Sometimes “Proof” is just another word for letting people suffer!

I’m a formally trained and educated human resource professional. I’m a leader in my organization. I understand risk really well.

What I see far too often, and it seems like it’s happening more frequently, not less, in organizations are we (HR pros and leaders) are looking for defining proof before we are willing to do something about something that is wrong.

Malcolm Gladwell on this podcast Revisionist History said this quote:

“Sometimes “Proof” is just another word for letting people suffer.”

Think about that for a moment.

Many times we know something is going on is wrong, but we don’t have ‘proof’. We don’t have real proof of this wrongdoing, but we know with every part of our being that someone is being wronged. So, we do nothing. We let people suffer because we lack proof.

Proof is what most HR pros and leaders will hang their hat on. A great HR pro and leader won’t do anything without proof! We are trained and educated to have proof. Without proof, legally, we put ourselves in a risky position.

Here is my challenge to you.

Stop letting people suffer due to lack of proof. You have employees who are suffering and you are hiding behind lack of proof as a reason and it’s wrong.

Yes, you don’t have proof, and, yes, this might come back and bite you, but at some point, we have a foundational requirement to help others who are suffering, even if it gets us in trouble.

I’m willing to be fired for trying to do the right thing. I’m not willing to work in a career that allows people to suffer because I can’t ‘prove’ something. Hundreds of athletes get molested by a doctor because we don’t have proof. A hiring manager is racist but we don’t have proof. A co-worker is harassing another employee but we don’t have proof. Your CEO is a misogynist but you don’t have proof.

Sometimes “proof” is just another word for letting people suffer…

Who is suffering in your organization today?

6 thoughts on “Sometimes “Proof” is just another word for letting people suffer!

  1. “I’m willing to be fired for trying to do the right thing.”

    Be careful before you assert that presuming guilt until innocence is proven in the context of a final judgment is indeed the right thing. As Suzanne Lucas pointed out, the standard you have set would be enough for her to destroy your career by asserting: “Sackett is a misogynist, so don’t read him.”

  2. As an HR professional, I must be willing to confront employee suffering and formulate a solution. The response should be performed professionally. But there is always a chance things can go sideways for me. Even so, doing the right thing trumps doing nothing. I have been put in this position and it cost me dearly. But I wouldn’t trade my conscious for my advantageous financial position.

    • Right on. My favorite “writing on the wall” from Who Moved My Cheese is “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?”

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