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The more you sweep under the carpet, the bigger the lump over which you can stumble

The more you sweep under the carpet.....

Every director, manager and staff member wants to work in an environment where colleagues show trust in each other’s capabilities and show appreciation for each other’s skills.

Paul Hulshof


KPMG Nederland


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Hanging colourful cloths

The dream

Every director, manager and staff member wants to work in an environment where colleagues show trust in each other’s capabilities and show appreciation for each other’s skills. An environment in which colleagues can be confident that promises will be kept and everyone can assume that the behaviour on the work floor is in line with the organisation’s norms and values. In short, a pleasant, safe and stimulating environment to work in.

The cracks

The reality of a work environment does not always live up to this ideal picture. For example, recently we were asked by an organisation to investigate a surge in reports of inappropriate behaviour that suddenly seemed to crop up from everywhere: reports of sexual harassment, abuse of power, discrimination and alcohol abuse. During our investigation we discovered that current and former staff members had repeatedly made complaints about this in the past, but that the follow-up had been handled incorrectly. The complainants were first closely questioned and told that they had probably misinterpreted the situation. The staff members about whom the complaints were made were not held accountable to any meaningful extent, because they were seen as good employees, who were important to the team because of their knowledge, sales performance and experience. Sometimes, a colleague about whom several complaints had been received was transferred to another department, but the reason for the transfer was not communicated. As a result, the people in the department from which the colleague was transferred got the impression that the undesired behaviour had been tolerated by the management. The situation got from bad to worse. Staff members felt unsafe and there was a great deal of mutual distrust.

The glue

We organised meetings in which staff members could express their views on what constitutes good and bad behaviour. New standards of behaviour were determined and rules were agreed upon within teams. It was also made easier for staff members to make complaints, share dilemmas or report inappropriate behaviour. Officials were appointed to follow up on issues that are raised, and protocols were drawn up with lead times, feedback moments and reporting lines. In addition, the possible consequences of failing to adhere to the agreed rules were clearly communicated and the desired behaviour was explicitly included in the annual performance assessment system. Lastly, anonymised incidents and situations were shared more widely within the organisation in order to learn from them.

Over time, mutual trust returned. Trust is good, and adhering to agreed rules only makes things better.

Do you want to know if your organisation is properly addressing (non-)compliance with the applicable norms and rules? Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions; we are happy to discuss them with you.

© 2021 KPMG N.V., a Dutch limited liability company and a member firm of the KPMG global organization of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International Limited, a private English company limited by guarantee. All rights reserved.

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