Tag Archives: workplace

The Workplace as Sanctuary

Every manager wants that devoted employee who seemingly will work long hours and take on ungent tasks.  Take a closer look because it may just be too good to be true.  The workplace may seem like a sanctuary in the shop term for employees escaping difficulties at home; however, in the long run a manager may lose a highly trained and valuable resource.

Every manager wants that devoted employee who seemingly will work long hours and take on urgent tasks. Take a closer look because it may just be too good to be true. The workplace may seem like a sanctuary in the shop term for employees escaping difficulties at home; however, in the long run a manager may lose a highly trained and valuable resource.

Strengthening Workplace Relationships

For some employees their workplace is a sanctuary; compared to the realities of their home life, it is a paradise.

These employees look forward to going to work in the morning, often choosing to arrive early and they are reticent to accept the end of the work day, regularly opting for overtime beyond the hours of darkness. In fact, they will choose to hang out in the quiet corridors of the workplace on weekends rather than finding themselves immersed in the anxiety and stress of homelife.

When the stress of addressing a problem at home becomes overwhelming, flight to what is perceived to be a safe environment is rationalized. The kinds of stress that may provoke this response include family violence against men and women, relationship dissolution, financial distress, depression in various forms, and emotionally and physically draining health issues affecting a family member.

What are the implications for the workplace? To begin, the line between home and work is becoming blurred. And just as some teachers believe that their role is teaching and not character formation, some managers believe that their role is solely to deliver services and products. They would gladly prefer to ignore than engage in this issue, usually because they are competent managers of services and products, not people.

A sensitive manager will observe and recognize this behaviour and will immediately confront the employee on the cause; together they will seek out appropriate solutions.  The work focussed manager will be elated that he has an employee who can take on excesses of work and overtime and will often be oblivious to the cause.

Failure to address the problem will result in an exacerbation of problems for the employee at home; the greater the stress at home, the more this will influence the employee’s and the unit’s productivity.  At some point, the manager will be faced with decisions about dismissing this employee.

Even if some managers do not have the tools to recognize a problem brewing, the good news is that someone in the work area will usually pick up on the clues and inform their superiors.  Given this good fortune, the role of the manager is simply to problem solve — to identify support available for this employee and either to recommend or require that the employee start a process of healing.  In larger organizations these supports are readily available and widely advertised; in smaller organizations, managers will have to be creative and may be well advised to incur some cost to retain a highly trained and valuable employee.  In addition, managers observing an empathic approach to workplace related problems will build trust and loyalty for the business.

The message for the manager is simple: Be proactive – look for the early signs – seek out competent help – confront the employee – demand some form of therapy – be visible (as you can be; some issues will demand absolute confidentiality) in your behaviour.

Once again this is the difference between a manager that manages products and services and a manager that manages people to deliver services and products. Which one are you?

Villians and Heroes

Reflections on Workplace Perspective…..

A couple of weeks ago, I came across the most magnificent of quotes.  Referencing the tragedy of the current recession and the circumstances that had contributed to it, James West in his blog The Midas Letter, wrote:

“the commodity with the grimmest prospect of recovery is trust.”

Trust is a precious commodity.  Trust, truthfulness, honesty and integrity are the essence of the functional workplace.  In the absence of these values, the workplace begins to smell like a three day old fish.  In most workplaces, we begin to react on the mere suspicion of dishonesty; the case of our financial institutions goes wildly beyond speculation!  I think it is worthwhile examining this case to illustrate the impact that the loss of trust can have in the workplace.

The leaders of North America’s largest financial institutions have flagrantly created a financial disaster — of this there can be no doubt. This being the third and most serious systemic financial challenge over the past ten years, our financial leadership have shaken our societal self esteem; they have shattered the belief that our cornerstone institutions can survive.  I find myself wishing that this incredible deception is a mirage, just a bad dream.

joker1In addition to the emotional devastation, there has been significant job loss, business closures, house foreclosures, families broken.  And the damage is world wide.

The perpetrators, from their publicly subsidized high rise towers, have yet to admit responsibility.  There is no remorse and  no apology.  It is business and huge salaries as usual, while public administrators scramble to determine where the bail-out money has landed.  Like many in our society today, they choose to avoid the issue of wrongdoing; in the absence of an acknowledgment of impropriety, there can be no link to guilt and, hence, no consequence.

As I retell this story it seems more fiction than fact, something a team of scriptwriters would require years to invent.  The protagonist is clear; the villain has been unmasked. Yes, the bottom line is villain.

In contrast, there are those who build trust, hope and enthusiasm  —  encourage us to serve the good of humanity, leaders who can help us to be the best we can be.  These people are the heroes of this emotional age.  Here are a few examples:

Story#1: When we consider that 50% of the world’s wealth is controlled by 2% of the world’s inhabitants, and a mere 1% of the world’s wealth is controlled by the bottom 50%, leadership from those who control far more than their share of the world’s riches is desperately needed.

I am moved by the example of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet ; these folks are breaking new ground by giving the bulk of their wealth to philanthropic causes.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation targets worldwide health and education challenges; they have chosen to focus on neglected issues and strive for increasing opportunity and equity for those most in need.  The Gates and Warren Buffet are modeling extreme behaviour that hopefully will encourage others to follow.

superman1Story #2: I often share the importance of the lesson told in the story “Stone Soup”, one of my favourite stories of Portuguese origin.  There was a time when famine caused people to hoard very limited resources and retreat back into the protection of their families; however, a very wise traveler taught them the importance of community unity.  The villains in my story represent famine and create mistrust and fear.  The heroes represent plenty and generate love, compassion, unity, hope and ultimately, community building.

Why has Barrack Obama attracted such a strong following?   In my eyes, he is the traveler.  With a recipe of wisdom, compassion, partnership and hope, Obama is rebuilding not only the American community of trust, but he is seen by those around the world as offering hope to men and women whose trust is battered and bruised by the villains of the world.  He is soliciting partners to strengthen the “global village”.

Story #3: Sometimes all it takes to be a hero is a little creativity, a little compassion and an understanding that the brutal option of cutting a community off at the knees is just not acceptable.  Kevin Cullen in his blog at Boston.com (March 12,2009 “A Head with A Heart” ) tells the story of Paul Levy, the administrator of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.  Before announcing staff cuts deemed necessary in the current economic slowdown and feeling particular empathy for how layoffs would affect the most vulnerable in his hospital family, Mr. Levy suggested that staff do whatever it takes to keep all employees on the job.  The response from staff of all levels in the organization was wildly supportive.  Employees offered to take less pay so that layoffs would not be necessary.  And I am sure there are many more heroes.

The individuals we typically consider heroes are the ones who land an airliner on a river or rescue a family from a burning home.  But these latter workplace and organizational nominees are equally worthy of consideration.  They have a positive and profound effect on our hope and the togetherness of our struggling workplaces and communities.

Am I on the right track? Who are your workplace heroes?  What defines the individuals you consider workplace heroes?  This coming Friday in “Craig’s Top Five List”, I will be identifying 5 ways that we can recognize a hero.  Please help me build this list.

Importance of A Healthy Workplace

Reflections on Workplace Perspective…..

April 6, 2009 was the tenth anniversary of the OC Transpo  massacre; on that date, at the headquarters of Ottawa’s bus service, Pierre Lebrun took the lives of 4 colleagues and injured a fifth before finally taking his own life.


As with many mass killings, the initial observable act was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the suffering that would befall friends and associates of the primary victims, such as a fellow worker who had prior knowledge of the killer’s plans; overwhelmed with grief and guilt, he took his own life two months later.

The inquest that followed unearthed a travesty of  management sins and exposed the toxic nature of the working environment.  In addition to proposing extensive work surrounding a violence and harassment policy, the inquest jury’s report was exhaustive.  Several of the key recommendations follow:

  • ongoing training for staff to affect a “positive cultural change” in the workplace
  • improved communication within and between all levels of staff
  • access to an independent ombudsman to avoid reprisals
  • periodic review and audit of violence and harassment policies
  • a code of conduct to ensure all employees are treated with respect and dignity
  • sensitivity training for all managers
  • sufficient skills training to ensure employees can effectively perform their duties
  • promotion based upon aptitude and qualifications

Altogether, the jury offered77 recommendations; in essence, a complete condemnation of workplace practices at that time.

Ten years later, and following a very disruptive city wide strike, workers are once again questioning the quality of their work environment.  Although it would be expected that manager-employee relations would deteriorate during a turbulent and hostile strike,  one worker quoted on CBC radio’s morning show (April 6,2009)  questioned whether the lessons learned ten years ago had been forgotten.

Although in recent weeks we have seen a flurry of massacres committed by marginalized and isolated employees and citizens, they tend to be an extreme and unusual response.   Sadly, most people will quietly and anonymously show up for work and suffer through poor working conditions and relations.

Why is this a compelling story?  It is a reminder that building the ideal working environment takes effort and a commitment from all employees; further, it is not a one time exercise done to impress or to address an outside requirement.  Finally, it is in the best interests of both employees and managers to design and develop an optimal workplace where everyone thrives.   With the workplace management tools at our disposal today,  mere survival is an embarrassing standard.

How are things at your workplace?  Do your practices continue to improve or do you find that things regress from time to time?  What would you recommend for your workplace?  Leave a comment and I will respond.

A new perspective posted next Monday:  Villians and Heroes

Craig’s Top Five List posted this Friday5 Things to Consider When Building a Powerful Management Environment