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It’s necessary to change the dynamics of ‘reference system’ in jobs

Oyessorzo Rahman Chowdhury | Tuesday, 8 February 2022


Asking for references from supervisors is essentially empowering an already powerful group of people while making others more vulnerable. 

Apparently, companies do reference checks to get a better perspective of the candidate.

Nusrat Sharmin, an HR professional working in an e-commerce company based in Dhaka, pointed out a simple reason why they take references from supervisors.

“We take reference from supervisors because they directly observe their supervisees and know their strengths and weaknesses.”

Some organisations even go as far as to say they follow an enhanced screening process to ensure the people they hire will not involve themselves in any kind of misconduct, including sexual misdemeanour.

Employees are the main victims

Can that be obtained by only taking references from people who supervised them? Has it not been proven innumerable times that employees are more prone to be the victims of sexual harassment in the workplace than employers?

People are aware of the power a supervisor holds over a supervisee. Not all supervisors are the human versions of Lucifer, but undoubtedly a lot of them are.

Probably, these people too are just passing down the torture their supervisors are inflicting on them.

The supervisees endure the cruel behaviour of their supervisors throughout their time working under them and when they finally land another job (with a hope of a better supervisor), they have to go to that particular supervisor for a reference!

Seemingly, organisations want these supervisors not to only have power over their employees during their reign but also when the supervisees try to escape their grasp.

Certainly, the knowledge of this makes the supervisors feel more entitled to behave poorly with their subordinates. Because where can you go without a good reference?

Flattering culture

Abdus Salam (pseudonym), working in an INGO based in Dhaka, recollected, “One of my supervisors did not want me to leave the job even though it did not pay well. So, when I found a better job and asked for a reference, my supervisor left a horrible reference.”

Mr Salam did get the job though but came to know about it from the HR manager of the new organisation.

“The HR manager told me that my supervisor’s reference was so bad from top to bottom that they became doubtful of its genuineness. It seemed like the reference was written out of spite and so they offered me the job anyway.”

On one hand, taking references from supervisors makes them entitled, while on the other hand, it makes the supervisees embrace flattery.

“It makes me very uncomfortable. I have come across employees who tried to make me accept gifts just because their previous supervisors seemed to have liked the idea,” said Mr Rafiul Amin, a development professional.

Supervisors should have references from their supervisees

Why still in 2022, do organisations stick to references from past supervisors instead of also considering references from the people they manage?

These are the result of the existing referencing culture. How can organisations still comprehend what kind of a manager a candidate is without hearing from the employees they managed?

It is about time organisations asked for references from past supervisees or peers instead of just sticking to references from supervisors.

If someone is being taken on in a managerial role, the organisation should hear from their past employees and peers to know how well they managed their team before, and how well they behaved with their peers.

Not only will this enhance the screening process in the hiring system and give the organisation a complete picture of their chosen candidate, but also bring a balance to the power dynamics between the managers and those who are being managed.

On a more serious note, this would probably contribute to decreasing sexual harassment in the workplace. All these together will help build a better work environment for supervisors and supervisees alike.

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