Do you have to be liked at work?

As a manager writing this and possibly as managers reading this, your answer to this question may be no. As a young person or graduate in their first role, the answer may just be the opposite. As for people who need to be needed, or need to be liked, I think we can guess what they would opt for.

But is it necessary to be liked at work? I think maybe only sociopaths and psychopaths are comfortable not being liked. That probably puts me closer to that end of the spectrum than I prefer.

Could it be I say that, because no-one likes me? (I don’t think that is the case, but you never can be sure can you?). Traditionally, HR people don’t fall into the category of people to like at work. We seem to be the department that people are scared of. The ones who wave the rule book, the ones who keep everyone in place.  (If anyone can tell me how we break that cycle, I’d be eternally grateful.)

I much prefer to be respected at work than liked. Liked is something I save for my friends and hopefully my family. Working in HR has taught me there will always be times when we need to appear as the enforcers of rules. Mostly that is because we are (or should be) about the needs of the business. The needs of the business dictate that you must perform well at what you do and must not perpetuate bad behaviour. That’s why they call it work. I would rather be known and respected as someone who has the guts to make a difficult decision or have a difficult conversation, than someone who has no credibility because they find these situations too difficult. I have been both intensely disliked and extremely well respected for the same decision. I have been respected by people who don’t like me – and I choose the respect every time.

I did a straw poll before writing this post asking the question of being liked at work and a few people mentioned that being liked can make your way in the office smoother. It is much easier when people co-operate with you because they like you. It means you are more likely to get a quick response or a little favour that makes your job easier or your day more pleasant. But why should this rely on being liked?

Are we, as adults, not evolved enough to make this happen regardless of whether we like someone or not? I worked for over 3 years for a man I disliked intensely. I didn’t respect him, but I respected the position he held; the one that managed me. Ultimately that meant, I reported to him and I did what he asked of me. Again, another definition of work. I’m not sure whether he liked me or not, I dare say he didn’t, as I challenged him in many ways – but we managed to get our respective jobs done in a way that complemented what we wanted to achieve in the business.

I do admit that some of the best relationships in my life have come out of meeting people I have worked with, including my wonderful un-marriage. Some friendships I have which have passed the test of time are with people I once worked with.  Most of those friends were colleagues, some worked for me and one was my boss.

I have a rule not to be friends with anyone I manage directly at work. Why? Trust me, it’s not because I am mean and nasty…. (There is a theme developing though). It is that I learned that it is much harder to manage someone you are friends with than someone you don’t know that well personally. In a work environment, we need objectivity. Making friends with and liking people who report to you, makes all of that subjective. When it comes to managing the poor performance of a friend, there is no greater ground fraught with large unexploded landmines. Not only will the business relationship be put under pressure, the friendship probably won’t last.

By the same token, managing people who are your friends or people you do like, may create an environment of complacency. If you are liked by your boss, do you really need to try that hard?

Like most people, I have worked in all kinds of organisations, some where the people are mostly friendly and some where the word friendly has never been uttered. The friendly workplaces can quite easily translate into situations that reflect family dynamics. People learn about basic concepts of fairness, equity and resource allocation in their families, and these are crucial issues in the workplace. These basic concepts in families may be very different from the ones we find ourselves in at work. Familiarity in a workplace can cause as many conflicts as family situations do.

It takes a mature person to see past the likes and dislikes of our managers or our teams and just see the forest through the trees. If we can compartmentalise the relationships in the office and keep focused on the outcomes we will be measured on, maybe we will have more time and energy to pursue relationships that are lasting outside of the work environment.

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Social Media and HR: Worthy Partners or Evil Enemies?

I was recently at an HR Professionals networking function and asked who there was using Social Media in their business. The majority told me that they don’t let their staff have access to any Social Media platforms because “they’d just be on Facebook all day”. I wasn’t all that shocked. Disappointed yes, but I had been hearing that quite a lot. I do get it; there are thousands of reasons why we should keep ignoring it and hoping it might go away. Some of them are even valid.

The biggest impact Social Media can have on any organisation is the ability to change it. If you are not involved in a decision about the introduction of Social Media into your business, then you may be put in a reactive position. Social Media creates open, honest and transparent engagement with customers, suppliers, peers and staff, whether it is used as a PR campaign or a whole of business strategy. It means listening to what people have to say, hopefully responding, and learning to adapt. What does that mean for your staff, policies and business? It could very well drive change in the entire business, so we need to be prepared. Here are some fables, tips and benefits:

Fable: It will make our staff less productive.

I wrote recently about this. Using Social Media in the workplace is no different to using the phone on your desk for personal calls, or using email to contact friends, or going out for a coffee. If you have unproductive staff, they will find any excuse to be unproductive. Monitor the behaviour, not the tool that is causing it.

Fable: Our only online presence is our website.

Are you sure? How often do you Google your company name, managers, Directors, Board members?  I don’t mean typing in your company website address, I mean putting those names into Google or Yahoo or even Bing? Each one of those search engines will get you different results. So it probably pays to check them all. Do the same search on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. That is real time search; what is happening right now. Hopefully you won’t be surprised by what you find.

Fable: All voices are equal.

Are staff sharing praise or complaints about your organisation? Are they telling their innermost thoughts and secrets about the company, co-workers or their boss? Generation Y love Social Media platforms and they love to share; a lot and loudly, to anyone who will listen. It could be bad if they are a staff member. A supervisor or manager could have far greater impact. Are they on the board…..well you would hope not, but stranger things have happened! Usually if they are not saying it to you, they are saying it about you.

Fable: Ignorance is bliss!

OK, so you have been brave enough to Google, Bing and Yahoo yourself silly. Did you find comments or a whole conversation? You may be more visible than you would like. Assess the risk and decide on what to do. Do companies even want to know what their staff are saying? They could be either supporter or detractor.  What about ex-staff members, what are they saying? Surely this can’t be any different to what was said at dinner with friends? Unfortunately it is; times a few hundred, thousand, or million. The old way of being social meant we had a few wines then forgot the whole conversation; it was just having a moan. The new way means it all stays for eternity. The old adage that “Four things come not back: the spoken word; the spent arrow; time past; the neglected opportunity” is so true.  The rest you can find on Google.

Um, HR – we need your help…

So why does all this matter? We never did it before, why start now? All this public discussion can impact on your brand, your reputation or your competition; let alone your retention of staff, attraction of new staff and your own credibility as a contributor to the business. Are you a “values based organisation”, are you on any lists as an “employer of choice”? Does it matter what someone once may have said about you? It does if you have principals and values and you use them to attract talent. There are countless examples all over the internet about one person’s perspective, how it was picked up, misconstrued and shared with millions of people.

As HR Professionals we all know what happens the minute something in the business gets too hard to handle. Our phone rings or there is a knock on the door. If someone came to you with an issue like this, are you prepared? Would you know what to do? I have many colleagues and friends in HR all over the world, unfortunately most of them think I have lost my marbles and gone to “the dark side”. It’s true. I have and the message is: be prepared, don’t be scared, and embrace it! These tips may help you start:

Understand the tools. (the most relevant)

  • Twitter is very powerful for business, short, sharp relevant messages and real time search. (It’s also cool to be on it if you are human!)
  • Facebook is becoming powerful for business. Look for business pages. Probably the best area for direct communication with staff.
  • LinkedIn is the most professional platform. Used predominantly as a recruitment tool, it also has some wonderful moderated groups and forums for discussion across industry and profession.
  • YouTube is of course the most popular of the video sites. Anyone can post content…on anything. Nothing moderated here.
  • Blogs are a great business tool if done well. Used for sharing industry and business information, and learning before you actually have to experience it! Excellent marketing and communications tool.
  • Google and Google alerts. You can set up an alert for your company name so that anytime it is mentioned on the internet; you will be sent an email.

Learn and Research. Set up a personal account on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. If you are not sure, then create an alias. Once in, go and see what all the fuss is about!

Standards. Create a non-disclosure agreement or a confidentiality agreement, or remind your staff  of what they signed in their employment contract. Find or create a policy, framework or guidelines around what you can and can’t do and say on these platforms.  The quick fix is to add them to your IT, email and web standards.

Finally…..The Benefits

Like anything else, Social Media can be managed and controlled if you think you need to. Remember the introduction of fax machines (how many jokes did you or your staff used to fax around?), computers, the internet, mobile phones…the list goes on.  Think about the core of our profession: our people. Use these tools to engage with them, to understand them, to listen and then respond and to get to the truth of who you are, who they are and who the business is.

Be in control, be aware and start something. You are bound to have a more grateful team who want to connect with you, who want to know they are heard and who want to know they are trusted. If you are blocking access, does that engender a culture of trust? Ensure that this one little act doesn’t go against the culture you have worked hard to create.

Social Media is just another tool. Imagine you are new to a country and you don’t know which newspaper to read. You might buy a paper a day for the next fortnight, scan the headlines, or look at the pictures. However you do it, you will seek out information that is relevant to you. This is no different. You don’t have to be in any of it, you don’t have to know it all back to front, but you do need to be aware of it, of what is happening and how you would act in any situation. Be responsible for being a trend-setter in your industry, create an inviting place to work, and have your people engage with you; for good, not evil.