I’m struck sometimes at how the simple things, the minor irritations, over time can drive people to distraction and make the normally calm, spit chips. Minor irritations are, by their very nature, minor, yet put a number of them together, unchecked, and they can become majors. I’ve noted that in times of organisational or personal pressure, minor workplace irritations can become bigger than Texas.

Irritations are typically tolerations. They’re the things that we are aware of and put up with. They’re the things that cause us to think ‘that really annoys me’ or ‘I must do something about that.’ They are the things that typically drain our energy, take our attention and loom large in our minds. They are the things we say we must get on to, one day.

I’ve found that typical workplace tolerations are things like shabby or dirty office curtains; chipped, scuffed walls; relentlessly dirty windows; overflowing filing cabinets. They can be the store rooms packed with rubbish or old files with no free space. They can include the poor placement of furniture and equipment that strike shins, clip hips and demand strenuous stretches. They can be the unsuitable placement of shelves or the total lack of shelving. They may be the doors that never quite shut; the intercom set permanently on mumble; the instruction books that omit critical information; the photocopier that keeps cutting out. You probably have your own list.

So what can be done about workplace tolerations? They need to be removed. Know that it can be an enjoyable exercise, if undertaken regularly. It can involve individuals, teams or whole divisions. The first step to removing the tolerations is to clearly identify what is being tolerated, then determine what can and will be done about them, then commit to action – actually doing whatever is needed to remove the toleration from the workplace.

Try this exercise yourself, to see how well it works. Identify all the issues in your personal world that are driving you crazy. Think house and section. It could be, for example, the garden shed that needs cleaning out; the partially completed kitchen renovations; the undercoated weatherboards waiting for a top coat; the dripping bathroom tap; the wardrobe that needs sorting; the nearly-finished landscaping. It could be the more personal issues you’ve been meaning to get around to. For example, the trip to the dentist; the will you’ve been meaning to update; the small sewing repairs needed on your favourite trousers. Write a list. Within the first week, pick three items off the list and do whatever is needed to get them sorted. While some items may not be completed by that time, a start could have been made and the end may be in sight. The following week, pick three more items off the list and do whatever’s needed to remove them. Keep on working on the list, until it is completed. Then create a new list and start the process all over again.

People typically find that the tolerations exercise, once they begin, is positive, energising and encouraging. They find they develop a momentum and keep going until the tolerations on their list are removed. They also find that thinking about and living with the tolerations required more mental energy than the energy finally expended to remove them.

So too, with any workplace tolerations. Invite employees to participate in the tolerations exercise. The aim of the exercise is to remove the workplace tolerations that drain their energy and impact on their ability to do their job. The aim is also to identify and remove any minor issues, which, if left, may become a big issue when the pressure is on.

Recognising tolerations and their negative impact is a reminder of the value in getting onto things the moment they first appear. It’s a reminder that small things (positive and negative) have a big impact in the workplace. It’s a reminder that removing any barriers that inhibit or negatively impact upon employees’ abilities to do their job, is good practice. It’s a reminder that physical environments have an impact on employees and customers alike. Drab, shabby or untidy workplaces bring down the spirits of those within. Physically changing the workplace through re-arranging furniture, repainting or refurbishing, gives a lift and a refreshing change.

So, if you and your employees are ‘tolerating’ minor or major things that have become intolerable, do something about it. Remove them. By taking action, it will create positive energy and forward movement. It will also free you up to focus on more positive things. Why not give it a go?
The concept of tolerations and related checklists are part of Coach U’s Clean Sweep Program(tm).  You are welcome to share this resource providing attribution is given to: (i) Coach U, USA ( (ii) Dwan & associates and links to our email address and website are included. Email:
June 2003�

Leave a Reply