Unfortunately, workplace drama isn’t unusual. Mistakes and bad practices happen, though some have more toxic results than others. You can eliminate some of the drama, however, by simply reviewing and revamping your hiring practices, says Patti Perez, a former employment litigator and author of The Drama-Free Workplace: How You Can Prevent Unconscious Bias, Sexual Harassment, Ethical Lapses and Inspire a Healthy Culture.
“Looking at the lessons learned from workplace problems, I can identify root causes and drama-producing events,” she says. “Instead of letting them go into a full-blown discrimination suit, avoid drama in first place.”
Hiring practices are ripe for creating issues, says Perez. Here are four that can have unintended consequences.
1. Having an unconscious bias
Candidate selection can invite workplace problems. Perez recalls a situation where a partner at an accounting firm was looking to hire someone with specialized experience.
“He interviewed women and people of color and dismissed them almost exclusively for lack of experience–overall and specialized,” she says. “Eventually a young man with less experience than the others and zero in the specialty field came in and reminded him of his younger self. He wanted to hire this guy, saying, ‘I understand he doesn’t have experience, but he’s promised he’ll give it 110%, and I believe him.'”
Others in the office could see what had happened, says Perez. “The company had advertised and touted its commitment to diversity and inclusion, but it proved to be inauthentic,” she says. “Not surprisingly, the bad hire caused women and people of color to leave company due to a pattern of behavior.”
To eliminate unconscious bias, Perez says companies should implement systems that enable managers to hire best person. Use technology to remove information from resumes that doesn’t predict whether the candidate is qualified for the position, such as name or graduation date. And create a structured interview process with a standard list of questions and pre-set methodology to grade answers.
“Companies incur economic and emotional costs from a singular bad hire,” says Perez. “Being thoughtful and honest at the front end, saying that experience was mandatory, would have eliminated the young man from even being interviewed, and the risk that someone unqualified might remind you of yourself.”
2. Lacking authenticity around diversity
A lot of companies claim they’re committed to an inclusive culture that welcomes diverse employees. They write about it on their website, have a diversity council, and have a “we love diversity” script for recruiting and hiring managers, says Perez.
“There’s only one problem–they don’t really mean it,” she says. “When you dig a bit deeper with these companies, you realize they have a hard time recruiting and, even more so, retaining women, ethnically and racially diverse professionals, disabled individuals, members of the LGBTQ community, and those who are allies to members of those communities.”
If your company isn’t fully and genuinely committed to diversity, it’s better to be quiet than to promote it as a core value, says Perez. If a company has an inauthentic commitment to diversity, a diverse employee might join the company believing the hype, only to later find out she is paid less than her male counterparts, says Perez. She sees male leaders are allowed to get away with misconduct, she sees hiring and promotion policies being skirted for the boss’s cronies, and she meets other employees who are equally dissatisfied with issues of fairness and equity.
“This employee receives emails and attends events where the company brags about diversity awards and publishes its diversity newsletter touting the impact the company’s diverse employees have in the industry,” she says. “Rather than having a positive effect, the company’s disingenuous boasting about its commitment to diversity causes anger and backlash.”
3. Focusing on short-term problem solving
If your diversity metrics show low numbers of underrepresented employees at your company, your answer might be to hire anyone who checks the “diversity box” without regard to qualifications, says Perez.
“While this might solve your short-term numbers problem, it inevitably breeds resentment, hurts your business, and does nothing to ultimately help with diversity numbers since you’re setting the candidates up to fail,” she says.
4. Not screening for culture matches
Finally, not focusing enough of explaining your company’s culture can cause drama later, if the hire isn’t a good fit. Perez recalls a situation where a startup hired a woman who had worked at a large organization, a defense contractor. She was excited about the opportunity, but assumed the processes and job description would be similar to her previous role.
“The startup’s HR department didn’t have good methodology for defining workplace culture–the values, mission, and behaviors that make your company your company,” says Perez. “This woman expected to walk into a place that wasn’t as stodgy as [her former employer], but didn’t realize that at a startup, you often work 10 times as hard.”
She ended up lodging a complaint because she felt the company had crossed a line from being a creative, ad-hoc, fly-by-the-seat-of-one’s pants company into one that asked too much from employees–standards she felt were unethical and maybe even illegal. The drama could have been avoided if the HR manager had a way of conveying the culture, says Perez.
For example, “At our company, we work long hours and everyone needs to wear five different hats in order to get the job done. But we’re very casual–professional and respectful–but casual and fun. Does that sound like the type of culture that you’d thrive in?”
Recruiting and hiring are difficult tasks, says Perez. “Companies need to prepare a smooth path for the hiring managers to select qualified, vetted, and knowledgeable candidates,” she says. “By taking these steps, you are much more likely to make better decisions during the recruiting and hiring process and avoid unnecessary drama.”