Top 8 Signs Your Workplace Needs Help
Read in 7 min. These are trying times. Companies are fighting each other over talented workers, budgets are being squeezed as the world economy struggles, and we've become a nation of stressed-out imbalanced employees.
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It's understandable, of course. These are trying times. Companies are fighting each other over talented workers, budgets are being squeezed as the world economy struggles, and we've become a nation of stressed-out imbalanced employees. As Robert Frost famously lamented, "The reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work."
And so it is that we come to the top eight signs your workplace needs serious help. Some of it is the responsibility of management - but not all of it. We're all guilty of at least a few of these, which are listed in no particular order:
1. Time-wasting meetings
A survey of 2,000 people conducted by Robert Walters found that 80 percent of employees view meetings as a waste of time. The most incompetent manager I ever worked for spent 90 minutes in a management meeting talking about the types of flip-flops that were suitable for casual-dress days. Seriously, 90 minutes. Apparently if they had a heel, they were okay. If not, they were unacceptable and staff would get a written warning. Hello Jimmy Choo. Spending too much time talking about irrelevant matters is one reason why meetings are productivity-killers. Inviting people who don't need to be there, starting late, not following an agenda, and a lack of accountability for action items, are others.
2. People don't talk
On the one hand we have too many meetings and on the other we have insufficient communication. Interesting contrast. People falsely believe that email is communication. It's not. Email is just a means of transferring information. It's certainly not communication. A study of 5,500 employees across 175 companies by Watson Wyatt revealed that top performers are 66 percent more likely than poor performers to say that their immediate manager does a good job of communicating performance issues. One of my clients has employees who come to work and aren't even greeted with a "hello" by their managers or their peers all day - even though they sit next to each other. And then there's the CYA Syndrome - Cover Your Arse. This is when people "cc" half the company in their emails just to cover their backside. It amazes me how a tool which has revolutionised workplaces has now become a hindrance to workplace performance. Instead of suffering from the CYA Syndrome, let's adopt the GOYA Mentality - Get Off Your Arse - and talk to someone.
3. Emotional outbursts are common
If you've seen more than one colleague crying, or you've witnessed people openly shouting, or well-respected staff members suddenly threaten to stab each other (I've seen this happen), then it's time for a group hug. Research conducted by Marlin Company showed that 42 percent of office workers say they work in a company where yelling and abuse occur frequently. In times like these, I find it fitting to refer to renowned anger management authority, Belinda Neal, who notoriously said to a fellow parliamentarian, "Evil thoughts will turn your child into a demon." If that's not enough to forever put you off being an emotional basket-case, nothing will.
4. People are scared
They're too afraid of being punished, so they avoid taking risks. They're too mindful of committing a career-limiting move, so they spend most of their time brown-nosing. They dread being branded a failure, so they shun big decisions. This is all prevalent in companies which talk tough and act small. I remember working in an organisation where there'd be a huge rush of horror whenever we'd hear at short notice that the CEO was going to visit our department. Colleagues would run around frantically picking up pieces of paper off the floor. Managers would hysterically dash to the kitchen to make sure all coffee mugs were clean. Emails would be sent to all staff with the 'emergency' icon attached telling us in capital letters not to talk loudly while the CEO foot-stepped down our aisle. All I could remember thinking was: WHATEVER.
5. Everything needs approval
The most ludicrous initiative I've ever heard was from a call centre client of mine who in their obsession to improve productivity decided to start rostering toilet breaks. If you wanted to use the bathroom outside of your scheduled five minutes, you had to seek approval from a supervisor - no matter how urgently you needed to relieve yourself. A study of the top 100 employers in the UK by Grant Thornton found that 92 percent of these people-friendly companies trust their employees to do things without constantly having to seek authorisation. And that's what it really comes down to. Trust.
6. People are tragically stressed
The wonderful Stan Zemanek always quipped that there was no such thing as stress. I, for one, believed him. Stress is a reaction in people when they don't have the ability to deal with a situation. However we choose to play with words, at the end of the day people will still exploit the term "stress" for their misery at work. In fact, a study of over 90 companies by Watson Wyatt revealed that stress is the leading cause that makes employees quit their jobs. Yet the same study found that employers didn't even rank stress in the top 5 reasons as to why employees would leave, instead placing insufficient pay at number one. Signals of stress include irritability, reduced quality, poor judgement, illness, absenteeism, arguments, and complaints.
7. Silo mentalities
The Broadway musical from the 1940s, Annie Get Your Gun, contained this competitive little melody: "Anything you can do I can do better, I can do anything better than you, no you can't, yes I can, no you can't, yes I can, no you can't, yes I can, yes I caaaan!" It might not be sung with as much enthusiasm as I just did while typing this, but it's hummed, thought, and assumed in many workplaces either between individuals within the same team, or between teams within the same division, or between divisions within the same company. This 'siloism' (a new term I've spontaneously coined) is fuelled by many of the other symptoms in this list. The result is stagnant cooperation, divisive projects, and office politics.
8. Panic is normal
Planning is not. Everything is a priority. Lunch is not. Urgency is a virtue. Calmness is not. It amazes me how often I ask people the question "how are you" and the impulsive response I get back is "really busy". And they say it with such pride, as if it's a good thing to be running around like a headless chicken. No thanks. I'd rather get a grip. I'd rather work at a comfortable rhythm and an enjoyable pace with the freedom that comes with being uncluttered, unrushed, and understood. Being able to think clearly is truly liberating. Unfortunately, too many people try to cram in as much as they can only to neglect the importance of relationships, health, and personal development.
No-one needs an MBA to be able to deal with any of the above issues. And dare I say it, no-one needs to hire a consultant either. All that's required is what American scholar, William Arthur Ward, once wrote: "Do more than belong: participate. Do more than care: help. Do more than believe: practice. Do more than be fair: be kind. Do more than forgive: forget. Do more than dream: work.
Your thoughts matter - more than you can imagine.
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