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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, May 21, 2017 1:00 am

Comedian's memo offers lessons

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

When doors that were open suddenly become closed, you can almost be certain controversy will follow.

That's life in the workplace. Consider the Steve Harvey memo that has created a lot of buzz.

The television host gave employees written ultimatums regarding communicating with him at work. His memo indicated that those who infringed upon his dressing room space without an appointment or invitation would be removed. And the comedian wasn't joking.

The memo got leaked, and Harvey has been the target of criticism by some for both style and substance, or the general tone in his message.

In online versions of the memo, Harvey explains that his past leniency had been taken advantage of and he needed to free up some of his time during the day.

One human resources executive with a Chicago-area firm said in an email last week there are a few lessons to be learned from the memo and reaction.

Rob Wilson, president of Employco USA, suggests that managers schedule regular, ongoing meetings with employees to solicit feedback and suggestions for improvement. Wilson also suggests that managers ask someone to read their all-employee memos before they send them – or wait at least one day after being frustrated to communicate about something.

“Steve Harvey's important message got lost in the delivery (i.e., using lots of caps, saying security will remove employees, etc.),” Wilson said in an email.

An open door policy can work, depending on the size of a company or organization.

“It helps to win employees' trust, and it makes the office feel more like a team and less like a dictatorship,” Wilson said. “However, when possible, it is more efficient to create a policy that encourages employees to bring issues, ideas and complaints to supervisors and lower-level managers before they head straight to the CEO.”

I'm sure there are times some people deliberately try to sidestep such protocol. But I'm hoping most executives and managers are sharp enough to recognize it and know how to redirect those individuals.

On vacation, really

If they haven't already, many managers are about to start the juggling act to cover the workload during the peak spring and summer vacation period.

Hyatt-Fennell Executive Search, based in Pittsburgh, offered some “what not to do” tips through an email last week. Don't:

• Discourage employees from taking vacation, even jokingly.

• Give employees assignments to work on. “A vacation doesn't mean a remote office,” the email said.

• Call them while away. Emergencies do come up, but proper planning can help alleviate the need to bother staffers unnecessarily. Hyatt-Fennell suggests asking the employee to create a synopsis of current projects, including alternate contacts and schedule a meeting to go over it before their vacation.

• Fill their inbox while they are gone. “A great way to immediately spike the stress levels that vacation abated is by coming back to a burgeoning inbox,” Hyatt-Fennell said. “Instead, start a document with items you'll need to go over with them … Have a meeting once they are back to go over the list.”

• Forget to ask about their trip. Central to fostering a culture that supports vacations is your reaction, the email said. It suggests that managers let employees know they're genuinely “glad they got a chance to recharge.”

During a telephone interview, Hyatt-Fennell partner Cheryl Hyatt said calling employees on vacation is a common problem, along with sending them off with small assignments.

“I think a lot of employers still tend to do that because they see that as an opportunity for employees to do something, maybe research-wise, that they wouldn't necessarily do at their desk,” Hyatt said. But employees “really need to unplug.”

And what if a vacationing employee decides to communicate with a manager while they're supposed to be taking time off? Hyatt, whose firm also has offices in Denver, Colorado, and West Palm Beach, Florida, thinks managers can gently discourage that.

“What I tell them is if they're going to reach out to me,” she said, “I want to see photos of them having fun.”

To share a thought, a favorite quote or other wisdom about leadership, email Lisa Green at Lead On also appears online as a blog at