Dear leaders and managers of humans in the workplace:
We all make assumptions about employees, right? Sometimes just a two minute interaction can leave us with a pretty strong impression.
But have you considered how powerful sharing them can be? Have you thought about the cascading effect of your words and how they influence and impact others? I mean, it's just their career and well-being… right?
Forgive the sarcasm. No need to perpetuate this by laying blame and assuming ill intent. While there are some dangerous bad apples that enjoy sharing (or forcing) an opinion at every opportunity, my strong belief is that most people just don't consider the impact of their words, and would be horrified to know they potentially ruined someone's "brand" and even worse: killed a career.
How could that possibly be?
Let's say it's 4pm. You've endured a gauntlet of meetings, your patience is low and your frustration high. One more meeting to go, and you're thankful it’s a leadership meeting with your peers which is always pretty relaxed and stress free. Many of you have worked together for years.
Someone announces they have finally found a “rock star” to fill an empty role on their team. Upon hearing the name you vaguely recall hearing something about a project they were leading not working out and say sarcastically “are you sure? I heard he couldn’t even do his last job right. I hope you have a good second choice." You offer the little information you're able to recall about the project and share you are pretty sure it was his fault. You know you heard it from someone you trusted, you just can’t remember who.
No big deal, right? WRONG.
A strong performing employee who demonstrated great potential has just been labeled a weak performer. In the minds of an entire leadership team.
An offer is never made.
That same employee continues to be declined for roles in the department, even for lateral positions. Because he envisioned a career in this specialized line of work, there is little opportunity for him to transfer to another area. He loves the company, so he tries not to give up hope, but it eventually happens.
Over time, his self-esteem almost disappears. He no longer speaks up in meetings. He is convinced his manager and colleagues view him as the weak link on the team and he is embarrassed. He stops engaging with them. His work suffers. He begins to feel his job is no longer secure.
At home, his wife is getting frustrated with him because he hides away when he gets home. He hardly talks to her anymore. And the one vodka tonic he used to have every night has turned into four.
Feeling he is “checked out” and no longer engaged with his work, his manager places him on a 30 day warning.
Why am I harshing your mellow with this sad, sad tale?
Because it happens. As a leader or manager, whether you are asked for or volunteer your opinion about an individual and their work, you have a responsibility to validate any assumptions you have prior to sharing them.
If not, you could very well end up a "certified career killer", and karma has an amusing way of dealing with that.
Don't let it be you.