Stereotypes & Emotion In The Workplace, When The Balance Shifts.

Monday, April 4th 2016

A Senior Manager of an accomplished Law firm told me recently that they were facing serious difficulties recruiting for a receptionist. I was puzzled for several reasons, the first being why a management team would be so involved or perturbed even slightly by a junior hire and the second being since this is a relatively straightforward Job Spec in comparison to other roles such as Lawyers. I asked why. His answer was not what I expected. He and the partners at the firm are struggling as they have to ensure candidates are not ‘too pretty’ as this will set the cat among the pigeons. Translated as: they will have serious issues with their predominantly female administration team who apparently do not take to this kind of biological insult kindly. The normal MO is an attractive female upon joining is attacked in a vulture type fashion, bullying antics ensue and said newby flees work usually in some state of tears or other, all within a matter of a few painful weeks.

Left with no receptionist and a female team of angry, fire breathing grumpy ladies the Senior managers are at odds as to how to re-hire. Hire a male? Very atypical for a receptionist in Cyprus. Hire an older female? Would then have to be suitably unattractive surely. How best to win the battle. The question is which battle they are trying to win. I suspect it is the battle to satisfy all the women in their lives, keep the peace and face no confrontation for fear of being made to witness more feminine wrath or worse…water works.

An almost vacuous statement, it is so obvious, but it has to be said: None of the behaviours of either the male or female contingent in this sorry tale help either male or female stereotypes in the workplace.

This little local story highlights so many interesting psychological processes in the workplace as well as a virtually teeming well of gender issues.

I was struck first (mind blown actually) at how interesting it was that such irrational and inappropriate behaviours were being pandered to at all. Being British trained and experienced, the idea of such blatant bullying behaviours at work leaves me with a highly refined sense of outrage! Let alone by these Alpha male, Senior Executives. Interesting on many levels…the assumption that women at work are portrayed globally as the least paid, least well treated, submissive employees has been shot to hell in this story. This little troop of hormones and battle cries had commanded such fear from top male managers (and ultimately decision makers and payers of salaries no less) that it was directly influencing their hiring strategy and Job Specification. In what can be viewed as a patriarchal society in Cyprus and work culture within organisations, a band of female bureaucrats had held to ransom and hijacked their male superiors and converted them to submission. Quite Machiavellian I would say.

I didn’t know whether to don a skirt and run through the streets yelling Power to my Gender or run home and cry. Oh but we do not like water works do we?

Stories like this are good cases in point, illustrating quite simply that dysfunctional dynamics can exist and fester within imbalanced teams whether the imbalance is gender directed bullying or discrimination. It is well worth managers’ time to remember and consider that our colleagues and subordinates’ behaviours will often tap into issues of our own, often unconsciously and so our reaction can often be inappropriate and emotive as in this case of the very male, Senior management team.

Dysfunctionality in our team relationships and dynamics at work can often mirror those of a family unit and there exists the almost undetectable, subtle threads that weave between each employee’s connection and relationship with each other. Therein is the essence of your team and organizational culture, so be wary.

Luckily there exists a plethora of HR Tools that can deal with these matters. A health check by Managers is advisable to try and evaluate the health of their teams’ communication. Recruitment and Retention strategy should aim to be inclusive and based on a meritocracy.

A strong HR person or department can be a happy buffer and a guardian of best practices and should be implanted strategically within the organization to ensure there exists this bridge between Management and staff.

HR policies and guidelines addressing behavior at work should be incorporated into a strong induction program.

And the list goes on. To even begin to explore the list of tools at their disposal, Managers need to generate a healthy awareness of such issues and prioritise these rather ‘sticky’ topics and hotbeds of emotion. Ultimately the cost of high employee turnover, plus other issues of hidden costs (if we were to calculate and bill the hourly rate of the Senior Managers’ time spent on this Receptionist issue in this featured tale for example?) and low productivity not to mention an unhappy environment should be incentive enough.


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