Navigating Workplace Challenges with Kimberly Williams

Episode Art


This episode features a conversation with Kimberly Williams, the VP of People for Walker Advertising, discussing the nuances of workplace dynamics, the impact of toxic environments, and strategies for addressing discrimination, harassment, and stress. Williams shares her extensive HR experience, emphasizing the importance of handling workplace complaints effectively, leveraging FMLA for mental health issues, and the evolution of workplace attitudes towards stress and mental health post-pandemic. The conversation also touches on the role of HR in advocating for employee rights, the significance of creating psychologically safe work environments, and the necessity of open discussions about workplace safety and employee well-being. Additionally, Williams highlights the potential of social media in changing workplace cultures and offers resources for those seeking legal assistance in labor and employment issues.


00:00 Exploring FMLA and Mental Health in the Workplace

01:30 The Power of Education and Self-Reflection

02:21 Introducing Kimberly Williams: A Journey Through HR and Personal Challenges

04:26 Navigating Toxic Work Environments and Discrimination

06:03 Strategies for Addressing Workplace Conflicts and Toxicity

11:38 The Importance of Documentation and When to Seek External Help

13:57 Leveraging Union Support and Understanding Workplace Dynamics

16:08 Separating Work from Personal Life and Managing Workplace Stress

20:05 Advocating for Workplace Safety and Mental Health Awareness

26:18 Kimberly’s Call to Action and Closing Thoughts

Title: Navigating Workplace Challenges with Kimberly Williams: A Discussion on Advocacy and Empowerment

As we navigate the complexities of the modern workforce, it's essential to address the challenges that arise, especially in toxic environments. In a recent podcast episode on the Dead America Podcast, Kimberly Williams, VP of People for Walker Advertising, shared valuable insights on advocating for workplace safety and empowering individuals to address toxic behaviors effectively.


### Recognizing the Importance of Mental Health in the Workplace

Kimberly highlighted the significance of mental health issues in the workplace and how they are often overlooked. By discussing the impact of stress-related claims and advocating for resources like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Kimberly emphasized the importance of prioritizing mental health and seeking proper support.


### Empowering Individuals to Speak Up Against Toxic Behaviors

In the discussion with Ed Watters, Kimberly discussed the challenges individuals face when dealing with toxic workplace environments and the importance of finding the courage to address them. She emphasized the power of initiating calm conversations with employers and leveraging performance analytics to drive change and address toxic behaviors effectively.


### Advocating for Change and Empowering HR Professionals

One significant yet often overlooked aspect discussed was the challenges faced by HR professionals in advocating for employees and addressing toxic behaviors within organizations. Kimberly emphasized the need for HR empowerment and recognition to facilitate meaningful change and create safer work environments for all employees.


### Taking Action and Seeking Support

Kimberly provided practical advice on seeking external support, engaging with unions, and escalating concerns when necessary. By advocating for written communication and leveraging external resources like legal services, Kimberly encouraged individuals to take proactive steps to address workplace challenges effectively.


### Promoting a Culture of Empowerment and Advocacy

Through her work and advocacy efforts, Kimberly highlighted the importance of promoting a culture of empowerment and fostering open conversations about workplace challenges. By encouraging individuals to share their experiences and seek support, Kimberly aims to create a safer and more inclusive work environment for all.

In conclusion, Kimberly Williams's insights serve as a valuable guide for navigating workplace challenges, advocating for change, and promoting a culture of empowerment. By prioritizing mental health, speaking up against toxic behaviors, and seeking necessary support, individuals can foster a safer and more conducive work environment for all. Join us in advocating for workplace safety and empowerment, and let's work together to create a better and healthier work environment for everyone.


This blog post encapsulates the enriching discussion between Kimberly Williams and Ed Watters on the Dead America Podcast, highlighting the importance of advocacy, empowerment, and addressing toxic behaviors in the workplace.

Kimberly Williams

[00:00:00] Kimberly Williams: And I think in, in some ways the FMLA could be a good path there because, you know, when your doctor writes you a note, your company can't ask why you're taking that time off. Your doctor doesn't have to specify that it's mental illness. They just say that they're taking you off work for two weeks, four weeks, you know, um, however much time you need.

[00:00:25] And, you know, and as horrible as the pandemic was, I do think that that has really changed the workforce in terms of how it views stress related claims. I think prior to that time, it was very difficult to prove that, you know, your nightmare boss may be the cause of what's going on. But, you know, so many more conversations and, you know, so much more recognition of how physically taxing, you know, mental health issues can be and stress can be. That our awareness is so different, that it's, it's a different space now.

[00:00:57] And so I definitely think you have nothing to lose, you know, by contacting your doctor. And, you know, if you are an employee who has a bank of leave, you know, that's a job protection for you. And I've even seen people in really extreme circumstances go for the full twelve weeks of FMLA if they've got leave to keep that pay coming. Um, and so, and then, you know, you can look at workers comp options, it's going to vary from place to place. Um, but, you know, definitely worth exploring there too.

[00:01:30] Ed Watters: To overcome, you must educate. Educate not only yourself, but educate anyone seeking to learn. We are all Dead America, we can all learn something. To learn, we must challenge what we already understand. The way we do that is through conversation. Sometimes we have conversations with others, however, some of the best conversations happen with ourself. Reach out and challenge yoyourself; let's dive in and learn something right now.

[00:02:21] Today we are speaking with Kimberly Williams, she is the VP of People for Walker Advertising. Kimberly, could you please introduce yourself and let people know a little bit more about you, please?

[00:02:34] Kimberly Williams: Yeah, happy to. I'm glad to be here. Um, thank you for the opportunity to speak today. Um, I've worked in HR for quite a long time. Um, and a lot of my focus has been kind of on, um, employee relations, you know, workplace investigations, either managing those kind of engaging in discrimination, harassment complaints and doing that for a number of years. And then a couple of years ago, it ended up happening to me, you know, where I became a target in a harassment claim.

[00:03:05] And it was a very interesting spot because at the time I was chief of HR and I was dealing with the, the, the chief executive for the organization. And, um, I was a new employee and had learned that this had been going on for quite some time. And I ended up being kind of alone in the process. And so it just really opened me up to this whole other world in terms of how many millions of people are experiencing this,

[00:03:30] um, how many people are not having, you know, the support they need through this type of thing. And, and really looking at a lot of the bad advice out there and, and wanting to change that and wanting to talk more from kind of an HR perspective on, you know, how folks can help themselves in this type of process.

[00:03:50] Ed Watters: It's very interesting what you've done in your life and you've got a lot of experience behind you. This, this brings us to a point in time where our world is a different place from when I grew up. And the work environment, it's changed dramatically. With all the competition for jobs out there and there's only one, maybe two people that get this position out of thousands. This competition, how often does that promote toxic workplace environments?

[00:04:36] Kimberly Williams: Yeah. Well, I think, um, it does lead into that, that competition for sure. Because I think what can end up happening is when people get in the space where they're looking for something like them, you know, and they're not challenging themselves, but they're thinking, Oh, this person feels really good, something just feels right about them. When they're not following a particular set of processes, then out of those thousands of people, the one that mirrors you can kind of automatically rise to the top. And when you look at organizations that, you know, where we have like established demographics who kind of run these, it can kind of foster more and more of like minded or similar individuals getting more opportunities or unfair shakes at things than other folks can.

[00:05:22] And then as that kind of moves down the road, you start to see kind of disparities on who's at the top, and who's on the bottom, who has access to opportunity, who doesn't. And so you really have to make a lot of conscious effort into your recruitment processes, your interviewing processes, making sure people are doing the hard work of being self aware. Questioning, you know, why am I drawn to this person versus that person? And what that can mean for the whole ecosystem, um, when you're looking at that.

[00:05:51] Ed Watters: Yeah, so oftentimes we find ourselves working with people that we don't agree with. And sometimes that's your boss and that brings these conflicts. How do we manage that the proper way? Because I've walked out myself on those situations just to save myself a lot of issues. But I know in my heart I shouldn't have walked out, I should have stood up to it and brought this to the table. How do we find the courage and how do we do it properly? So we know we've got a good chance at winning these cases.

[00:06:35] Kimberly Williams: I love that question and it really does get to the, the heart of what we talk about with a lot of that stuff. Because there's so much fear and there's so much silence that's been out there. You know, I, I look at this through the lens of, you know, I'm someone in my fifties and in my generation when you entered the workforce it was, you know, somebody said jump, you said how high? You didn't question anything. And

[00:06:55] Ed Watters: That's right.

[00:06:56] Kimberly Williams: there was kind of this silent understanding that, you know, we didn't form hard words around. Sometimes when we have abuse in power dynamics, there usually is a missing vocabulary there. Which can make it even more challenging to figure out how to address it. So we just kind of scan the world and we say, oh, okay, people who look like this get this kind of privilege. People who look like me, maybe not. And so on and so on. And so, you know, you've got the lack of words and then you've got what feels like this huge, heavy kind of societal reinforcement on some of those things. And a lot of times when you're on the lower end of that power dynamic, you may be carrying some of that stuff in there into these conversations. Which can help build up our own fear.

[00:07:38] Um, you know, in HR, you deal with a lot of emotion and, you know, because understandably your, your job ties to everything in your life. You know, ties into where you're going to eat dinner tonight, where your kids will go to school, all of that. So it gets, it's pretty emotionally loaded. Um, but a lot of this stuff really is an inside job. And so when I know that I'm having to get in and have a hard conversation under any set of circumstances, um, I'll take ten or fifteen minutes beforehand and I get very, very quiet, I try and control my breathing,

[00:08:09] I try to make sure that I'm doing everything I can to walk in with as much calm as possible. Um, a lot of times when I prep for these types of meetings too, I'm putting together like a just the facts ma'am kind of outline of things. So that I'm going through a mental exercise of removing color, removing adjectives, and just getting to the heart of, hey, X happened, and this is the result.

[00:08:35] What do we want to do about that? Um, but I think if you can kind of get through those two things, it can be way more powerful than people may realize when you walk into those conversations to bring the temperature down and help everybody hear each other.

[00:08:51] Ed Watters: If, if you are in the workplace, say I'm a male and I'm witnessing some abuse and nothing's being said, people don't like whistleblowers anymore and troublemaker's what I've always been told. But, you know, if you're witnessing some sort of toxic behavior going on, what's the proper step for you to address that, for a co worker that might not have the gall to stand up and say something about it? Who should you address first and how should we proceed with that? Should you talk to the individual receiving the toxic behavior or should you go straight to management?

[00:09:46] Kimberly Williams: In my experience, I've gone straight to management. So in any case where I have seen that, and I have, and it has been tricky in the sense that, you know, I remember being at a very public meeting on the record and one of [00:10:00] my board supervisors made a racist comment. And, and so this was out there in front of everyone. And so, you know, I didn't stop the meeting but as soon as it was over, I immediately asked for a meeting and came and knocked on the door and said, Hey, this happened. This really was not okay,

[00:10:18] this did a lot of damage. You know, it's unlawful, um, it doesn't create psychological safety for any of your employees. And, you know, it wasn't an easy conversation to have but, you know, I also consider that part of my job. But I think anytime where you are more safe than someone, someone else and you recognize that, um, it's definitely important to seek those opportunities to do that and, and start engaging in that conversation. And then if you get any pushback, that's when you want to try and loop in HR, you know, to, to say, We need to have a record here, we need to follow up here. And in some cases too, they may go back to the original person that it's happened to.

[00:10:57] They really should and say, Hey, we were made aware that this horrible thing happened. Um, we've addressed it, we want you to know you're safe here. And if anything else happens, please comes to us so that we can address this directly. Um, but typically, it's, it's, it's just preferred to, to address it as quickly as possible and not let it fester, not let it hang out there and, and send that silent message that this is okay kind of behavior.

[00:11:26] Ed Watters: Yeah. So these things can really get heated and people can really feel mistreated on both sides, and you've been on both sides. So when do we take it external, outside of the company? How do we know when we should just back off and say, Okay, let's seek help from external forces?

[00:11:56] Kimberly Williams: As much as possible, I really like for folks to put things in writing. Now, I understand that that can be scary for certain individuals. That goes beyond a conversation, it can feel higher stakes, it is higher stakes. Um, but it's so much more powerful than just stating something because anybody can get into he said, she said, Oh, this isn't what was said. But no one can dispute an email. And your company is going to evaluate their next steps based on how you show up, how you present yourself.

[00:12:28] And so if they get, you know, a very calm, clear email saying, Hey, this bad thing happened, here's company policy that I copied and pasted from your handbook saying that this is how you're going to address it, I'm asking you to do this because this is impacting my ability to do my job, in there. And you know, whether they do anything or not, it's going to make somebody uncomfortable in HR

[00:12:54] management. And if they continue to ignore you at that point after you brought it to their attention and it's now on the record that they're ignoring it or you feel like they're retaliating and treating you differently now since you've sent that message, definitely get that outside of the company walls. You know, file an EEOC complaint, you know, loop in an attorney in your, your area.

[00:13:16] A lot of states now have like a state jurisdiction of civil rights. Um, if your state does have that, I usually recommend them more than the EEOC because they tend to have more teeth, they tend to have a faster timeline that they can work through. And so they'll send a letter to your employer saying, We're going to conduct an investigation, and nobody likes getting those letters, and so it's going

[00:13:39] Ed Watters: Yeah.

[00:13:39] Kimberly Williams: to put them in a position where they're going to have to respond.

[00:13:43] Ed Watters: Interesting. So how do we initiate contact to others to help us with this? Say, say you work for an union and unions can get very tricky when you deal with them and sometimes you need that support. How, how do we get the support of the union and the people that actually understand how to progress forward?

[00:14:20] Kimberly Williams: Yeah. And so, you know, for my time in California, working a lot with unions, a lot of, you know, SEIU, and, and I had the good fortune of working with really wonderful reps who were really strong advocates for their people. And so hopefully that's the case there. But, you know, just like anything, it may not be, you know? Sometimes there's good ones, sometimes there's bad ones.

[00:14:41] And so, you know, as a union member, hopefully you're taking advantage of that right. You know, you're paying those dues and, you know, you definitely want to be seeking out and asking for guidance and support through something like this. But you can also take actions independent of them and you can also escalate within those organizations, a lot of them tie into big national groups.

[00:15:00] And so if you feel like your local rep is not helping you, you know, maybe consider taking it a step further and working up their own chain of command until you get someone that you feel like, um, maybe helping you a little bit more. Um, but none of that precludes you, you know, from seeking federal protections, you know, if, if, if it aligns with that, to go and file with something else at the same time.

[00:15:25] Ed Watters: Yeah. It's, it's interesting how complicated a job can be. It's, it's a dedication that you need to put into your life because that determines your end of life. And if we don't know these tricks and tactics to get through it day to day sometimes, it can be devastating to not only ourselves, but our family and the people that we're around. So working in a toxic environment can actually cause toxic environments elsewhere. How do we separate the work from the home and the private life and keep those separate? And know that if, if we are breaching those areas we shouldn't be, how do we stop and go back to keeping those separated?

[00:16:27] Kimberly Williams: Yeah, I think that's a really great point. And I think it's so important to, to realize how serious this is. You know, when your job is threatening, it is, that is a traumatic event. It is, in some cases, it can feel like a life threatening event, you know, depending on the economy and what else is going on around you.

[00:16:46] Ed Watters: Yes.

[00:16:46] Kimberly Williams: So I think it's so important to not minimize that. And, and to, you know, just like if you broke your leg, you're not going to be like, Oh, I'll get over that. I'll walk that off. It's, it, to me, it's no different, you know? And so look at the resources that are available. If your organization has an employee assistance program, call them. If your insurance has mental health support, call them. Call your primary care physician and say, I'm going through a nightmare situation at work,

[00:17:13] my cortisol is pumping all the time. You know, and, and get meds if you're comfortable with that, get therapy if you're comfortable with that, but get, you know, treatment that is worthy of the, you know, seriousness of what is going on. And also recognize, too, that by having your doctor involved, you know, if you've been there long enough and you qualify for FMLA and you're like, Doc, this job is killing me,

[00:17:37] they may write you a note for taking two weeks off so that you can get that break and heal a little bit. And that can be something available to you. And those medical records, in some cases, can even be the basis of a worker's comp claim. If it's job related stress that is now starting to impact your life in a way that, you know, I think can be an important thing for people to consider.

[00:18:01] Ed Watters: That's interesting, you know, because, uh, I've, I've witnessed that a lot where, you know, the job can really take its toll. And really, there is a big pushback whenever that comes up in the workforce. If you've got a mental health issue, you don't get the time to deal with it properly. I, I wonder how effective it would be if we had legislation to put that into our, you know, workforce and job related instances.

[00:18:44] Kimberly Williams: Yeah. And I think in some ways the FMLA could be a good path there because, you know, when your doctor writes you a note, your company can't ask why you're taking that time off. Your doctor doesn't have to specify that it's mental illness. They just say that they're taking you off work for two weeks, four weeks, you know, um, however much time you need.

[00:19:04] And, you know, and as horrible as the pandemic was, I do think that that has really changed the workforce in terms of how it views stress related claims. I think prior to that time, it was very difficult to prove that, you know, your nightmare boss may be the cause of what's going on. But, you know, so many more conversations and, you know, so much more recognition of how physically

[00:19:28] taxing, you know, mental health issues can be and stress can be. That our awareness is so different that it's, it's a different space now. And so I definitely think that you have nothing to lose, you know, by contacting your doctor. And, you know, if you are an employee who has a bank of leave, you know, that's a job protection for you. And I've even seen people in really extreme circumstances go for the full twelve weeks of FMLA if they've got leave to keep that pay coming. Um, and so, and then, you know, you can look at workers comp options. It's going to vary from place to [00:20:00] place, um, but, you know, definitely worth exploring there too.

[00:20:04] Ed Watters: Yeah. So advocation, I, I really feel that we need more people advocating workplace safety. Because really that's what I feel it is, workplace safety. We have OSHA, you know, but they don't really look into these types of instances where mental health is a workplace safety. Because if you're kind of off in some instances that could be dangerous in many ways to many people. So,

[00:20:46] Kimberly Williams: You're exactly right, yeah. Or if people are calling out because of they're avoiding a toxic environment and a few employees that are left are having to take over more and more physical responsibilities

[00:20:58] Ed Watters: Yes.

[00:20:58] Kimberly Williams: in that absence. It can impact them, too.

[00:21:00] Ed Watters: Yeah.

[00:21:00] Kimberly Williams: Yeah.

[00:21:00] Ed Watters: So what's the best way to advocate for that and adjust the system the way it is? Because the set status quo is really not the best way to do business. And changing the minds of people to see what these toxic behaviors do in the big picture, how do we start to advocate for that?

[00:21:29] Kimberly Williams: I think one brave conversation at a time and talking about it when you are in a calm space, you know, where, Hey boss, you know? Not at a moment of tension, but like, I'm aware of this, are you thinking of this? Because, you know, you look at climate surveys, like Glassdoor did one not too long ago where three out of five American workers have experienced discrimination or seen it, you know, that tells you a lot about what's going on in our workplaces and the psychological safety that is there.

[00:22:01] And so maybe using some of these news stories as a catalyst for a conversation so that it's out there and it's comfortable. And I think, you know, talking about our feelings, you know? And, and struggling through those words and say, I really care about this stuff, I want to know I work for a company that cares about this stuff too.

[00:22:19] What are we doing, you know? And, and asking in kind of those, um, calm ways. But I also think, you know, your HR shops are getting better and better at people analytics and performance analytics. And those numbers can be really powerful, you know, um, we talk sometimes about like the high cost of the brilliant jerk.

[00:22:37] So say you've got, you know, Tom is really, really mean, but he's a great salesperson who brings in a million dollars a year and so they don't want to fire Tom. And, and, you know, well, he's mean to everyone. So he's not just picking on women or, you know, people of color. So it's not unlawful, so we're just going to ignore Tom.

[00:22:56] But if Tom works with ten individuals who go through hell every day working with Tom, they're not giving you a hundred percent. So at best, they may be giving you sixty percent. So you can now take those ten salaries, take forty percent of those ten salaries, and is he making you more money than you're losing there? And so sometimes framing it that way really can kind of get people's attention too.

[00:23:21] Ed Watters: I like that a lot because people don't extrapolate things like that, and they really need to break it down. It's kind of interesting. So in your experience, what is the most overlooked experiences in the workforce that people have to deal with?

[00:23:43] Kimberly Williams: I think one big secret that's out there that I've grown aware of is, um, how much retaliation HR faces and how disempowered they can be. Um, a lot of times they're the face of the bad news. You know, like I'm VP of people, why am I VP of people? Because everyone hates HR and so we changed our name. But, you know, at the end of the day, a lot of times in these private chats and in like closed circles there's a lot of pain in HR land. Where you've got a lot of HR chiefs who, you know, are personally suffering, that they know things are wrong, that they're trying to fight uphill, they're trying to fight in a power dynamic where they're not being heard or listened to. And, you know, they're trying to manage that as well. Um, so one thing I would love to see is, you know, more recognition because I think if an employee knows that their HR is not empowered, the stronger you present your case, the more that helps them manage up beyond them and that also can end up helping you. Um, but hopefully, to help encourage shifts in the profession, you know, which I think are really needed right now.

[00:24:57] Ed Watters: Yeah. So what's your opinion on profit before people?

[00:25:05] Kimberly Williams: I think it doesn't have to be mutually exclusive, you know? And I think a lot of times, you know, especially as we're entering into a world where talent is everything, the brain power of your people is everything, innovation and new ideas, that is your people. And there is no profit without them. And so,

[00:25:24] Ed Watters: That's right.

[00:25:24] Kimberly Williams: you know, and a lot of times in HR, you'll see that too, where protecting the company for a long time has meant protecting the boss. And I really don't believe that either, you know? In, and the lawsuits we're seeing today, it can destroy you if you're not protecting your people, you know? You could be one viral Tik Tok away from your business going under, you know? Or

[00:25:48] Ed Watters: Yeah.

[00:25:48] Kimberly Williams: one discrimination lawsuit can be hundreds of millions of dollars all because you wouldn't protect somebody, you know? So I do think the two are intertwined.

[00:26:01] Ed Watters: So actually the social media is changing things because people are actually identifying with each other. So I think that's a very positive thing that you just highlighted there. Great, great.

[00:26:15] Kimberly Williams: I do, too. Yeah.

[00:26:18] Ed Watters: So do you have a call to action for our people today, Kimberly?

[00:26:22] Kimberly Williams: Yeah, you know, um, I'm on LinkedIn writing about this stuff all the time. Um, I have a link on my profile that, you know, you can connect for free resources. So, you know, my employer, Walker Advertising, uh, we have a twenty-four hour call center, um, that will connect people to legal services in their state. There's no charge for this. Um, we work with labor and employment attorneys who work on a contingency basis, meaning that, you know, they're set up to only take a fee if they win something for you.

[00:26:54] It costs nothing to call if you feel like you need help. Um, but a lot of times, you know, I like to highlight folks, you know, major court cases, things that can empower employees and the conversations they're having. Talking about my own experiences, talking about the experiences of others, and really trying to build a community where people feel safer to talk. Because in our dream world, that would be it. We'd prevent all this bad stuff from happening and

[00:27:20] Ed Watters: That's right.

[00:27:20] Kimberly Williams: people could just go to work and feel, feel safe and just focus on doing the job and coming home and taking care of their, their families and themselves. And so, um, but I think that can't get there until we start talking about it. And I know millions of people are hurting and I just would love to figure out more ways to help them, um, communicate through that.

[00:27:41] Ed Watters: Kimberly, I think you're doing it right through these podcasts. It's a great way to highlight what's going on in our world. And it's great to see people like you out there helping people understand the difficulties in life. I appreciate you so much. And most of all, thanks for being on the Dead America Podcast. Before we leave, could you tell people the best way to get a hold of you, please?

[00:28:09] Kimberly Williams: Yeah. No, absolutely. Um, so if you go to LinkedIn and look for kimberly- e- williams, um, you'll find me. I know there's a lot of people with that name, um, so if you find a vp of people with Walker Advertising, you found me. And so would love to connect and feel free to DM me too, you know? Um, I know lots of attorney networks all over the country. I may be able to help you, um, I really care deeply about this stuff. So feel free to reach out.

[00:28:36] Ed Watters: And that shows, Kimberly. Thank you so much for being with us today, and enjoy the rest of your afternoon.

[00:28:42] Kimberly Williams: Thanks, you too.

[00:28:48] Ed Watters: Thank you for joining us today. If you found this podcast enlightening, entertaining, educational in any way, please share, like, subscribe, and join us right back here next week for another great episode of Dead America Podcast. I'm Ed Watters, your host, enjoy your afternoon wherever you may be.