Workplace Relationships: Why Is There Is A Chill In The Air?

You will have heard the term "attitude is everything." Well, whoever said it was right and perhaps for more reasons than he or she had initially thought.

I have worked in a variety of different workplaces. Sometimes, there are days when you walk into the office and you immediately sense that something is wrong. Something is going on. It's the tension. You can cut it with the proverbial knife. What it is? It wasn't like that yesterday. So what has happened today?

Likely what has occurred is that someone has said something or done something that was perceived to be plainly wrong. Also, the chances are that the manager did not do anything about it or that it is actually the manager about whom we are talking. And when that happens it tends to bring everything to a sudden halt, each employee saying to themselves, "Did I just hear (or see) what I thought I heard (or saw)?"

Employees who witness or encounter unwarranted and unjust treatment within the workplace are usually impacted by their experience.

What sort of behaviours are we talking about?

We are describing unmanageable workloads, tough deadlines or having little control over the work being performed all added to the anxiety felt by employees. These simply compound the strain already felt within the environment.

Additionally, being shouted at or having someone losing their temper towards an employee both fit the description. Perhaps it is an employee being treated disrespectfully or rudely, or someone having an insulting or offensive comment made about them. Possibly it is the classic gossiping and rumour mongering that occurs in organizations or an employee that is ostracised from a group of coworkers. It could even be the consistent criticism of your work or the lack of acknowledgement of your views, thoughts and ideas for improvement. It is bullying regardless of which way you look at it.

The distance between disrespectful behaviour, incivility and unjust treatment is often grey and blurry. I feel certain that having scanned the variety of workplace conducts depicted above, that you will have a mental picture of a place and time when what was described has happened to you or a colleague of yours: and nothing was done.

There has been any number of quotations heard in the last part of the twentieth century that have the theme of our "employees are an organization's most valuable resource." This is true to a certain extent but I would contend that it is the relationships between those employees that is really a business's most important resource. Pay proper attention to that, and you really will have something to shout about.

One of my favourite analogies regarding that relationship was described by Robert Putman in his book, Bowling Alone. Putman talks about the physical capital of a business as being the bricks and mortar of the building and the property which lie within its boundaries. He discusses the human capital as beingthe people who work within those walls. Both are critical to all businesses. However, Putman contends that it is the social capital which needs the most consideration and attention. I agree wholeheartedly. Social capital refers to those invisible but very real connections that exist between all groups of people. The trust between those individuals. The shared sets of values. A shared understanding. Those are what are important within any team be they a sports team or group of employees.

An organization, perhaps having attracted a new employee to apply for a position in the first place with advertising slogan proclaiming that they are 'leaders in their field' or an 'employer of choice' then trains that person according to the new-employee orientation manual and eventually provides job specific guidance. The new employer then introduces that employee to the range of human resource (HR) practises that the organization supports. Possibly one of those is the fact that workplace safety is a top priority: safe work practises are not only expected by the company but also rewarded.

A gap begins to appear immediately in the system if the employee perceives the HR practise is stimulated by an organization's concern not for the well being of the employees but by a desire to cut costs associated to workplace accidents or by legal requirements forced on the business by regulatory authorities such as workers compensation or occupational health and safety boards.

In order to change and illuminate such inconsistency, organizations MUST take a long, hard look at the way every level of the business interacts. This is no easy task. Often, the corner suite will have no idea that the business is even ill, so why would they go to the doctor? That is another problem.

The place to start however is with the managers. Let's manage the managers. It is they after all, that set the tone in every workplace.

Managers, whether they realise it or not, are expected by the employees to model and exemplify appropriate behaviours and treat everyone respectfully and fairly. What sort of leadership style do they demonstrate and is that style reflective of who they actually are? Is the manager autocratic, laissez-faire, self-centred or synergistic? The way in which a manager conducts themselves has so much to do with how employees will behave around them and particularly when the manager is not present.

There is an argument to be made that their leadership style is not the end of the story. It is more likely that the leadership of organization has not made it clear to their managers what their expectations are of them in the first place. There has been a general assumption that a manager intuitively knows what is expected of them.

Just imagine what would happen if that was true! That no one had actually sat down with the manager and told them what the expectations of the organization were. Could that be the problem? Could the reason for the chill in the air be simply because the leaders of the organization have not actually sat down with their managers and discussed what their expectations of them are in terms of promoting fairness and respect?

How sad if that were true.

When accident investigators are examining incidents, they are often looking for the root cause of the incident. Generally speaking, root causes are systemic in nature and are found at near the top of an organization and quite removed from the physical site where the incident actually occurred.

I suggest that the root cause of the unwarranted and unjust treatment experienced within a workplace could well be that the leaders of the organization have not clarified to their managers what their expectations are of their role.

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