When I first started my blog, I wrote an article about the need for black professionals (although this advice can be applied to everyone) to keep receipts. I have even talked about this in other articles, especially when I shared how I dealt with a problematic co-worker or manager. In these cases, keeping receipts protected me.
In fact, the article, “Keep Those Receipts,” received so much attention both on my own blog and on Your Corporate Black Girl, that my previous manager brought it to my attention by trying to shame me into taking it offline. In short, she tried to accuse me that I was suggesting that employees shouldn’t trust human resources to deal with their problems (which if I am being honest, they shouldn’t or at the very least approach with caution). And this accusation wasn’t okay nor did it make sense because I myself worked in HR.
During that meeting, her words went into one ear and out the other; it was clear as the sky is blue that she didn’t even bother to read the article and just repeated what someone else had told her. I listened to her so-called “concerns” and kept the article published online, in fact, I continued to share it.
Here’s the irony, when I left the position (due to my manager throwing me under the bus), I was offered a 12 week severance pay in large part because my manager knew by virtue of the article, that I HAD been keeping documentation. How do I know this? Well, many companies aren’t required and often don’t pay severance to their employees (especially when they don’t have to or feel justified enough to do so) so when they do it's to prevent employees from suing them. In short, I had documentation to cover myself, my manager knew this, didn’t want a lawsuit, and offered severance as a means of playing nice. I will leave it at that.
That is a level of irony Alanis Morrissette would be proud of!
However, what I should have done in the previous article was discuss HOW to keep documentation and not just WHY. The why is simple, to protect yourself. The how? Well, let’s just say, I turned it into an art form.
A Step by Step Guide:
Communicate via Email: I always push hard to communicate and receive communication via email. That way there is no confusion about what was and wasn’t said. Even if I have a verbal conversation with someone, I am always within minutes documenting everything via email and sending it to them. Email copies of any important communications (praises from managers, time-off requests, pay raises requests, work issues, etc.) to your personal email or print out emails, scan them, and keep copies. Get into the habit of communicating electronically and organize your inbox to save and find important emails. Ex. Hello Sara, Per our conversation, I am going to follow up tomorrow with copies of the report. The report will contain the costs needed to make the purchases. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Keep Copies of Performance Reviews: Don’t rely on your manager to verbally praise or even criticize your work performance. Such things should be in writing and you need to request copies for your own records. A good manager shouldn’t have a problem with you doing this.
Take Pictures: At my last job, I received several awards including a handwritten letter from my manager praising my work. Of course, I can’t scan an award to my email, so I simply took pictures as documentation and added it to my resume. It worked just as well.
Utilize Screenshots: This is similar to the previous one, but sometimes you can’t always scan or print a document. That is where taking a screenshot works too. At one job, I took a screenshot of my time-off request which my manager approved, emailed it to myself (for a timestamp), and kept a copy. This came in handy when weeks later my manager tried to pull some BS by accusing me of not requesting off.
Record Conversations: Such a thing might be controversial for some but there are extreme times when it's necessary, especially if you are dealing with sexism, racism, and other forms of bigotry in the workplace. Only you know if this is needed but, it can greatly cover your butt should you need it. This reminds me of an article I read in the New York Times about this black banker who routinely dealt with racism towards himself and his black clients by his manager. He recorded his manager over the course of weeks, and when they fired him, he sued and won! If he hadn’t recorded those conversations, who would have believed him?
How Documentation Protects You
Keeps Everyone Honest
Protection Against Unfair Termination/Unfair Work Decisions
Supports EECO Actions
Allows Your to Negotiate a Severance (In event your employment is terminated)
Peace of Mind
To some, I might come across as an overreacting, paranoid untrusting woman who believes every manager or co-worker is out to get her. Yet, not only have I been burned before, I have witnessed and talked to others who have been as well. The common theme? They trusted their managers/coworkers to a fault and didn’t take the necessary steps to protect themselves, even when things were going bad.
Such is the sad reality of the workplace, made even sadder if you are a black professional in these environments where you are almost NEVER taken for your word. Documentation provides protection. Simple.
Lastly, just a friendly reminder, your manager is keeping documentation on you to justify employment decisions whether it’s to promote, transfer, demote. or terminate you. So, it’s only fair that you do the same as well.