Many of the new students that train with me are motivated by a desire to improve their working conditions. Workplaces are not only the places where we earn our livings, they are holistic experiences. So in a practical sense, hardly anyone judges their job based on how well they get paid because they don’t feel that every day. What they do feel is the culture of a job.
They may not have had this or that job before, but they’ll have usually had multiple work experiences. By 30 years old most people in the first world will easily be able to recognize a happy, encouraging workplace, versus a negative, debilitating one. Despite this fact, many employers still want to try to dictate to their employees what their view of the company and work should be. If the employees suggest that they don’t like something, they’ll more often than not be told to start liking it, as though their issues are a failing of the employee, rather than of the management.
One of the companies I’ve recently been working with is an excellent example of what I’m talking about. When faced with complaints by staff, their management’s response is consistently one of the following: management suggests that if they don’t like it maybe the employee should leave or be replaced, the manager responsible points out that he had it much worse where he used to work, or management reminds the employee about their pay structure. Of course, what these answers all have in common is absolutely none of them do anything whatsoever to address the employee’s situation. They are simply ordered to feel differently, as though that would have any realistic affect.
For the managers, their issue is resolved—they no longer have to listen to a complaint. For the employee, it’s now a source of gossip regarding how ineffectual the management is when compared with this or that job from the employee’s past. And they won’t be comparing pay, or hours, or conditions. They will be referring to how they were treated as human beings. Here’s an excellent example:
A manager at the firm had a meeting shortly after he had been scolded by his own manager for performance. It was a widely known fact that the business was in the midst of an industry-wide slow-down. No competitors were doing well either. Despite this fact, the manager proceeded to blame that slowdown on the employees, going so far as to even call them childishly derogatory names. In 30 years of management experience it was one of three most juvenile management reactions I’ve ever witnessed, and the effect was predictably and thoroughly negative. A bunch of adults had just been spoken to as though they were children. They were hardly motivated. Instead they were drained of the excellent energy they entered the room with. Energy the manager had failed to even take note of, when it should have been the very first thing he did.
Had that manager been focused on the staff and not on himself, he would have easily seen he had an energetic, upbeat group that day. He could have focused that energy like a laser on the tasks he wanted accomplished. But instead he belittled people and somehow thought he would get positive results. Negativity does not result in positivity. That’s simply how it goes. But instead of taking that positivity and expanding it, in this case the situation got much worse.
The next manager then called a training meeting. Again, had he noted the emotional temperature of the group he would have easily recognized it was an absolutely terrible time to attempt to do a training session. Everyone was down and discouraged and they were not in the sort of alert, attentive state of mind that is great for learning. Two particularly strong employees generously approached the second manager and attempted to explain what had just happened and offered really intelligent help by suggesting that he defer his meeting to a later date. That manager made the situation much worse by responding with, “I don’t care how you guys feel, you have work to do.” That is one of the most oxymoronic statements I’ve ever heard in a workplace. This manager doesn’t get that his employee’s performance will be impacted by how they feel. Wow.
I do this sort of thing for a living so I’m a pretty keen observer and in my observations, I found the staff to be by far the strongest part of the firm. Most had found very creative ways to work around much of the childish silliness that their managers used to create make-work projects, or worse, for discipline. The staff often had their own meetings to try to encourage struggling employees, or to more effectively train new people. Overwhelmingly I saw a strong, sincere and active dedication to making the workplace positive and successful. For the most part, management did nothing but impede that success.
Motivated by their genuine desire to create a strong, healthy and successful workplace, some of the staff approached me about what could be done to proactively improve the situation. I reminded them that most true leaders didn’t have titles. Gandhi didn’t have a title. Neither did Nelson Mandela when he did all his amazing stuff. I pointed out that the very fact that they were asking for guidance proved that they were the actual leaders in that workplace. They were the ones listening.
They did not expect the same performance from an employee in the midst of a divorce that the managers did. They realistically understood that these are not employees, they are people who work for a company. Expecting them to be the same thing every day is as silly as it is impractical. And so when a fellow employee was struggling, their co-workers didn’t scold them like management did. They pulled the person out of it with increased support. They took weight off the struggling employee, they didn’t add more.
Those few employees took what I said and they set it as an objective to “happy up” their workplace. They decided that despite management’s comments, they would compliment their fellow staff, they would encourage each other, they would cover for each other when they were dealing with challenges, and overall they would demonstrate respect to each other. The affect was immediate and very noticeable. And had those true leaders not shown up, those technical managers would have been in very serious trouble before long.
If your workplace is negative and your management has proven unwilling or uninterested in improving it, then do not feel you have to flap like a flag in that wind. You can have an enormous impact on your workplace via your own attitude. So if you work for managers you may like personally, but who are ineffective at creating a positive, sensible workplace, then create it for yourself. The truth is, I see that version far more often than I see the version where the management’s actually doing the leading.
Create your day. Make the sorts of decisions that are most likely to create the results you’re seeking. It won’t always work, but it’ll rarely hurt. And when it does work, it’ll reinforce how capable you are at influencing your daily experience. And that is a strength you should always stay in touch with.