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Show Highlights

Graham and Ashkahn address the unenviable task of dealing with disagreements between staff members as a small business. This is an area that Float On has needed a lot of help with in the past. The best practices of Human Resources aren’t very intuitive in interpersonal relationships, so hiring a professional is almost always a good idea.

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Transcription of this episode… (in case you prefer reading)

Graham: Alright.

Ashkahn: Okay.

Graham: Hey everyone.

Ashkahn: Hey. This is Ashkahn.

Graham: And Graham over here.

Ashkahn: Boom, this is going to be a good one.

Graham: Yep. Today’s question is, “I recently had a situation where a staff member came to me complaining about another member of the staff, how do you handle things like this?”

Ashkahn: Yeah. This makes sense. I get a lot of complaints about Graham that I have to deal with, so this is very comfortable territory.

Graham: And what he does it just ignore all of them, and let me keep working here anyway, you know, so.

Ashkahn: It’s fine, if someone complains about Graham I fire them on the spot, it’s over.

Graham: So that’s, yeah, I don’t know if I’m on your staff but if they were complaining about me that’s a really good way to handle it, I give informed full support of that. I mean to be honest this is like one of the worst parts of the job, or at least like the most trying to deal with, I mean managing personal conflicts and human beings is-

Ashkahn: It’s just crazy. And here’s the whole thing to me that feels insane about this and like HR in general. Like you’re basically, you’re taking like the chaos of human interaction and society and like all of that and then you’re putting it inside of a workplace where people are forced to interact with each other, often not based off of choice, and then it’s the company’s responsibility to like appropriately deal with whatever possible human interaction can happen. Like it’s, like the feat, like what you’re trying to accomplish, we’re like, hey, what if we take a bunch of people and put them in a place and somehow magically don’t have any of the like difficulty that comes with like how humans interact with other humans throughout the course of all of human history. Like, it’s insane. It’s insane. It’s insane that this is like even, I mean it feels like an impossible thing to actually create like a perfect workplace where nothing goes wrong.

Graham: So I don’t know if you can tell but we’ve had conflicts between staff members in the past.

Ashkahn: I mean nothing’s been like too crazy for us or anything like that, I mean, ’cause I, we talked to our HR person she tells us stories that I can’t even believe.

Graham: ‘Cause there’s some juicy ones, for sure.

Ashkahn: Yeah. But it is, just so you feel better about yourself, like it, to me, it’s an impossible task. Like to think that somehow a workplace is going to avoid the like-

Graham: Workplace drama, yeah.

Ashkahn: The nuance of what it means to be a human being and have to interact with other human beings, no without you having a control over who you’re around.

Graham: And so the good news is, I think a lot of staff members also realize that this is a workplace, and it is human beings interacting, and so a lot of times, even if there’s something that mildly annoys them about a coworker, that’s not the kind of thing they’re going to bring to you, right? And if they do and they’re just chronically complaining about everyone else, that’ll become really obvious, and maybe there’s a sign that the problem is, lies somewhere else, right?

Ashkahn: And the bad news is that I feel like if something does come up that’s legit, it’s especially, like the environment that’s created by how your float center has to operate I think is especially tough.

Graham: Yeah.

Ashkahn: Because you often have like two people working together with nobody else there. And you have like that, like if you’re in a giant office space and like, old like Scratchy-Hands-Phil.

Graham: I didn’t even know where you were going with that sentence. Okay, continue.

Ashkahn: Old Scratchy-Hands-Phil is bothering you, like always scratching his hands, and you’re like, “get some ointment.”  

Graham: Come on, Phil.

Ashkahn: Like, you can just go away, like you can just be like, “I’m gonna go back to my desk”, or like there’s so many easier ways than that to not have to be in a close interaction with someone in a bigger working environment.

Graham: I also never worked in a cubicle so I’m not even sure if that’s true, like.

Ashkahn: Not sure exactly the type, you just go into your tube I think. Then you can just video chat with everybody. But in a float center a lot of places have two people working at a time.

Graham: That’s it, yeah.

Ashkahn: And often like a lot of long shifts, and you’re with that same person every day or if there’s two people working evenings, like you’re working with the same person all the time.

Graham: Or same thing if it’s one person working. And what you have is someone else coming in after them and there’s just this tiny bit of overlap. But then you have like the tasks that one person is responsible for maybe being pushed on someone else like we’ve seen that kind of dynamic.

Ashkahn: Yeah.

Graham: Especially between closing and opening is this kind of place where a lot conflict happens.

Ashkahn: For sure.

Graham: Because the closers and openers.

Ashkahn: Yeah so there’s like conflict in terms of people what the work they’re doing, and then there’s just like personal conflict, like, “Hey, I think this person was saying things to me in way that like I didn’t appreciate.”, or something that has nothing to do with the actual like tasks of running a float center.

Graham: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Ashkahn: And then it’s also hard ’cause it’s, you’re also not in a place where there’s ten other people who could have been around to maybe talk about what happened.

Graham: For when you go into your in-depth forensic analysis-

Ashkahn: Figure out why his hands are so scratchy.

Graham: So I have a first piece of concrete advice to give people.

Ashkahn: Okay.

Graham: I have the first piece of concrete advice.

Ashkahn: We should get there eventually, it’s nice.

Graham: Yeah. Talk to a professional. And that’s not, we’re not HR professionals, that’s not us.

Ashkahn: No.

Graham: But they do exist out there, and the advice they’ll give you even differs from area to area, you know like, how you have to handle employees and even what you can do in terms of response to things like complaints, or if you do decide you want to either chastise someone or what’s the, reprimand them, or eventually even lead to letting them go, there are steps depending on your state that you might want to take, and that, even if we did know the answers for Oregon those aren’t going to necessarily be the answers for where you are. So talk to someone who does know the answers to those and make sure that this conflict that’s among your staff for now doesn’t expand to actually be something that now your business has to deal with in a legal sense, right? ‘Cause handling these situations can also get you into some hot water-

Ashkahn: Yeah.

Graham: If you don’t do it right.

Ashkahn: Oh, yeah. I mean it’s both extremely complicated in terms of like the emotional complexity of the situations that you’re dealing with and handling those appropriately, and it’s just, this is such a big, big area for liability and, and doing things the right way and a lot of times I find that it’s hard to have the instincts of understanding what the laws are.

Graham: Yeah.

Ashkahn: There’s a lot of laws that protect people against things like discrimination and stuff like that, that like you can, you can get to a place where you’re being discriminated through things which don’t seem like it because you’re making a judgment here and that leads to this other thing and that can be kind of a systematic discrimination or there’s things that just, they take a second to think through, or they take someone telling you, “Hey you shouldn’t be doing this because this can lead to these scenarios” to make you even realize that that’s a possibility.

Graham: Yeah.

Ashkahn: So even if you don’t think you’re doing anything wrong or being mean or you’re trying to be kind of kind like, this is a tricky ground, and there’s a lot of protection in, I mean this differs a lot from state to state but in general there’s a lot of like employee rights when it comes to stuff like this, mostly ’cause companies have been douche bags for like hundreds of years.

Graham: Yeah.

Ashkahn: Laws have had to be formed to stop them being such jerks to people, but like, as a result in certain states especially like California or places like that, there are pretty strong protections for employees.

Graham: And Oregon too, yeah, another one like that. And it’s, this is one of those cases where when emotions are running high, if someone is actually upset or if this complaint about someone else is going to lead to one of the two of them not being happy with the outcome, that’s the kind of place where lawsuits do get filed, and where people strike back and stuff like that. So yeah, just another reiteration to really dot your Is and cross your Ts at this one and make sure that you consult with a professional who’s telling you at least how to put yourself at least at the least about of risk you know, or reduce anything that might be backlashed towards the company so anyway, disclaimer.

Ashkahn: Yeah.

Graham: In that sense. And, you know often-

Ashkahn: Just to give you, an example came to my mind of a good-

Graham: Yeah, yeah yeah.

Ashkahn: We had a situation once where, one of our employees was, came to me to say something about feeling uncomfortable with another person and at the start of it asks me to keep this, like, “Hey, can you please just like not tell the other person about this, I just want to tell you and figure out what we want to do from there.” And that seemed really reasonable to me, like I wanted this person to feel safe coming to me with this and not feel like anything they said to me I had to make public, so I was like, “Oh, of course. I won’t say this to other people if you don’t feel comfortable about it.”

And then I talked to our HR person and she was like, “Yeah you shouldn’t say stuff like that.’ Because if they tell you something, and all of a sudden what they tell you, you have like a responsibility for some other say, safety stake or a legal sense to tell the other person their doing, you now have a responsibility to like, to not hold it to yourself, and now you’ve kind of just broken your trust saying that you would, and that’s a good thing to realize going into a situation like that. And that’s why HR people, are awesome. Like they’ve been through this before, and they’re like, “Oh yeah, like that old, nope that’s not how you want to say that, like I’ve been down that road.”

Graham: It is true and to be honest a lot of the, like it may sound like you’re going to a professional and you’re just going to get really dry advice that you don’t want to hear, and you might, but it’s probably going to be good advice and is there for a reason and will protect you so, I don’t know, like don’t, this is a personal conflict with me because I want to be a very personable business and not be so bureaucratic and-

Ashkahn: I know a lot of float centers too, right? Like there’s almost a culture of like a bunch of friends like running a business together is often what workers in a float center feel like.

Graham: Yeah and we call it like the float family, and that extends off into our staff too, right? It feels almost familial a lot of the time so you don’t want to just get down in the weeds and be like, “Nope, this is how it shall go and we need to protect the business at every turn and as a result do these regimented, mechanical kind of actions.”

Ashkahn: Right, right.

Graham: And, often, the advice you get will be to do things like that but you can still do it in a way that doesn’t suck so much. Or you can be upfront and say, “Hey, putting on my business owner hat, I need to take these precautions as a result of you coming to me and this is how we’re going to handle it.” And, you know, again, now that I’ve said get advice, and things can differ state to state, often what you end up doing is also sit down with the other person to hear their side of the story right, and kind of get a conversation going separately with each of them so you can at least give the problem a fair hearing from both sides. And that’s a really good first step to take.

Ashkahn: And this stuff is, I mean its kind of like the sanitation stuff where I feel like yeah, you could go into like as much depth as you wanted to to try to protect yourself and make an extremely rigorous place-

Graham: Mm-hmm.

Ashkahn: And at some point you just have to be like “Okay well I’m going to take on a little bit more risk because I want to like have a culture that’s not insanely bureaucratic or completely impersonal.”

Graham: It’s a really good, it’s a good reminder. I guess knowing what risks you’re taking is important and willingly deciding to take them is definitely your prerogative as a business owner.

Ashkahn: When we talk to our HR person the two, the two like most pieces of general advice, “The two most general pieces of advice” is how that sentence works, that I got out from talking to her, and she basically said these to me, was basically, “don’t be a jerk”, was one of them. She’s like, honestly when people get sued and they get into these situations when businesses get sued, its often because the person from the business side who was running it was being a huge jerk. Like, nice people don’t get sued as often as people who are mean in these situations so like, yeah, you know, be caring and be nice to people I think is one thing. And “be consistent” was the other one I got. That’s really good protection to be treating people the same way and consistent with your policies and where you get into trouble is where someone can point out how they specifically were being treated differently than somebody else.

Graham: Yeah. Yeah, those are really good. General HR advice.

Ashkahn: Then the other one like, this is just something I personally feel like I’ve been thinking about as I learned more about HR but, HR is often there, the structure of HR especially in bigger companies, is really there to protect the company. That’s kind of the structure, that’s kind of the purpose of having HR and paying for it is like. You’re, you know, it seems like this really nice thing for your employees but it’s often like how you’re protecting yourself as a company from being sued by employees.

Graham: Yeah.

Ashkahn: And to me, I’ve always felt that like that is, at least a little bit messed up, like I want HR to be, like in my ideal world HR is there to protect the employees and to fight on their behalf as well and it’s not just this like legal defense against someone trying to sue you who works for you. So, I don’t know, we’re not like a huge company so I, its not like this has made a big difference to us, but I made it clear to our staff that I was not trying to think about it that way, and that like here is the phone number for our HR person, and we put her on retainer, and so she’ll, like, all of our staff can call her and talk to her if they want to.

If they don’t feel like talking to us or something that they feel uncomfortable with or maybe its something about us, or if there’s just something they want to talk to a more trained person about, like that’s how I want people to feel about HR, because I kind of feel like it’s going to go better that way. If someone’s like having an issue and decides to reach out to our HR person who’s extremely well-trained on how to handle stuff like this, and knows the legal requirements, and has experience like getting people to work through these issues without problems arising, like that sounds way better than them coming to me about it anyway.

Graham: And it’s really, I mean I think it’s honestly really active advice that just about anyone could adopt, and I doubt many float centers out there have it just because until you’ve even had your first kind of employee conflict it’s not something you realize or think about that much. But I, I mean I feel a lot better about leaving our business to kind of run just with managers, and on its own devices, knowing that people there have access to an HR person to talk to, and to talk about.

Ashkahn: Yeah. I guess really find an HR person, ’cause, yeah, it’s not like you have to hire someone to be in-house HR and run your payroll and all that sort of stuff, like you know find someone that you can just reach out to when a question comes up. Like we reach out to our person, I mean something comes up maybe once every like three months or some little thing comes up. Or maybe it’s just something to do with like, the law surrounding how quickly you need to pay someone when they decide to leave. There’s all these like little rules and it’s just easier to be able to reach out to someone, and we’ve done it to the point where our managers can have someone to ask or even like put together a little training day, and I found it to be amongst the least intuitive sort of information in terms of running a small business.

Like, neither of us went to business school and I feel like we picked up a lot of the basics in just having to do it, right? Like you have to form this legal entity and you got to do this, and you got to like pay for this thing, and you got to like do your books, and we kind of like that stuff all came naturally out of a requirement to do so and then I started learning HR, I’m like “wow there’s just so much stuff here”.

Graham: Wow, we were doing everything wrong, like, how did we do? We were just following our best instincts like we always do and just got everything wrong, huh, interesting.

Ashkahn: If there’s like one class I think should be required to open a business I think it should be an HR class.

Graham: It seriously, yeah, it’s not a bad idea. So before we, before we wind this one down, I did want to cover a couple of things in terms of things not to do, if you’re approached with a complaint from one of your employees about another one.

Ashkahn: Get physical.

Graham: Shove them, “Well how would you respond to this?”. Right, so number one is don’t brush off their complaint, don’t say, “Oh, they’re just like that”, or “Oh, you’re just being sensitive you know I’m sure it will be okay” or “Well let’s see if it happens again” kind of thing, like that’s the absolute wrong way to handle that, right? At the point that someone’s to you and complaining, taking them seriously and putting weight on what they’re saying and at least for the time being trusting what they’re saying, at least to look deeper into it, is absolutely essential, right? Like, that’s one of those things that can come back to you, haunt you, is just brushing something aside.

Ashkahn: Oh yeah, for sure.

Graham: And then it gets to be an even bigger problem and you’re like “oh wow, I made a huge mistake, I should have listened to them”. Number two, just trusting exactly what they say and going and discipling or firing the other employee without hearing out their side or doing a little research yourself or talking it through, right?

Ashkahn: Yeah, don’t do that.

Graham: Don’t do that. Exactly. So those are like the two, the number two, the numbers one and two responses that I would absolutely recommend against. Right, which is basically just either yeah, totally not listening to someone or totally trusting them. Both don’t do that, make rash actions on it.

Ashkahn: Yeah, and I think documentation is another good one to keep in mind.

Graham: Yeah, absolutely.

Ashkahn: That was like, and we kind of like, it’s one of those things that is very easy, like starts to very easily feel extremely bureaucratic when you’re like sending someone a report on your meeting or something like that. So it’s, we put a little bit of thought into having that documentation, what we do is if we have a meeting like this with someone we’ll email them afterwards in a casual way and just be like, “Hey, just so you have this to reference like here’s the stuff we went over in our chat today.”

Graham: “And please let us know if it seems incomplete or if there’s anything else you wanted to add.”

Ashkahn: ‘Cause that’s like, that’s kind of the safety net you’re building for yourself. If this does go somewhere, you’re going to be really happy that you have-

Graham: Like South, if it goes South.

Ashkahn: If it goes South specifically yeah. You’re going to be really, really happy that you have this documentation, like here like “I have this email it said these things, they didn’t respond saying anything was wrong with this”, like that kind of like, “Hey does this look right to you?”, and people seeming okay is kind of like yeah this is the general like scope of what happened.

Graham: Yep, and as much as that sounds kind of like an informal process, and you should also check with your HR person, rules like this can be different state to state but just having something that’s timestamped like that that can’t be faked, like an email, you have verification that you sent it from your email, that it was sent to someone else’s email address, stuff like that is great, it’s amazing to be able to point to something that actually has a date time stamp on it and with the details and they’re either agreeing or providing some more information, right? And even just for them, sometimes when you send out those emails they say actually there was something else I forgot to mention, and even just repeating back to them what they said can help with making sure you have the full scope of what they were trying to bring up.

Ashkahn: Yeah, and you know if things are really bad, I was just talking to this about our HR person, ’cause we were just chatting general HR stuff and she was telling me some like horror stories of other places. But yeah she said if things are really, like get really bad between a couple of people the most common scenario is that one person just leaves. And there’s other ways of trying to resolve things but often someone in there is just kind of like, “I just don’t want to deal with this anymore or deal with this person anymore” and like finds another job.

And HR can also help you like make that process go as legally smooth as possible and make sure that them leaving is something that is done correctly, and well, and documented and all that sort of stuff, and I don’t know. That’s kind of like an unfortunate thing to hear but apparently that is like the most widespread outcome of something, is just like things got so bad that trying to get two people to have to like interact with each other again is more work than at least one of them wants to put in.

Graham: Yeah. Alright, well that was a heavy topic. I mean that’s, it’s some of the least pleasant stuff that you’ll deal with in, not just the float industry, but any job.

Ashkahn: And again, it’s crazy. Just remember that the entire burden of human interaction is being put onto you as a business and that’s what you’re being asked to deal with. So, it’s a little preposterous to me.

Graham: Yeah, and good luck. I hope everything works out smoothly over there.

Ashkahn: Yeah.

Graham: And, if you have your own meaty questions you want to send our way, go to floattanksolutions.com/podcast.

Ashkahn: That’s right. That’s the site. We’ll see it right.

Graham: Yep. Have a good night.

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