Who Deserves Access to Information in the Workplace?

The information you receive as an employee from your boss, and your boss’ boss, is a sign of respect, and sometimes of power. Many of us have had the experience (and continue to have it) of being told at the last minute about something that would affect our work. It leaves you feeling like a lowly creature—like one of many serfs living on land owned by a feudal lord whose name you know, but whom you’ve never met.

I thought only middling corporate employees experienced this, but it even happened to talk show host Kelly Ripa a few weeks ago, when she was blindsided by the announcement of her co-host’s departure. It had been leaked to the tabloids before she was told directly by her bosses. I came across this response from her, which was featured in People magazine: “I think that all people are deserving of fair treatment in the workplace. People deserve respect. People should be treated equally and with dignity.”

At my own company, I find myself continuously told at the last possible moment about advertising sponsorship deals that promise work from me. I don’t mind that my bosses are promising work from me—that’s to be expected as part of the job—but I’m bothered that I’m only brought into the deal at the very last minute, rather than being a part of the earlier conversations. In addition to making it harder for me to do my job, I’m left feeling like a child who is deemed too unintelligent or unsophisticated, or untrusted, to have access to the information earlier. It’s also stupid from the boss’ perspective, as bringing me into the conversation earlier could yield better ideas and planning about how to deliver the best possible results for the sponsors.

It’s not just an accident when employees of any kind—talk show host or corporate worker bee—are brought in at the last minute when important decisions, or deals, are made. It’s a way for the boss, or maybe a rival employee, to be dominant and wield power by limiting access to information. My boss, as I’ve written in previous blog entries, seems to deliberately shut me out of meetings. He believes he is securing his own position by keeping me as low profile as possible, and that he is staying dominant by having access to information I’m denied.

Access to information is what people need to advance and prove themselves. When employees are brought into important conversations early, they have the opportunity to contribute ideas and influence how plans are implemented. When they are brought in at the last minute, they are left in a helpless position. The decisions have already been made, and the plans are in place, with the employee’s job at that point to just smile, nod, and say, “Yes.”

Are there any patterns to the people at your company who often are left out of the conversation during the planning stages? I don’t know if it’s playing the “woman’s card” to wonder about this, but I do wonder if it was a coincidence that it was a high-profile woman talk show host, and not a man, who experienced being embarrassingly left out of the loop. There’s no way of knowing for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a pattern across the corporate world of male employees being granted greater access to information earlier than their female counterparts. Much like women having less chance of not just asking for a pay raise, but of actually getting one, information access is another tool that can be used to keep a person in her place. It may not be something companies are consciously doing, but it may be an unconscious prejudice that makes it more likely male employees will be told earlier in the planning process about business decisions that will affect their work lives.

Do you think it would be worthwhile for your company to look at patterns of who attends planning meetings, and see what kind of male-to-female distribution exists, and what the distribution is like at the employee rank or level? For instance, do the majority of planning meetings only involve department heads or executive-level employees, and of those employees, how many are male and how many female? It may be that while you need to keep the earliest meetings confidential with just a small circle of executives in the know, access to the planning stages of business deals could be opened up earlier in the process—maybe much earlier.

Employees, particularly Millennials, want to feel engaged in the work they do, and with their employer. It’s hard to feel engaged, and that you have a stake in the company, when you’re sent the message that you’re just there to follow orders, after the most important conversations and decisions already have been made.

Who has access to information at your company? What information can only a small pool of employees have access to, and what can be shared with a much larger distribution of employees? How do you ensure that employees are treated with respect in how (and with whom) information is shared?


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