Leading the way to the Water Cooler

Posted on November 30, 2012 by Leave a Comment

Bossing around the HR news for the week ending November 30th, 2012:

Any good HR manager knows that harassment of any sort is unacceptable in the workplace. But when is a company liable for the misdeeds of its employees and when is it safe? That’s a question the U.S. Supreme Court is trying to answer in the case of catering assistant Maetta Vance, who is suing Ball State University for the racial harassment she endured while working there, according to a Reuters report. The case hinges on one word: supervisor.

Leading the way! Duck photo courtesey of Flickr/Tambako the Jaguar

The Supreme Court has previously ruled that a business is liable if a supervisor harasses a subordinate, but just who counts as a supervisor has judges from lower courts in disagreement. This week, U.S. Supreme Court Justices began to define whether Vance’s primary harasser, a “catering specialist,” qualifies as her supervisor. According to CBS News, “The court’s decision could set new guidelines for interpreting Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bans employers - or their ‘agents,’ such as supervisors - from discriminating based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.”


Unethical behavior of any kind from an organization’s leadership can have long-lasting repercussions, writes Scott Span, president of Tolero Solutions, on TLNT this week. Even if the immoral actions of a leader like, say, former CIA head David Petraeus, don’t directly affect his work life, they do set a negative tone for his employees.

Leaders’ actions, expressions, ethics and values have a direct impact on their company’s organizational cultures. A poor office culture can affect employee happiness, productivity, and ultimately a business’s bottom line. To keep things on track, it’s best to heed the advice of an old—but enduring—saying: lead by example.


Company leaders always shoot for success, but sometimes they miss. So how do you keep your employees’ morale high when customers are unhappy, profits wane, and momentum slows? Inc offers several suggestions to keep teams cohesive and motivated even when the going gets tough. It’s essential to be completely transparent with employees—don’t pull back the curtain only when it’s convenient. Consistent honesty cuts bad rumors off at the pass. Also, don’t be afraid to embrace new ideas from your employees. If your business is starting to slow down, fresh perspectives never hurt, and listening to their ideas will make your teams feel valued. Finally, take the time to encourage team bonding.

The natural reaction to a slow time in business is to work harder and longer, but happy hours or coffee breaks can improve morale and ultimately make your employees happier and more productive.


And there’s no question that happiness at the office matters. The Wall Street Journal’s The Source blog reports this week that happier workers help their colleagues achieve their goals 33 percent more often than their least happy colleagues, and are 36 percent more motivated. To increase the mood around the office, the blog offers suggestions for companies, supervisors, and employees. Great companies give ongoing feedback to increase their employees’ efforts and help them find the immediate motivation to complete their tasks.

Employees must also be proactive in evaluating if they’re in the right job in the first place—they’ll never excel and find a sense of long-term engagement if they don’t feel fulfilled. Finally, employees and their employers must both share a strong sense of self-belief. Productivity is tied to the belief that things will get done—and that they’ll be done well.

Want to supervise more HR news? Register for free email updates or take a look at last week’s Water Cooler post.

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