The thought of impending war in Iraq fills me with dread. And contemplating the horrors of such an event and the rationale for it – terrorism, weapons of mass destruction – gives me the chills.
While mulling over the implications of an impending war, I realised there are some parallels between what’s happening overseas and what’s happening in some of our workplaces. I’m not suggesting we have terrorism in our offices nor budding Saddam Hussein’s around every corner, however, in some places it is possible to identify people who have amassed weapons of self destruction. They thereby inadvertently harm themselves, others and the workplace – on a daily basis.
The weapons I’m referring to include bitterness, negative attitudes and micro or macro shoulder chips. Then there’s boredom, fear, frustration and anger. Indifference, resentment, envy and lack of personal responsibility may also feature. Some of these self destructive emotions may manifest themselves in any number of ways, for example, go-slows, withholding information, spreading rumours or misinformation. Horizontal violence towards colleagues, doing just enough to get by, deliberately wasting resources or letting work through without correcting own or other’s errors, are other ways.
So what might be done to minimise this situation?
Do look at the business first, to see if its structure, ways of operating, policies and practices provide a healthy environment that enables people to do their best. This is the first port of call because some of the symptoms of self destruction may be individuals’ responses to particular organisational issues and situations. Of course, some of it may be a response to personal, not work related issues. It pays to check and not make assumptions.
Also ensure that the business has a system to provide consistent, regular one-on-one management support and coaching for all staff – managers included. Regular, focused time provides a golden opportunity to check how people are – how they feel about their job; whether they are over-stretched or under utilised, whether they are in the right role for their interests, skills and abilities. It’s the opportunity to find out not just what they’re doing but how they are, as people, and what else may be happening for them personally – the highs and the lows. Regular meetings provide an early alert system to pick up first traces of boredom, frustration, stress, overload and any organisational issues that may cause difficulties for staff, clients and the whole business.
Refine your observation and listening skills, so you know what to look and listen for. Pick up the verbal and non verbal clues that can tell you if a situation or a person isn’t alright.
Check your systems for establishing and monitoring workloads. Examine the organisational attitudes and tolerance levels towards bullying and horizontal violence. Consider the attitudes and levels of tolerance for long serving employees and new employees, the young and middle aged workers, those with or without qualifications and those in different occupational groups.
Conducting regular audits of the workplace culture and climate is also helpful to give a snapshot view of how the workplace is being experienced and perceived. They can identify both the positive and negative features within it and again, provide an early alert to issues needing attention.
Ensure there are policies in place for health and safety issues (including bullying, violence, stress) and all human resource management areas. Consider making employee assistance programmes available, to staff who may be in difficulties and require specialist, external support. Consider also what the organisational expectations are regarding the professional development, ongoing up-skilling and training of staff – are there any?
It’s useful too, to assess the career development opportunities available within the company. Investigate whether there are ways to provide challenge and stretch assignments for those with potential and interest in self and organisational development. If there are no possibilities of significant career opportunities and few options for other development, career development programmes may assist staff to look at their own personal development needs and future career options.
Do confront and manage the hard stuff. Assist people to deal with their fears, negative attitudes, the go slows, the boredom, whatever it is that’s manifesting itself. Have formal and informal ways to assist people ‘stuck’ in a particular mode. Taking these steps will minimise some risks to the workplace.
There are no dedicated ‘weapons’ inspectors in workplaces, so the responsibility rests with all individuals to identify and support people who are manifestly unhappy. Manage the situation by firstly checking any contributing organisational factors and then the individual’s own situation. The formula is really one of discern + disarm = ok people, ok workplace. ©