Does 238 Harassment and Discrimination Complaints Mean Microsoft’s Environment is Toxic?

Microsoft spends around $55 million dollars per year on diversity and inclusion efforts, but that hasn’t stopped complaints of gender discrimination and sexual harassment. A lawsuit against Microsoft was filed in 2015, and on Monday new documents were made public. These show that out of the 8000 similarly situated women, 238 complaints of gender discrimination and harassment had been filed between 2010 and 2016.

These are internal complaints, not lawsuits or EEOC cases. These are complaints from one or more employees regarding something that occurred at Microsoft.

Interestingly, 118 of those were gender discrimination claims and the company only considered one to be based in fact.

In an earlier statement to Fortune, a Microsoft spokesperson said: 

“Microsoft encourages employees to raise concerns and has numerous channels for them to do so. We take each concern seriously and have a separate team of experienced professionals whose job it is to investigate these types of allegations thoroughly and in a neutral way, and to reach a fair conclusion based on the evidence.”

If Microsoft truly follows this, it seems unlikely that less than one percent of complaints were found to be based in fact. Microsoft argued in favor of keeping this information confidential because they, said, if it came to light people would be discouraged from complaining.

That’s for sure. If you know that there’s less than a 1 percent of your case being considered founded, why would you go through the agony, stress, and potential backlash by complaining? 

Retaliation for filing a protected complaint is illegal. (That is, you can’t be retaliated against for complaining about sexual harassment, but if you complain that the company cafeteria makes gross food, that’s not a protected complaint.) But, it’s very difficult to keep someone from feeling like they’ve been retaliated against if the investigation doesn’t go their way.

Does this Expose a Toxic Environment?

It’s absolutely true that not every complaint is founded. Things that unfair to an individual may not be unfair when all the facts are gathered. But, if there are a sufficient number of complaints, you know you have a problem.

Gender discrimination and sexual harassment claims are very different things, and gender discrimination can be difficult to prove. Evaluations can be somewhat subjective, even in a technical environment. And there are numerous factors other than gender that would cause a boss to assign Jane to project X and John to project Y. You don’t want to have an environment where every manager has to second guess his or her decisions.

But, what we don’t have are the number of sexual harassment cases that Microsoft did consider credible. The Guardian reports that the sexual harassment situation was toxic. They write:

At least three women reported sexual assault or rape by male co-workers, including a female intern who alleged rape by a male intern, reported the rape to the police as well as her supervisor and HR, and yet was forced to work alongside her accused rapist.

If this is true then there is definitely a problem. Even if they determined that the woman was lying through her teeth, it’s unfair to have the male intern continue to work with a woman who tried to destroy his life. That is a serious problem.

If you feel you’re being discriminated against or sexually harassed there are reasons to not report and to simply move on. Reporting can cause you stress, even if the company acts responsibly. But, it’s your right to report and your right to be protected when you do so. Companies need to take all complaints seriously and if only a tiny number are considered credible, the company needs to evaluate their procedures. It’s unlikely that 117 out of 118 complaints were just the imagination of some woman.There’s a disconnect somewhere and that needs to be fixed.

MIT Just Discovered How to Get Employees to Pay Attention

What’s the most difficult challenge organizations face in communicating with employees? Getting your people to pay attention to even the most relevant and important messages.

As one HR leader told me recently, “We work so hard to provide information to our employees. But they’re so busy that they miss a lot–even when the topic is something employees care about, like pay and benefits. And then employees complain that we didn’t tell them about it!”

One solution to this challenge can be found in a new MIT study about a very different topic: how false news is spread on the social network Twitter. Stick with me while I explain how this research reveals an essential insight about people–an insight you can use to create communication that will get employees’ attention.

The study, conducted by three MIT scholars, tracked more than 126,000 cascades of news stories spreading on Twitter, which were cumulatively tweeted over 4.5 million times by about 3 million people from 2006 to 2017.

Not surprisingly, the study demonstrated that false news spreads more rapidly on Twitter than real news does. The researchers then set out to find out why false news is so likely to go viral. Is it because of bots programmed to disseminate inaccurate stories?

Actually, no–the study proved that humans are the driving force behind the rapid spread of false news. And this is where it becomes relevant to internal communication.

Why do falsehoods spread more quickly than the truth? The answer, according to study authors Sinan Aral, Deb Roy and Soroush Vosoughi, can be found in human psychology. Quite simply, we humans like new things.

“False news is more novel, and people are more likely to share novel information,” says Aral, professor at the MIT School of Management.

The MIT team chose the word “novel” for good reason; they understand that the adjective means “original or striking especially in conception or style.”

Humans are drawn to information that’s fresh, unexpected and, yes, novel, and once we find this interesting new thing, we want to share it.

Unfortunately, much of internal communication is the opposite of novel. In fact, it’s old news. Organizational announcements share staff changes everyone has known about for weeks. Intranet home pages contain articles written in corporate speak that seem just like all the other stale content. Newsletters rehash tired, uninteresting items.

No wonder employees ignore websites, delete emails and multitask during virtual town halls. After all, there’s no reason for employees to pay attention when they can’t learn anything new or unexpected–or gain any value from what’s being shared.

What can you do differently? I’m hardly suggesting that you post false news or revert to photos of kittens in odd situations. Instead, here are 4 simple ways to create novel communication that employees will open, read and even share:

  1. Use an approachable, conversational, even casual tone. Employees have gotten used to–and grown weary of–that corporate voice. Be personal and human.
  2. Whenever possible, use visuals instead of words. Create infographics, illustrations, videos, even internal ads.
  3. Be lighthearted–and humorous. We just created bitmojis for a large corporation’s leadership team. They’re not laughing-out-loud funny–but they are unexpectedly whimsical.
  4. Keep challenging the status quo. To be novel, you have to constantly innovate. So to break through the clutter of internal communication, never stop mixing it up.

Email Might Be Killing Your Employees. Here’s How to Save Them

“Technostress” is the latest scourge to befall company employees. As the name implies, it’s stress related to technology — specifically email — that people have in their daily lives because they feel like they can’t get away from work.

It’s not just an annoyance. Technostress can actually lead to ill health.

“This ‘always on’ culture of emails is killing people,” Sir Cary Cooper, an organizational psychologist at Manchester Business School, has said. “It leads to worry, anxiety, depression, and physical ill-health. There’s a whole field now called technostress, and the evidence is that unconstrained emails, where there is no guidance by employers, are damaging for people’s health.”

Ron Friedman, psychologist and author of “The Best Place To Work,” concurs, saying constantly checking email can be detrimental to a person’s productivity and, much worse, their overall quality of life.

A 2016 study authored by Liuba Belkin of Lehigh University, William Becker of Virginia Tech and Samantha A. Conroy of Colorado State University found that it’s not only opening and reading the emails outside of working hours that stresses people out. Just the expectation of receiving outside-of-work-hours emails is stressful. The researchers gathered data from 297 working adults and found that even the expectation of receiving after hours work emails leads to burnout and diminished work-family balance.

What’s Being Done

Corporations and governments are already recognizing the threat of technostress and taking action.

The French government famously passed a law in January of 2017 that guaranteed employees’ right to disconnect from work.

Some large companies have taken it upon themselves to enact policies that limit work-related email communication outside of working hours. Vehicle manufacturers Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler in Germany, along with French energy corporation Orano and multinational insurance firm AXA have all adopted such policies.

Recently, the chairman of Porsche’s works council Uwe Hück even went so far as to say that any work emails received outside of working hours should be returned to sender.

What You Can Do at Work

If you’re an employer, the obvious answer is that you can make it a part of your corporate culture and implement one of these policies in your own business. No sending or responding to work emails outside of business hours. You can make it a written policy or just have it as an unwritten rule, whatever suits your company culture best.

At the company my wife and I run, we refrain from sending after-hours work emails, because we respect our employees and want them to enjoy their free time. At the same time, we also expect that when they are at work, they are not checking personal emails and other such messages. When you make a boundary and say you don’t expect your employees to think and live work at their homes, you can also say you expect the same when they are at work. They should be there in full body and mind.

What You Can Do at Home

On a personal level, you can refrain from checking your emails outside of working hours, although for an entrepreneur, the concept of working hours — especially if you’re dealing with overseas suppliers or customers — is rather murky.

I personally don’t check emails after 7 pm because I’d rather be spending that time with my family. I’ve also changed my schedule to go to sleep and wake up early and do work at the start of the day rather than staying up late to work in the evening, which really helps.

Regardless of whether you’re a business owner or an employee, if you do want to cut down on email time outside of work, I suggest taking one step further than simply trying to ignore emails.

A work colleague recently upgraded his phone. On his old phone, he received visual notifications about new emails, but not auditory ones. (Basically, he would see a little icon if he received an email, but his phone wouldn’t ding when he received one.)

On the new phone, he couldn’t figure out how to separate the visual and auditory notifications for email. If he received an email, his phone would both show him an icon and ding. Rather than spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get things like they were on his old phone, he just decided to turn off all email notifications on his phone.

Although it’s only been about a week now since turning off all email notifications, he’s told me it actually has made him feel a bit better. Email is now back on his terms, as he told me, rather than being on other people’s terms. I found that inspiring.

If you want to save yourself and your employees from technostress, limiting work related emails during non-working hours is a great way to start. Just say “no” to notifications.

Email Might Be Killing Your Employees. Here’s How to Save Them

“Technostress” is the latest scourge to befall company employees. As the name implies, it’s stress related to technology — specifically email — that people have in their daily lives because they feel like they can’t get away from work.

It’s not just an annoyance. Technostress can actually lead to ill health.

“This ‘always on’ culture of emails is killing people,” Sir Cary Cooper, an organizational psychologist at Manchester Business School, has said. “It leads to worry, anxiety, depression, and physical ill-health. There’s a whole field now called technostress, and the evidence is that unconstrained emails, where there is no guidance by employers, are damaging for people’s health.”

Ron Friedman, psychologist and author of “The Best Place To Work,” concurs, saying constantly checking email can be detrimental to a person’s productivity and, much worse, their overall quality of life.

A 2016 study authored by Liuba Belkin of Lehigh University, William Becker of Virginia Tech and Samantha A. Conroy of Colorado State University found that it’s not only opening and reading the emails outside of working hours that stresses people out. Just the expectation of receiving outside-of-work-hours emails is stressful. The researchers gathered data from 297 working adults and found that even the expectation of receiving after hours work emails leads to burnout and diminished work-family balance.

What’s Being Done

Corporations and governments are already recognizing the threat of technostress and taking action.

The French government famously passed a law in January of 2017 that guaranteed employees’ right to disconnect from work.

Some large companies have taken it upon themselves to enact policies that limit work-related email communication outside of working hours. Vehicle manufacturers Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler in Germany, along with French energy corporation Orano and multinational insurance firm AXA have all adopted such policies.

Recently, the chairman of Porsche’s works council Uwe Hück even went so far as to say that any work emails received outside of working hours should be returned to sender.

What You Can Do at Work

If you’re an employer, the obvious answer is that you can make it a part of your corporate culture and implement one of these policies in your own business. No sending or responding to work emails outside of business hours. You can make it a written policy or just have it as an unwritten rule, whatever suits your company culture best.

At the company my wife and I run, we refrain from sending after-hours work emails, because we respect our employees and want them to enjoy their free time. At the same time, we also expect that when they are at work, they are not checking personal emails and other such messages. When you make a boundary and say you don’t expect your employees to think and live work at their homes, you can also say you expect the same when they are at work. They should be there in full body and mind.

What You Can Do at Home

On a personal level, you can refrain from checking your emails outside of working hours, although for an entrepreneur, the concept of working hours — especially if you’re dealing with overseas suppliers or customers — is rather murky.

I personally don’t check emails after 7 pm because I’d rather be spending that time with my family. I’ve also changed my schedule to go to sleep and wake up early and do work at the start of the day rather than staying up late to work in the evening, which really helps.

Regardless of whether you’re a business owner or an employee, if you do want to cut down on email time outside of work, I suggest taking one step further than simply trying to ignore emails.

A work colleague recently upgraded his phone. On his old phone, he received visual notifications about new emails, but not auditory ones. (Basically, he would see a little icon if he received an email, but his phone wouldn’t ding when he received one.)

On the new phone, he couldn’t figure out how to separate the visual and auditory notifications for email. If he received an email, his phone would both show him an icon and ding. Rather than spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get things like they were on his old phone, he just decided to turn off all email notifications on his phone.

Although it’s only been about a week now since turning off all email notifications, he’s told me it actually has made him feel a bit better. Email is now back on his terms, as he told me, rather than being on other people’s terms. I found that inspiring.

If you want to save yourself and your employees from technostress, limiting work related emails during non-working hours is a great way to start. Just say “no” to notifications.

Email Might Be Killing Your Employees. Here’s How to Save Them

“Technostress” is the latest scourge to befall company employees. As the name implies, it’s stress related to technology — specifically email — that people have in their daily lives because they feel like they can’t get away from work.

It’s not just an annoyance. Technostress can actually lead to ill health.

“This ‘always on’ culture of emails is killing people,” Sir Cary Cooper, an organizational psychologist at Manchester Business School, has said. “It leads to worry, anxiety, depression, and physical ill-health. There’s a whole field now called technostress, and the evidence is that unconstrained emails, where there is no guidance by employers, are damaging for people’s health.”

Ron Friedman, psychologist and author of “The Best Place To Work,” concurs, saying constantly checking email can be detrimental to a person’s productivity and, much worse, their overall quality of life.

A 2016 study authored by Liuba Belkin of Lehigh University, William Becker of Virginia Tech and Samantha A. Conroy of Colorado State University found that it’s not only opening and reading the emails outside of working hours that stresses people out. Just the expectation of receiving outside-of-work-hours emails is stressful. The researchers gathered data from 297 working adults and found that even the expectation of receiving after hours work emails leads to burnout and diminished work-family balance.

What’s Being Done

Corporations and governments are already recognizing the threat of technostress and taking action.

The French government famously passed a law in January of 2017 that guaranteed employees’ right to disconnect from work.

Some large companies have taken it upon themselves to enact policies that limit work-related email communication outside of working hours. Vehicle manufacturers Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler in Germany, along with French energy corporation Orano and multinational insurance firm AXA have all adopted such policies.

Recently, the chairman of Porsche’s works council Uwe Hück even went so far as to say that any work emails received outside of working hours should be returned to sender.

What You Can Do at Work

If you’re an employer, the obvious answer is that you can make it a part of your corporate culture and implement one of these policies in your own business. No sending or responding to work emails outside of business hours. You can make it a written policy or just have it as an unwritten rule, whatever suits your company culture best.

At the company my wife and I run, we refrain from sending after-hours work emails, because we respect our employees and want them to enjoy their free time. At the same time, we also expect that when they are at work, they are not checking personal emails and other such messages. When you make a boundary and say you don’t expect your employees to think and live work at their homes, you can also say you expect the same when they are at work. They should be there in full body and mind.

What You Can Do at Home

On a personal level, you can refrain from checking your emails outside of working hours, although for an entrepreneur, the concept of working hours — especially if you’re dealing with overseas suppliers or customers — is rather murky.

I personally don’t check emails after 7 pm because I’d rather be spending that time with my family. I’ve also changed my schedule to go to sleep and wake up early and do work at the start of the day rather than staying up late to work in the evening, which really helps.

Regardless of whether you’re a business owner or an employee, if you do want to cut down on email time outside of work, I suggest taking one step further than simply trying to ignore emails.

A work colleague recently upgraded his phone. On his old phone, he received visual notifications about new emails, but not auditory ones. (Basically, he would see a little icon if he received an email, but his phone wouldn’t ding when he received one.)

On the new phone, he couldn’t figure out how to separate the visual and auditory notifications for email. If he received an email, his phone would both show him an icon and ding. Rather than spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get things like they were on his old phone, he just decided to turn off all email notifications on his phone.

Although it’s only been about a week now since turning off all email notifications, he’s told me it actually has made him feel a bit better. Email is now back on his terms, as he told me, rather than being on other people’s terms. I found that inspiring.

If you want to save yourself and your employees from technostress, limiting work related emails during non-working hours is a great way to start. Just say “no” to notifications.

Do You Inappropriately Touch Someone at Work?

“I’m not going to let a woman talk to me like this.”
Don Draper

For many, one of the most shocking things about the series Mad Men – which ended its run on AMC in 2014 – was the depiction of office behavior.  In the early 1960’s, when the show was set, it was commonplace for men to curse, drink and make offensive comments to women – oftentimes to their face – while at work.  To them, it was just another day at the office. Well, those days are long behind us, right?

Apparently not.

According to a poll of more than 1,100 American adults conducted in late January and released last month from National Public Radio (NPR) and the market research company Ipsos, some of the most inappropriate office behaviors witnessed in Mad Men are still commonplace – and no it’s not 1960. Oh, and it’s not the older men who are the most common culprits.  It’s younger guys.

Want a great example? When was the last time you called a female coworker a “girl,” “babe” or “sweetie?” Hopefully never. You probably think that’s inappropriate – and you’re not alone – 80 percent of those responding in the survey agreed. However, 60 percent of them have actually seen it happening at work!  Telling sexual jokes and stories while in the office is a bad idea, regardless of who’s present. 90 percent of people think so. However, more than half have also seen it happen.

To me, the worst is touching. Sure, there’s shaking hands or a (very) quick pat on the shoulder – but even though deliberate “touching, leaning or cornering” was found to be inappropriate by 93 percent of respondents more than a third (35 percent) see it happening at the office.

Surprisingly, it’s the younger worker who seems to have difficulty with this concept. Only half of the men aged 18-34 considered it “always inappropriate,” for example, to discuss someone else’s sex life or preferences at work whereas 72 to 88 percent of older men did. Younger men were less concerned about the improper use of the terms “girl, babe, sweetie or honey” and were more lenient on supervisors who flirted with subordinates or others telling sexual stories at work than their older counterparts.

There are some admitted weaknesses in the NPR/Ipsos survey. It was taken online. People may not have been completely straightforward. The #MeToo movement may have affected responses. It’s very subjective. For example, is it inappropriate to say comments like “Hey, cool dress,” as opposed to “That dress looks great on you.”

So what’s the takeaway?

First and foremost and regardless of age, men understand the difference between right and wrong. Unfortunately, some choose to behave poorly.  It’s not difficult to know how to conduct oneself in an office environment.  If a CEO promised a $10,000 bonus to the 25-year-old former fraternity brother and member of the varsity football team if he would behave appropriately in the office for one month I guarantee you he would. Some men, particularly those under the age of 35, choose to still act out their high school and college selves and haven’t yet realized that those days are gone. The data shows that at some point they grow up. So does that mean we give men a pass until the age of 35?  Of course not.

As a manager or owner you’ve got to be the one to set the tone. Your behavior is watched by everyone. Larger companies send their employees to training on these topics and that may be one of your considerations. But if your company is small enough, formal training may not even be necessary.  You’re the one walking around.  You know your staff. You’re not blind. You’ve seen plenty of stereotypical alpha-males in your life – either in person or on Mad Men. Once identified, you’ve got to be watching them closely and keeping alert for any signs of inappropriate behavior…and be careful that you’re also not the one behaving that way.

If you’re a female worker you’ve got a responsibility too: say something. You don’t deserve this. There are too many ways to file claims with the EEOC and your state or federal Department of Labor. There are too many attorneys happy to take on a lawsuit. You’ve got options and you’ve got rights. Your boss isn’t Don Draper and your co-worker isn’t Pete Campbell. It’s just some idiotic guy who needs to learn to shut his mouth. Don’t do this just for yourself. Do it for the next generation of female professionals who deserve better.

Offices in 2018 shouldn’t be like those 1960 – unfortunately there are still too many similarities.

Starting a New Job? Here Are 6 Ways to Get Off on the Right Foot

Starting a new job is as exciting as it is overwhelming. In your first few weeks, you will be memorizing a lot of names and asking a lot of questions. But you can set yourself up for success and impress your boss by harnessing your excitement and soaking up new information like a sponge.

These six entrepreneurs share what new employees did that made them feel confident they made the right hire. Step one: Show up on time and ready to learn.

Be prompt.

Make sure to set an alarm for your first day; you don’t want to be running into the office 10 minutes late. Cynthia Johnson, co-founder and CEO of digital marketing agency Bell + Ivy, knows that being on time is the best way to show that you’re ready to get down to business.

“It sounds simple but works immensely, especially when so many people are casual about when they arrive for work,” she says. “Being prompt and ready to work makes a huge difference.”

Ask questions.

Blair Thomas, co-founder of high-risk merchant account provider eMerchantBroker, appreciates a new hire who comes prepared to learn. There’s no such thing as a stupid question — especially when asking thoughtful questions about your role and the company helps you pick things up more quickly.

“When a new employee comes to the office with questions, I know they have done their homework,” says Thomas. “Taking the initiative to come up with questions shows that you not only looked deeper into the company, but you want to master the job you just landed and likely have goals beyond your current position.”

Take notes.

“A new job brings a barrage of information,” says Ryan Wilson, founder and CEO of digital marketing company FiveFifty. Keeping pen and paper handy to record anything you may need to refer back to makes it easier to absorb all the information that is being thrown your way.

“Writing things down for future reference is one of the best ways I’ve witnessed new hires own their onboarding process. It’s important to ask the right questions, but it’s equally important to keep the answers handy,” he says. “That kind of person clearly feels responsible for their own success, which is good news for everyone.”

Learn everyone’s job.

If you treat your new job as a one-man show, you won’t gain a deeper understanding of the business — or how to do your own job well. That’s why Anthony DiFiore, president and owner of celebrity management and e-commerce solution Neverland Events & Artist Management Corp., likes to see employees breaking down silos.

“The most successful new team members are those who invest in learning how other departments work and how to perform the everyday tasks of their coworkers,” he says. “Those who complain that a task is not in their job description don’t climb the ladder, whereas an employee who understands the mechanics of the entire business is indispensable.”

Take initiative to improve processes.

Alex Fedorov, co-founder of boutique web design firm Fresh Tilled Soil, LLC, appreciates that a fresh set of eyes can offer a new perspective on how to improve the business. Even though it may be intimidating, don’t hesitate to speak up if you notice a change that would make processes run more smoothly.

“The biggest success stories I’ve seen are cases where a new hire listens and asks questions and then offers suggestions to better processes or outputs,” says Fedorov. “We had a pretty lousy employee onboarding process. We brought on an operations/HR person who went through it, documented everything she wished it was and immediately implemented it as a policy. The next few hires were impressed with how comprehensive the process was.”

Don’t be afraid to show your enthusiasm.

“We made a full-time offer to an intern, and he accepted the offer with an elaborate (and very entertaining) PowerPoint game show,” says Kevin Bretthauer, co-founder of fuel tracker app FuelCloud. While a game show presentation may not be your style, it doesn’t hurt to show how excited you are about the opportunity.

“Besides being a lot of fun for us, the PowerPoint showed us how enthusiastic he was about the team and the offer, and it got him off on the right foot,” he says. “When a new team member isn’t afraid to express themselves and their enthusiasm, we’re more excited to work with them.”