Have you ever disliked a job so much you’ve wanted to quit- in a BIG way? Have you ever wanted to shout out your issues from the rooftops in one dramatic, cathartic moment? Maybe? Maybe not?
If you’re at all like Michael Stuban, a former employee of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, then you might just quit and give everyone a piece of your mind. According to the Washington Post, Stuban was asked to send an exit questionnaire to the HR department before he retired. Fulfilling this request, Stuban wrote a sharply worded review of his time with the company and then decided to share those thoughts with the entire agency- all 2,000 employees.
Stuban’s questionnaire voices that he was unhappy with what he described as “the phoneyness” of the organization. He also mentioned “that executive-level management is ‘out of touch with the average employees’ and ‘only looking out for themselves. Everything is a state secret, no input is asked from the [employees] until after decisions are made [and] employees are kept in the dark.’”
Stuban essentially blew the whistle on his agency’s tendency toward being a transactional workplace. In his opinion, upper level management was not doing what was good for self and other. They were also not being clear, eschewing the golden rule ethic for disclosure of information important for employees to make good decisions.
Stuban’s story is more evidence that transactional behavior leads to conflict in the workplace. Let’s look harder at what the situation says about being clear and how to be create a more relational workplace.
First of all, let’s look at whether it was appropriate for Stuban to air his grievances in the way that he did. Saul Logan, Chairman of the Turnpike Commission, certainly didn’t think so. To start with, his ethics of disclosure vary from Stuban’s. Logan notes that he was “’running a Billion-dollar, with a B, organization. We can’t put everything out there.” Logan has likely looked at the information that could be shared and decided what he was off limits for disclosure. Yes, there is information that is off limits for disclosure to employees, but also not off limits for disclosure to the management. The relational question lies in where you draw the line between what is okay disclosure and what is off limits- and why you draw the line where you do. You have to think hard about those questions in order to make a relational choice that will benefit both the company and also employees and management.
Logan also notes “I would love to have received that criticism in a more constructive way because it does make you think. Should I have communicated more frequently? That’s a valid point.” Which leads us to another question: were opportunities provided for Stuban and other employees to give constructive criticism in a way that made them feel they were actually being heard? It’s one thing to ask Stuban to email a questionnaire back to HR, but it’s another for the HR representative (or even the upper level executives) to sit down, face to face, and actually engage with the employees about their concerns. If the employees felt as though they were being heard, then one of them wouldn’t have to blast a scathing review to the entire company in order to get their point across.
Perhaps Stuban was extreme in his decision to go out in a firey blaze of criticism, but it’s an important reminder of the importance of relational leadership. When leaders are operating on the basis of providing what is best for both self and other, more of their employees feel like valued members of their organizations and fewer employees are likely to “cc” the entire office on an email of which the subject line is: “I QUIT!!”