I learned early in my career that questioning management in the private sector can have negative consequences. My first lesson came when I attended a national conference conducted by the organization I worked for and I stood up to ask a question at a plenary session. My question was not hostile and was asked only after the speaker opened the floor for questions. When I sat down, a more experienced employee sitting next to me asked if I was crazy. He pointed out that you never raised real questions in this organization if you were interested in keeping your job. Apparently, he was right because I felt the need to find a new job within a few weeks of the event.
I have always believed that any organization that discourages questions about perceived wrongdoing, inefficiencies, or any other related issue is dysfunctional and stagnant. Employees have to believe that their legitimate complaints will be heard and treated appropriately or the organization will not be able to keep competent people.
I have written many times that I believe the City of Albany is a great place to work, and I have never witnessed retaliation against any employee for expressing their honest opinion about the City or how it operates. I can think of a number of occasions where employees have brought complaints to me or to directors that allowed us to improve the organization by making some changes. I also know that even in the best workplaces, there is potential for a manager or supervisor to retaliate against a subordinate.
The best insurance against retaliation for a workplace complaint is to make sure that the appropriate people know about it. If there is a serious complaint against a manager or some city practice, informing the supervisor, department director, human resources director, city manager, and union representative (for represented positions) makes retaliation very difficult. Documenting the complaint and backing it up with something more than an opinion are also important steps. The advent of e-mail makes it very easy to inform and document.
I find it extremely frustrating when I hear anonymous complaints that offer no evidence to support a serious allegation. While I will look into any accusation of wrongdoing against any city employee, there is very little I or anyone else can or should do if there is no identifiable witness or credible evidence to support the claim.
The most important lesson I learned from my first experience with retaliation was that I would never accept it if I encountered it again. As an employee, I would choose not to work for a place where it was accepted and as a manager, I would not tolerate it. The one example I encountered in another city resulted in sustaining an employee’s grievance and the termination of a supervisor. Employees should always feel free to report problems when they see them without fear of retribution.