Fired For A Thoughtful Gesture

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about correcting an associate:
I was terminated for tapping “very lightly” on the side of an associate’s head, while correcting her. I was reprimanding an associated for damaging company property, and she told me it was faster to dump the product on the work table. I told her she just thought it was faster and while saying the word “thought”, I tapped her on the side of the head ever so lightly.

This is an employee that I had hired and thought our relationship was evidently better than it was. I did not know she was going to get upset, she did not show she was upset while I was talking with her.
Signed Lost Job

Dear Lost Job:
Our advice probably won’t undo what has happened, but it is sent with sympathy for your job loss. You meant well. The tap on the head of an associate was a natural gesture you learned. Perhaps you were tapped on the head by a parent or teacher to impress you with the importance of thinking before acting.

Apparently, your workplace has explicit rules about how corrections should not be given and that includes hands on an associate. That is a good rule, one that was applied with zero tolerance. The no-hands-on rule is meant to prevent bullying and physical violence. I would have thought in this particular case that it might rather have been applied with a lesser consequence, such as a day or two suspension. Possibly you might submit a written request for reconsideration based on the fact that your tapping was a simple gesture meant to impress this woman of the importance of thinking before doing something. If you have a long record of good supervision possibly your firing will be reconsidered.

If not, don’t allow this to sour you. You can use this unhappy experience to make you better in working with people—in acquiring a coaching approach to bossing. This is not to say all coaching is well handled. Some coaches have had a bad record of treating players like wild animals. But we have found examples even some coaches of animals that have leaned whispering rather than a slap or even a tap on the side of the head works. Coaching on the job can include firm straight talk, especially when preventing wasted time, supplies, and money, but it is best done while assuming a subordinate’s actions even when wrong were not deliberately intentional. If you scan some of the many Q&As in our Archives, you may find they speak to the kind of boss-bossed communication that makes for a respectful effective working relationship. Also the site of my associate workplace doctor, Tina Rowe, addresses that.

Please feel free to weigh my suggestions and to update us on what are your next steps—such as finding a new job. May you put this time behind you. Life is short and you have years ahead. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.
William Gorden