Punk Rock HR Question #4: How Do I Ask A Politically Sensitive Question At Work?


Dear Laurie,

All full-time staff are required to attend Staff Day in October, and part-timers are encouraged to attend.

This year, the Big Boss is threatening to do something a little different, namely answer questions. These questions may be submitted anonymously. I really want to ask why training is not better coordinated, without of course giving myself away as the anonymous questioner. For example, after about a year on the job I was given tasks the doing of which took months of waiting for appointments for wisdom gathering sessions to be scheduled (and I’m still working on finding out what it is I still don’t know about actually doing the tasks). Which is totally absurd because the actual doing of the task took less than two hours. Five-six months to find out how to do a two-hour task?! Granted, there have been staff changes and such along the way that have hindered my training, and granted I am supposed to be a “professional” who should be proactive about tracking down what I need and who I need to speak to, but appointment scheduling paperwork has been lost and department heads have not responded to repeated requests for information: “Going through channels” was a lot of what took so long.

Any suggestions about how I sum up a year of hassle into a pithy question?



Dear DRF,

I hate anonymous Q&A sessions. These sessions propagate a passive-aggressive culture and create an atmosphere where very important questions become loaded, political, and asked under the cover of anonymity. Unless you work for the government of Iran, you should feel empowered to ask questions about training and development in a less veiled manner.

To answer your question:

It’s easy to ask your question in a vague way that conceals your identity; however, you will get a tremendously vague and totally useless answer. You could ask, “Why isn’t there more focus on training for new hires? It’s my experience that we don’t spend enough time focusing on training in the beginning of the employment life cycle and we are working in an inefficient way. My concerns are shared by others, as well.”

Your Big Boss will respond, “If you’re not getting what you need to do your job efficiently, talk to your supervisor and escalate your concerns. I have an open door, too, and I would love to talk to the person who submitted this question to learn more about the concern. We can develop a plan to address the issues at hand.”

(Or something like that.)

I have some bad news for you, DRF. It’s tough enough to change a work environment through direct and honest conversation; you absolutely cannot affect change through anonymous Q&A. This session, if it follows the norm, will be too short, overly staged, and kind of boring. It will be both a non-event and a forum for whiners.

I think it’s more effective to think about your experiences as a new, part-time colleague and then schedule some time with your supervisor or the Big Boss to share those experiences. What would have made your life easier over the past year? Right off the bat, it sounds like you need a couple of things:

  • A buddy system for new hires.
  • A knowledge base and/or a series of FAQ documents where people can train themselves to complete task-oriented work.
  • More communication with management and the Big Boss (open lunches, coffee sessions, etc.) so that it doesn’t take a year to escalate concerns about unproductive training processes.

Nothing may come of those one-on-one sessions except for the fact that you look like an adult who is willing to speak directly to the management team and offer constructive criticism and thoughtful, practical solutions. You’ll be far ahead of most of your colleagues at work.

If you don’t have a strong relationship with your supervisor or the Big Boss, start off slowly by introducing yourself. Bump into your supervisor or the Big Boss in the hallway and say hello. Ask for fifteen minutes on his/her calendar, and be prepared in that short session to establish yourself as someone who loves her job and wants to make it better.
Good Luck!


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