Learn to avoid this before it costs you your job
crossing a line with associates might be closer than you think
A few years back I had an employee that was younger than the rest of the employees he worked with by a large margin. This employee was hardworking, seemed to really enjoy coming to work, but everyone once in a while seemed frustrated and upset. The whole team was excited that he was just like us, and had a lot of energy to bring to our company.
Months went by and as my team and I got closer with this employee, we began teasing them about their age and the quirky differences in interest such as music, clothing, etc. This associated rolled in laughter with the rest of us, in fact they made us feel comfortable because they threw back friendly fire themselves.
These jokes were very light and not meant to hurt the feelings of this associate, and as long as they were playing along I let it continue. As time went on the employee stopped responding back, avoided laughing at the jokes, and even stopped teasing employees when the opportunity presented itself.
I started noticing a shift in performance from the associate and how they responded to team events. I decided to take action and bring this associate into the office and ask if there was anything bothering them. The associate became very upset and told me that he was sick and tired of everyone making reference to his age and the generational differences the associate had to everyone else.
Stuck in my tracks I began to panic about the repercussions that I would have to all of this. After talking with the associate, they were calmed and reassured about the situation, but a few moments later I stopped worrying about how scared I was for my own job, and more concerned with how I made this employee feel.
This was a lesson I learned the hard way, and I see this commonly in the work environment these days. What we sometimes use as a way to bond with others becomes harmful and potentially career limiting choices that we can make. One way to avoid making these kinds of mistakes is to keep comments positive and relative to work. There are plenty of ways to grow a strong team without turning your workplace into a frat house.
If you are guilty of these types of comments, I would recommend you do exactly what I did and bring the associate in for a one on one conversation. Keep it professional and allow the associate to talk about what they would like to see start, stop, and continue at work. Chances are there is nothing that is bothering the employee, regardless; stop the cheap shots at work if they are happening.
As I have grown as a leader I look back at this event and see the obvious red flags and must admit I’m embarrassed that it was me in this situation. Each employee has a right to show up at work and bring their own uniqueness to our teams, that’s how we build diversity in the workplace. Small jabs become big problem especially when an authoritative figure allows it.
So remember- keep the conversations clean, work related and constructive to you and your team’s development.