of interest, embarrassing situations, actions that bring about complaints or dissatisfactions, gifts or presents from vendors and other interested parties etc.
Expose - Staff may expose themselves advertently or inadvertently to temptations or inducements. For example, staff who has developed a gambling habit may be susceptible to temptations when they are on a losing streak.
Declare - If you can’t avoid it, declare the issue. For example, in foreign relations or company events involving other parties, gifts may be presented to you, and it would be considered rude to reject them. Accept the gift as a gesture of goodwill and declare it.
Rationalise - Others may offer small gifts such as concert tickets or priority access, and staff may rationalise that since it does not involve actual money, it is ok.
Reject - When I was in National Service (NS), I attended to a training accident case involving a young NS lieutenant. When I saw his medical docket, the code ‘WH’ was stamped on the cover. For those who know what ‘WH’ in the army means, this young lieutenant is the son of someone important. I was required to send him to a public hospital for surgery. When the lieutenant's father came to the hospital, I immediately recognised him - a prominent professor and foreign service leader. He talked to me and thanked me for sending his son to the hospital. While talking to me, the Medical Registrar of the hospital came down to meet him. In my sending NSmen to public hospitals, I have never encountered a case where the Medical Registrar came down to meet the parents of injured NSmen. The Registrar asked him, ‘Is there a surgeon you prefer?’ Immediately, the good professor said, ‘The doctor on duty.’ Sometimes others may feel deferential to people in power or those who have positional authority and offer preferential treatment even when it is not asked. It is important to reject these preferential treatments like the good professor.
Accept - As time passes, the inducements may get bigger, and staff may be compelled to go big or go broke and hence commit to more transgressions.
Have you ever encountered such behaviours in your workplace? Please share your thoughts.