The importance of Documenting a Work Environment from your first day of employment
Updated: Nov 28, 2022
In this blog post, I am going to explain why documentation is the most important thing you should do when you start a new job and how to document your workplace.
I chat with potential clients via discovery calls about problematic and often discriminatory work environments daily. More often than not, they have documented little to nothing about their workplace but they have high hopes about leaving with a separation with severance.
Here is the honest truth: the chances of successfully negotiating a separation with severance without documentation are very slim.
The good news is that you can start documentation even in the midst of strategically mapping your exit, however, there is a more effective time to start.
What is documentation of a workplace? It is the gathering of specific information, evidence, and materials, that describe your workplace and provide a record of the work environment.
Documentation is the thing that most of my potential clients admit that they have not done when they contact me. They want to leave their discriminatory workplace but they have done little to position themselves to do so successfully because they have little to no records to prove their workplace is discriminatory.
Unfortunately, most people do not think about documentation until things get very, very bad or they never think about it until they talk to someone like me or an attorney and they are asked “do you have any documentation of the events, circumstances, or situation you are describing to me.”?
The failure to document a work environment as early as possible is probably the biggest mistake you can make when you start a new job. It is an important practice to put in place from frankly your first day.
After my first encounter with a discriminatory and hostile work environment, I started documenting at work from the very beginning. I was so traumatized from the first experience I wanted to do all I could to make sure I had proof if anything similar ever happened to me again and sadly it did, more than once. But the next time I was much more prepared than the first.
Documenting your workplace is simple to do. Invest in a journal and keep organized records of your workplace. Write down incidents with descriptions, dates, and the name of those involved as close as possible to when they occur. Ensure you retain copies of your performance reviews. Take notes at meetings with your manager and keep them in or with your journal. Retain copies of pertinent emails between you and your manager especially those relevant to your performance or key work deliverables.
It’s important that from the time you start a job you begin journaling and documenting your work environment. This may seem odd but stay with me for a minute.
If you are a person of color, specifically if you are black and a woman in the American workplace it is not a matter of if you’re going to experience discrimination at work it’s just a matter of when.
That is the sad reality so it’s best to stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.
If you have put into practice documentation of your work environment you will have no problem going to HR when and in necessary and presenting your concerns in an organized manner.
There is nothing that gets HR’s attention better than an employee who is well armed with the facts and proof of discrimination at work.
Being able to document and effectively present your concerns to HR increases the likelihood of your being able to cash out early i.e., get separation with severance and walk away.
So, do not start documenting when things get very bad at work, start documenting from the very first day of work.
Get a documentation journal and start writing down occurrences at the end of each week. If something seems off or odd to you write about it. The occurrence might not always be an event that happens to you directly. It might be an incident that happens to a coworker. But if it reflects discrimination, bullying or hostility in the workplace, write it down in detail in your journal. Writing about it may help you illustrate a problematic pattern of behavior when eventually it comes around to you.
For example, if when you joined a team, you were told that you would not be able to get a raise until your first annual review, but then your white colleague who started three months after you got a salary increase within three months of arrival without a promotion or lateral change in job description --- that’s something you should write about in your journal. You might also inquire about how that happened with HR and your manager and document the response you receive.
Regular and consistent documentation of your work environment will always serve you well when you need to raise concerns about discrimination or other hostile and toxic behaviors in the workplace. It will be much more effective than trying to document things after the fact long after they occurred and when your memory of them is not as clear.
Documentation in real-time puts you in the best possible position to effectively raise concerns about discrimination at work and get HR to take you seriously. Having names, dates, emails, and clear descriptions of events behaviors, and participants in the behavior is very effective when dealing with HR.
I strongly recommend that if you haven’t been documenting your workplace, you start today.
I created the Hostile Work Environment Escape Strategy Documentation Journal and planner for that purpose. It’s not just a journal with lines for notes, it also provides a monthly planner and prompts, reminders, and definitions of specific problematic workplace occurrences that people of color, and specifically Black Women, should look out for in the workplace.
Grab yours and start documenting your work environment today!
Remember: if you see something problematic in the workplace whether it happens to you or someone else writes it down. Describe it in detail in your journal.
Documentation: do it. Do it early, Do it Often.
If you need advice or coaching on effectively documenting your workplace, book an HR consulting & advice session with me.
If you need help navigating a discriminatory hostile work environment, or you want to get out of one, perhaps with even some severance pay, Book an HWEES Discovery Call.
If you need help navigating a discriminatory hostile work environment, or you want to get out of one, perhaps with some severance pay, Book a HWEES Discovery Call.
For more tips about navigating and escaping difficult HR situations,
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I am the AntiHR, HRLady and I’m here to help.