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This morning I woke up to find out we had an earthquake here in the Seattle area. Depending on who you listen to it was 4.5 or 4.6 magnitude earthquake. I slept right through it. Those of you that have been in an earthquake know that it’s not that big a deal until it his a 5 plus magnitude. Then it gets your attention.

Often, in the workplace there is a similar phenomenon. You’ve know there are employee problems, but they really have not risen to a crisis level so you don’t take action. It doesn’t mean there isn’t something serious going on, but it’s just not a jolting event that will prod you into action. If left unattended, these small problems can become catastrophic to your organization. Sometimes, the small problem is a symptom of a larger and, ultimately, more costly issue.

Unfortunately, with so much of our day being controlled by what comes and goes through your email inbox, it is difficult to have face time with employees. Nevertheless, it is when you first learn of a small problem that you, as a manager, owner, or human resource representative need to be there to ask questions and listen. I have seen many instances where management believed that they were faced with a personality conflict between employees only to later find out, in a lawsuit, that the real problem was discrimination, harassment or retaliation. More often than not, the litigation could have been avoided if a company representative, after learning there was a problem, had asked the most powerful question in their arsenal: “Why do you think this is happening?” The “why” question places the ball squarely in the employee’s court. They either have to admit they don’t know why or tell you their real suspicions. If the former, you make an appropriate notation in the employee’s file and you can use that as a defense in litigation. If the latter, you know know it is time to investigate and get to the root of the problem. Either way, you have probably saved your company a significant sum of money and provided it with valuable defenses it would not have had otherwise.



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