January 8, 2015

How to Handle Awkward Office Moments

We’ve all been there. We wrack our brain to figure out how to get passed something that makes us uncomfortable. Here are our recommendations for handling some common work-related awkward moments when you:

Send/get a Facebook “friend” request

From an HR perspective, we can go either way on this, but there are consequences. If you are a manager, sending friend requests to your direct reports puts them in an uncomfortable position. Likewise, with friend requests from subordinates, handle things gracefully. Deny the request. Send a private message that you choose to keep work and personal life separate or suggest that they connect with you on LinkedIn, a more professional social media platform.

Observe a co-worker on a dating site like match.com

Online dating does not have the stigma it used to. According to a July 2014 study done by Rueters, the total number of single people in the U.S. was 54,250,000 and the total number of people in the U.S. who have tried online dating was 41,250,000. Leave this one in the “none of my business” column and move on.

Happen upon your boss or your employee at a club/bar/event

Depends on the venue and if your definition of appropriate behavior is involved, doesn’t it? HR is predicated on what happens at work. Going to work and fueling the gossip mill for whatever you “saw” is not optimal. Take a counseling role and ask your co-worker or superior, “How do you propose we handle this?” Then come up with an agreed upon conclusion.

See a married coworker/boss/employee with someone else

It is not only just a “small town” that we live in. Smart phones with photo/video capabilities paired with social media have made the world more intimate. The gossip mill will catch this pair soon enough. In a business like ours, trust is paramount. We rely on people’s ethics to do the right thing at work, whether it’s financial reporting, treating a customer with respect, or being honest on their time card. Trust is eroded in situations implying infidelity. Approach this issue head on.

Need to determine what to do next for the organization

When behavior – inside or outside of work – becomes a distraction for the organization, then HR has an obligation to step in. Awkward moments can affect your employment brand. Here is our three-point litmus test as to when HR needs to address an issue: 1) there has been an erosion of trust; 2) the awkwardness is affecting open and honest communications; and 3) the situation is fueling the gossip mill.

Written by Jim Annis, President/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson and Tom Miller, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

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