an opinion editorial written exclusively for ANZMEX 

27 February 2020
By Chris Sladen

Energy matters – It’s not fair, so what?

Traditionally, meetings in energy companies like to use a whiteboard and a marker pen. Participants in a meeting room are asked to speak up whilst someone stands by the whiteboard writing down their comments.

It is always very revealing about people’s character. Whoever holds the marker pen controls the meeting outcome. Whatever ended up on the whiteboard becomes the meeting minutes. The quietest voice rarely gets heard. Holding the marker pen is a position of power. The holder can coerce the group towards their viewpoint, and what decision they think is best. It can be a way of pressuring a group of employees to agree a certain outcome.

The holder of the marker pen has many options. For example, they can choose to not write down a key point, adjust it, or completely forget it. Or they can reprioritise the points written down, or demote the importance of a certain point, so that the official record matches their personal view. Some would say it is a form of bullying that goes on each and every day in energy companies.

The energy sector, the world’s largest industry, has millions of decisions to make every day. There are hundreds of thousands of meetings in meeting rooms every day. The industry is rife with pressurising, bullying, humiliation, discrimination, intimidation and retaliation. It is often a process that wears the victim down, done to make you feel worthless. It might be done by an individual or a group. It tends to be unnecessary, offensive, humiliating, and often unpredictable. It can cause anxiety and distress; it can result in a permanent mental scar or long term mental health issue. 

Why is it so important for Mexico to tackle this issue? In part, it is due to the very high perception of corruption and lack of transparency. Corruption and bullying erode competition and diversity. Cyber-bullying using computers and smart phones is growing rapidly; it doesn’t care about borders, boundaries or victims.

No country or company can claim to be free of these problems. I know it must be a problem because when you go to the website of most energy companies you quickly find, prominently displayed, a Code of Ethics or Code of Conduct and a set of Values. 

The latest high profile code of conduct issue is the so-called ‘McFling’. This involves a boss having an affair with a subordinate. Some companies nowadays have strict policies with the penalty being dismissal of the senior staff member. On occasion, cases end up in court with fines and restraining orders. Many companies now ban consensual relationships amongst staff. In some countries, CEOs have had to step down for giving too many unwanted ‘McHugs’ to their staff. Most energy companies in Mexico are yet to take a position on the ‘McFling’ and the ‘McHug’.

If we want things to change, and have an industry that really cares about its people, that protects the mental health of employees, we have to highlight the issues. We can all try harder. When I set off to join the energy sector, nobody said things would be fair.

Un abrazo,

About the author:

Chris Sladen runs an advisory service offering insights to inform, shape a decision, policy & regulation, and guide the next steps for energy ventures, acquisitions & divestments, energy transition and climate strategies. Chris has a unique global experience having worked in over 40 countries. This is underpinned by extensive knowledge of petroleum systems and where best to find oil and gas, notably in the Gulf of Mexico & nearby areas, Europe and NE & SE Asia, as well as the development of midstream, downstream & renewables investments in many emerging economies. Chris has extensive experience acquired on the Boards of companies, subsidiaries, business chambers & organisations. Chris has a career of over 40 years in the energy sector, living in Mexico (2001-2018), Russia, Vietnam, Mongolia, China & UK. His contributions to the energy and education sectors have been recognised by the UK Government with both an MBE and CBE, and also the Aztec Eagle from the Mexican Government – the first foreigner in the energy sector to achieve this award. Chris has published extensively over five decades. Chris’ articles for Energy Matters reflect his experience and enthusiasm and are not paid for in any way.

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ANZMEX ORG A.C. is a politically neutral business council with no political affiliation. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily representative of the official views of ANZMEX or any of its officers or staff.