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A friend of mine took up running during her lunch break. What’s strange about that you may ask? Getting some exercise is good for you as a general thing, and during the lunch break, could be a good way to give yourself more energy and vitality during the afternoon. Well, she’s not really the running type, and the reason she took it up? She hates her colleagues so much, she’d prefer running to get away from the office so she could spend less time with them.
My favourite definition of culture is that it is the by product of consistent behaviour. So what is going on in that workplace, consistently, to make someone prefer to take up an exercise they wouldn’t ordinarily be motivated to do? And what is my friend’s behaviour, going out alone at lunchtime instead of socialising with colleagues, what is her behaviour saying to her peers and bosses? It’s likely she would have developed a better understanding of her colleagues, and they of her, if she’d invited them along; shared activities are one way to develop good workplace relationships.
I’ve worked in offices where staff were managed through control and fear. I remember one manager who told me, with some pride in her voice, that everyone who she had assessed as underperforming at their annual appraisal had gone on to leave the organisation. It apparently didn’t occur to her to wonder why people who had previously been good at their jobs were now underperforming. Or consider whether she had some responsibility for that.
I worked for a manager who kept all the information to himself, only sharing what he thought was necessary, and expected tasks to be completed how he wanted them done. Unsurprisingly, staff waited for approval before doing anything, and rarely showed initiative.
Sports Direct have come in for a lot of flak over their employment practices, but I’d like to pick out just one. Staff at their warehouse in Derbyshire are reported to be expected to submit to searches before and after leaving work to make sure they aren’t stealing the stock. Trust comes up regularly as a key to good leadership, but why would an employee trust a leader who clearly doesn’t trust them? And if you’re judged untrustworthy, what are the chances you’ll try to live up to that expectation? Oh, and you’re not paid for the time you spent waiting to be searched. How likely is that employee to put themselves out for an employer who treats them with such disregard?
There is some good news though, it is possible to make changes for the better. A care home in Essex was one of the subjects of the scandal exposed by a Panorama programme, a couple of years ago, where elderly residents were routinely treated with abuse. Some staff were dismissed and prosecuted, but the new owners faced a major task to stamp out such behaviour. By adopting behaviours that model what good care is: the acronym KCR, meaning kindness, comfort and respect, was introduced in July 2014, the culture at the home has been transformed. “We said if we’re going to get everybody working in the same way and we’re going to really drive through … how we do things around here, unite everybody, we need to call it something,” “And it’s not just about how we treat the residents, it’s about how we treat each other as well.”
But change is tricky. How do we change our consistent behaviour? Habits are hard to change. Research shows that it takes about two months to embed a new behaviour, and it’s best to only change one thing at a time. So what’s our motivation for making the effort?
There’s a growing awareness of the importance of workplace culture. There’s tons of research that shows people are more productive when they’re happy. When they’re not stressed. When they eat healthy food and get some exercise. When they see the bigger purpose of their work. When they have some mastery and autonomy over what they do. Not only are they more productive, but they are off sick less often, they are more likely to stay in their job.
So sure, change is tricky, but if you want your business to thrive, or even to survive, you will need to embrace it.
I’ll leave you with one final question – how is your behaviour impacting on your workplace, and is that creating the kind of culture you want?
Leave me a comment below, what changes do you think you could make?
Fried, Jason and Hansson, David Heinemeier. 2010.
Rework. Random House Group Limited, Chatham
Friedman, Ron PhD, 2014.
The Best Place to Work. The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace. Perigree, Penguin Group, New York
I was reading something recently about workplaces and working relationships, and was intrigued by this finding. Apparently, some research was done about how many mistakes were made in a hospital. The research compared places where the people were comfortable, got along in the team, and all worked well together, with other places where there were not good working relationships.
The researchers were surprised to find that more mistakes were made in the hospitals where everyone got on well, not the ones with poor working relationships. This wasn’t what they expected to see.
Being good researchers, they investigated further to see why this might be.
What's going on?
I don’t know if you can see the answer coming, but the results weren’t so counterintuitive after all. It’s not that the good workplaces made more mistakes. It’s that they owned up to them. And, more importantly, learned from them.
Those places where people didn’t work well together, no-one wanted to own up to the mistakes. That’s quite frightening in a hospital don’t you think? It means possibly no-one is acting to put them right. If the mistakes are critical, or fatal – well, instead of getting help, the busy, stressed, incompetent, whatever adjective applies, worker, was probably trying to put it right by themselves. Or not, if they were indeed incompetent. Now, I’m not suggesting all healthcare workers who make mistakes like this are incompetent, most won’t be, but there’s bound to be some. But whatever the reason for the mistake, not owning up to it is costing people’s health and even lives. The lack of shared learning – how do we ensure this doesn’t happen again, is compounding the problem.
Matthew Syed in his 2015 book, Black Box Thinking, puts this problem under the spotlight, together with our attitude to failure. You can find out more about this book in my review, watch it here.
We all know the NHS is under extreme pressure, and allowing these kinds of workplace cultures to persist in such a crucial sector is madness in my opinion.
Are we ready to learn the lessons?
But there are lessons for us whatever our sector. Do we want people who take responsibility, own up to mistakes, work to rectify and learn for the future? Or are we happy to continue with teams who don’t get along, are afraid to step up and take responsibility, develop and grow?
How about your own workplace? Can people be honest and open about errors, or do they cover them up because of an environment of fear? What impact does that have on your organisation's effectiveness? Start the discussion by leaving a comment below.
 Unfortunately, I can’t remember where I read this to cite the source. A check of my recent reading material hasn’t enabled me to find it – but if I do, I’ll come back and cite.
Edit: I still haven't come across where I originally read this, but just recently came across an account of it in Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed. The research is by Amy Edmondson from Harvard Business School. You can watch my review of Black Box Thinking here
Amy Edmondson, 'Learning from Mistakes is Easier Said than Done: Group and Organisation Influences on the Detections and Correction of Human Error', Journal of Applied Behavioural Science, 32, no 1 (1996), 5-28
Matthew Syed, Black Box Thinking (2015) John Murray, London
Is it important? You may think it isn’t, but I want to show you why I think it is important. Before that though, some wider questions need to be addressed. What do we mean by workplace culture? How do we know if we like it, or if we want to change it? How do we go about making changes?
Let’s start with some definitions
At its simplest, culture is often described as ‘the way we do things around here’. Not sure which business or management book I got this from, but I’ve come across it a few times. But then, that’s not really enough to help us answer those other questions – how do we know we’re happy with the current culture, or how do we change it?
This I believe is a more useful definition
Culture is made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviours shared by a group of people. Culture is the behaviour that results when a group arrives at a set of - generally unspoken and unwritten - rules for working together. 
This is then influenced by the organization’s founder, executives, and other managerial staff because of their role in decision making and strategic direction. 
Or more simply, Fried and Heinemeier Hansson, in their book Rework, describe it as the by product of consistent behaviour. The behaviour you want your team to demonstrate, that’s the behaviour you should adopt. 
There’s lots of evidence that a strong workplace culture is good for organisations, good for the bottom line, and good for the people who work there. If you need convincing of that, I’ll come back to it another time. But if you want to improve your workplace culture, how do you go about it?
How do I know if it's good or bad?
Any assessment of culture is subjective of course. But there are things an organisation can do to assess its culture.
The first step would be to do an audit of current culture. Whilst culture can be a reflection of the founder or senior management team, as I’ve already observed, it’s a complex issue. Much of it is – as stated above – unspoken and unwritten, and shows up in daily work practices. An audit can bring some of these practices into the daylight. An audit done well, surveying the organisation at all levels, will also highlight differences in what management believe the culture to be, opposed to what is actually going on in teams, what your culture is in reality, and whether there’s any correlation between them.
For example, where the pursuit of organisational goals is the common aim, (and I’d argue that this is the aim for all organisations) individual targets and performance are not the drivers. This is a key point, often overlooked. Many organisations then set sales people against each other, rewarding those who make the most sales, encouraging a competitive atmosphere, which of course is counter productive when you want everyone to work together.
Once you’ve identified your current culture, as an organisation you can begin to think about what you’d like to change.
What does good look like?
This again will depend upon the organisation and its aims. However, poor quality employment is associated with low wellbeing. Job design, involvement in decision making, managerial competence, bullying and harassment, status, all determine quality of work experience. Many employers think gym membership and insurance will contribute to wellbeing. In my view, they are outsourcing the solution, and are probably outsourcing the problem too. They are placing responsibility for wellbeing back with the individual, and take no responsibility for factors mentioned above.
So a good culture then, how do we recognise this? There are clues you can spot. Do you have low rates of staff turnover and sickness absence? Is everyone happy in their work? Do your people look forward to the work week, or dread that Monday morning feeling? How do they speak about your company or organisation? Are you achieving your business aims and objectives?
If it's bad, how do I change it?
Your audit may have identified some gaps between what you would like the culture to be, against what is actually going on. It is important to work out how covert behaviours develop to help to implement change. Unless you identify the behaviour, how and why it developed you can't then work out how to change.
However, this is the really tough one. Defining what culture is might be tricky, assessing it can be complex, but just wait till you decide to change it; we’re on a whole new level of difficulty now. Leaders must be creators and promoters of the preferred culture. Of course, if leaders are the problem with bullying styles of management, they are indeed the creators and promoters of the culture. As with any conflict situation, it behoves us all, leaders included, to ask what are we doing to contribute to or cause the problem?
Barriers to change
Research has shown that organisations which have little or no commitment to equality and diversity, whose cultures encourage dominant groups to hold power, are more likely to have climates where harassment and bullying thrive. I think it is no accident that cases of poor employment practices and exploitation of workers are becoming more prevalent in the current political climate. The current government demonstrates little or no commitment to equality and diversity, and the culture encourages dominant groups – large corporations, media, public school educated elites – to hold power.
The other key barrier to change is that it is hard, really, really hard. And takes years rather than months. There are no quick fixes. If you succeed, it makes the work environment better, it makes work more satisfying for the people who work there, and ultimately makes the world a better place.
If you want a more in depth analysis of these issues, download the ebook, Workplace culture - what is it and why is it important?
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 (Susan M Heathfield, 2016)
 (Susan M Heathfield, 2016)
 (Fried, et al., 2010)
 (IoD 2006 p15-16)
Fried, Jason and Hansson, David Heinemeier. 2010. Rework. Chatham : Random House Group Limited, 2010. 9780091929787.
Susan M Heathfield. 2016. Culture: Your Environment for People at Work. About Money. [Online] 2016. [Cited: 2nd June 2016.] http://humanresources.about.com/od/organizationalculture/a/culture.htm.
Institute of Directors. 2006. Wellbeing at Work. London : Director Publications Ltd, 2006.
You might notice that there's a big gap since my last post. Some things have got in the way – Christmas, family issues, another work project…. But mainly, IT problems. IT takes me out of my comfort zone, but I really want to get to grips with making some videos, because I want to share some tips on confidence in public speaking with you. I could just write them, but a demonstration is more powerful. And what about my credibility as a speaker if I can't speak to you?
However, speaking on video is a whole different ball game than speaking to a live audience. Put me in front of a live audience, and I'm good to go, it holds no fear. Ask me to appear on camera, and suddenly I'm self conscious. Who am I talking to, it's just an inanimate object? And that's even before I've considered setting up the camera.
So I've bought a mount for the iPad, spent weeks practising into it, trying to get the camera angle right. Eventually reasonably satisfied that it looks passable, my next challenge is to edit. Cue 30 day free trial of Camtasia, recommended by a trusted friend and mentor. Downloaded that ok, but my videos won't upload (have I said that right?) to the Camtasia editor. Support said try converting your .mov files into MP4 format using Handbrake. Ok, managed to download Handbrake without further mishap, but it still doesn't upload the videos I've filmed. Downloaded one, the one I didn't want, but the three I do want seem to be invisible. Then the penny dropped, I've used a TelePromter app to film the videos I want to use, I guess that's the problem.
I've also filmed part of the video on a Sony camera, and guess what? Camtasia can't deal with that format either - AVCHD. Or at least not easily, and I'll be honest, the help page on how to convert that file made no sense to me whatsoever.
I've given this up as a bad job, and will now be trying another editing software, a Sony one, that recognises AVCHD. Let's hope it can cope with the .mov files too, but it looks like I'll be filming them again without the Teleprompter. In the meantime, I heard a wonderful speaker, Lottie Hearn, on speaking on camera. Working through her book, Confidence on Camera, so hopefully I'll improve.
Finally, just to complete my IT woes, there's something wrong with my computer. Not sure if it's a virus or not, as it's only affecting my user account and no one else's. But the effect is that I can't access any of the programmes on my user account. All icons changed to Windows Media Player, and nothing will open. So my more IT savvy other half tried to sort it out. Now all the icons have changed to Microsoft Explorer, and still nothing will open.
I'm using another user account, and have accessed all my files, so not a complete disaster. However, I can't access my desktop Outlook account, with my emails, calendar and contacts. I know the files are there in a directory somewhere, but whilst I can easily find files I've saved in my own directories, finding the Outlook files is a bit beyond me.
Still, all is not lost. The emails will be on the server, right? All I need to do now is remember my password to my virginmedia account, and set up Outlook on my desktop again.
When did the preferred method change from POP3 to IMAP? Do you know what the difference is? I didn't, but I do now. POP3 downloads it to your desktop, and you don't have to concern yourself with the server again. IMAP downloads whatever is on your server to your desktop, every time you open Outlook. So in the six years I'd been using POP3 I'd not been on the server once, so every email I’d ever received was still on there. 34,697 of them – and rising. Now that I was on IMAP, my desktop downloaded every last one of them every time I opened the inbox. It took a while.
It took me two days to sort out the email mess and get it under control. But I still don't have access to my old diary or my contacts .
So, this sounds like a long list of excuses for why I've been silent on here (it is, let's be honest). But what are the takeaways? I guess
- Sometimes stuff gets in the way, but it's important to get back to what you need to do
- We have to get on and do stuff we’re not that good at and just do the best we can – overcoming challenges makes us stronger
- We can't be good at everything – anyone want a job as my IT specialist?
Look out for my videos, I plan to make them available soon.
Confidence is a funny thing. It seems complicated and elusive.
But if we think about it, there are two main types of confidence. There's the confidence we have in ourselves, that intrinsic self belief, or self esteem. Lack of this confidence can seriously cripple us, make us feel we are not worthy of effort or time or even of being loved. I'm not an expert in psychology, so I'm not going to say too much about this. I've got some theories, from reading numerous books, and from developing my own confidence over many years, but this isn't what I want to talk about today.
The other type is confidence to do a particular thing. Drive a car. Cut hair if you're a hairdresser. Balance the books if you're an accountant. You weren't let loose on the road by yourself the first time you got behind the wheel. You didn't start your level 2 NVQ in hairdressing by cutting hair on your first day, and you didn't turn in a full set of management accounts on the first day either. These are all skills you had to learn.
And this is where confidence gets complicated. You might be a bit nervous when you start to learn something new, but if it's something you always wanted to do, or something you've always had a natural flair for, then you're confident that you can master the skill. You might have bad days, when you think it's too hard, but the motivation to succeed gives you the confidence to carry on. But if it's something you believe is just too hard, or you think you don't have a natural ability, sometimes we let that lack of belief get in the way of doing something we really want to do.
Public speaking is one of those things. People tell themselves they're no good at public speaking, or that they don't have the confidence to do it. Or both of those. But public speaking is a skill, just like any other. There are things to learn about what makes a good speaker. Anyone who wants to can learn these things. Yes, some people are naturally better than others, just like some people are naturally better at playing the piano than others. And while the one with the natural talent could be a professional musician, the keen learner can still deliver a perfectly good rendition. So the naturally talented speaker might make a living on stage as a keynote speaker, but anyone can deliver a message so that people will listen.
With the skill side sorted out, the confidence develops. As Dale Carnegie said right at the outset of his seminal book, “the first thing for the beginner in public speaking is to speak”. Experience is the best teacher, and you can't learn to speak without practising. Much like playing the piano or driving a car – hours of practice make a difference.
But the funny thing about public speaking and confidence is, the more confident you become at speaking, the more confident you become as a person. Win-win.
I once read, but can’t remember where now, there are five realms of confidence
- People – meeting new people, relationships
- Things – mechanical things, gadgets
- Information – learning new information
- Places – getting to new places, comfortable going somewhere new
- Activities – doing physical activities, biking, trekking, bungee jumping
Give me information, I want to learn. Put me in a room full of people, I want to talk to them. Ask me to fix the photocopier because the paper jammed, and I want someone else to do it. I‘ve little confidence in my abilities to solve this problem (Luckily I have a son who’s a great fixer.) So think about where you have the most confidence, and where you have less. But don’t be afraid to just do something if you want to, because experience is the best teacher.
I'd love it if you would share how speaking has helped you develop confidence. Please tell your story in the comments below.
 The Art of Public Speaking, Dale Carnegie. Wyatt North Publishing
Back in July I told the story of my first public speaking experience. I hope that might have helped you to jump in the deep end yourself and give it a go. But if not, how else do you get over that fear?
You might think that I don’t understand just how terrified you feel about speaking in front of an audience, because I did it so long ago and have learned that the experience is not that frightening after all. And in respect of standing in front of an audience, you’d be right. But there are other things that terrify me, but I still do them. Why? Why would I put myself through something that scares me so much, why not just avoid the issue?
Well, let’s take a couple of examples. Firstly, I don’t like driving. Maybe I’m not terrified of driving, but it definitely makes me anxious. I’d rather avoid it if I can, and usually travel by public transport as much as possible. But there are times when the journey is such a pain by public transport. To my dentist surgery for example. It’s either two bus journeys and a fifteen minute walk, or one bus journey and two fifteen minute walks. And then the same back. Or it’s a ten minute drive. Obviously, in this case, the pay off for taking the car far outweighs avoiding the drive. (Plus, I’m going to the dentist! I’d sooner avoid that too, but the payoff of keeping my teeth outweighs the trauma of going to the dentist).
Or another thing, I don’t like flying. Should I give in to that fear and not go on holiday to Florida? Or do I try to relax, not think about what could go wrong, get on the plane and enjoy some Florida sunshine in January? I want the winter sun, the fun times with my family, so I get on the plane, even though I’m afraid.
So the upshot is, if the payoff is worth conquering your fear, you will do it. So ask yourself, what is the payoff for getting over your fear of speaking? It could be
- Getting a job – excelling at interviews
- Being heard – having your views considered at work
- Maybe even persuading someone to your point of view
- Representing your organisation effectively at networking events
- Improve your career prospects by standing out from the crowd
- Improved confidence and self esteem
- Having integrity and remaining true to your values
And really, if I can face my fear of planes crashing, you can face your fear of standing in front of an audience. After all, public speaking won’t kill you – and it’s a myth that people are more afraid of public speaking than dying.
I’d love to hear how you’ve conquered that fear. And if you still want to work on it, drop me a line so we can talk about how I could help. Lindsay.firstname.lastname@example.org
Having told you about three different instances about difficult relationships I had with bosses, I’m now going to look at a couple of different examples. Firstly I’ll look at a time the manager responded appropriately, and secondly I’ll look at the time I was the trustee and acting as a manager.
I mentioned in my last post that I worked for a manager (I’ll call her Rebecca, it will make the storytelling easier) who gave me some complex work at very short notice, and in at least one instance it was work she was supposed to have done. Now, maybe I had some paranoia about being bullied based on previous experience, but something didn’t feel quite right about this. I felt I was being set up to fail, but couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong.
In addition, I had enrolled on a PGCE course to teach post 16s. So I was working four days a week, at college one day a week, and somewhere in between I had to do 75 hours teaching practice each year for two years. It was hard work, harder than working full time with a young baby or studying full time for a degree while looking after my small son, probably the hardest thing, work wise, that I’ve ever done. Four months from the end of my two year course, work gave me an ultimatum. They wanted me to go full time and show my commitment to the organisation. The manager delivering this message was my manager’s manager (I’ll call her Jeanette), so I initially thought she was the bad guy. The choice then – give up the teacher training four months from qualifying, the hardest thing I’ve ever done, something I really wanted to achieve, or give up the job, which I no longer loved. Even though I had no job to go to, I decided the job had to go. I couldn’t quit the course so close to the end.
I handed in my resignation. The director of the development department, three levels up of boss, (I’ll call him David) spoke to me about it, and in the course of our discussion, I told him I wouldn’t be bullied into giving up my course. He immediately noticed the word, and said that if that was the case, he would have to investigate, and did I want that? Not in a threatening, ‘You don’t want that, do you?’ way, but in a sincere, concerned, ‘That’s not right and I can’t let that just pass’ way. He gave me time to consider it.
As I said, it was a strange situation, in that I felt Rebecca had set me up, I’d never had any problems with Jeanette until this, and I also felt that Rebecca had set Jeanette up to do this. But as Jeanette was delivering the message, and was the more senior manager, and I had absolutely no evidence against Rebecca, I decided not to pursue a complaint. If I’d been staying, maybe I’d have acted differently, at least being more on my guard in my interactions with Rebecca. But at the time, I still thought it might be paranoia on my part, and said that maybe I’d overreacted. I genuinely still don’t know about Rebecca, one way or the other. But my advice, even if it’s just a niggling doubt about someone’s motives, is keep a record of the times you’re unhappy about.
My overriding recollection of David though, is of a sensitive leader, willing to listen and act upon problems, even the most difficult ones, genuinely concerned about the wellbeing of staff as well as the operational requirements of the organisation.
The second story concerns the time the shoe was on the other foot, and I was in the leadership role as a charity trustee. An ‘us and them’ situation developed, and we (I) never managed to overcome this and get to the point where we were all working as one towards the same aim. Again, it would be very easy to lay the blame at someone else’s door. There were several difficult relationships here, but I’m just going to focus on one, let’s say her name was Karen.
Initially, I got on well with Karen, but things became increasingly difficult between us. Our work styles were very different – Karen was efficient, and liked advance notice, clear instructions and boundaries, I was in a difficult situation where I didn’t always know the answers, couldn’t always give her the clear instructions, and I’m a last minute kind of woman. As chair of trustees, I should not really have been involved in operational management, but without an office manager, CEO or other manager in the office, had no alternative but to take on that role. Neither of us was afraid to speak up and say what we thought, but sometimes both of us did this inappropriately. I once lost my temper with her, in front of other staff; I felt provoked, but should not have reacted that way.
As our working relationship deteriorated, it got to a point where I always had to get another trustee to act as go between and convey information between Karen and me, which brought its own issues after I found out that at least one other trustee had been leaking confidential emails to the staff. In meetings, Karen would not engage in discussion with me, would avoid eye contact and address all her remarks to others. She would disagree with me constantly. I remember during one meeting, I had received an offer of help from a management consultant, put this to the other trustees and staff, and Karen said we didn’t need his help, should keep it in house. Another trustee backed her up. Next time, when training for new trustees was mentioned, but we couldn’t afford it, I offered to deliver some training. I am a trainer after all, and had been a trustee for about three years by now, and had been on governance training at my own expense. On this occasion, Karen’s view was that we shouldn’t keep it in house, we needed external training. Whether this was because it was me suggesting it or me delivering it or both, I don’t know, but I couldn’t help but smile at the contradiction.
I don’t want to beat myself up too much because of this failed relationship, because I was under a lot of other pressures at the time too. I didn’t get a great deal of support from the other trustees until the last nine months of my term, and the problems were numerous. However, I didn’t understand that the employees were afraid that they would lose their jobs because of the financial instability, or that they didn’t have faith in us as trustees that we could do what was necessary to save the organisation and their jobs.
In hindsight though, I now think that much of Karen’s behaviour towards me could be classed as bullying. I didn’t think of it as such at the time, but constant hostility, either ignoring me, disagreeing with me, no eye contact at meetings, even though I was chairing, excluding me from conversations, refusing to accept apologies or discuss what had happened with a view to resolving… sounds a lot like bullying. I am aware that I have to examine my own behaviour too, and I’m not sure if I can claim to be innocent of behaviour others might think of as bullying. I hope not, and it is difficult for me to be precise now. It’s more than twelve months later and I’m no longer in communication with Karen, though we did reconcile before I left.
I guess the moral of the second story is that often, a target of bullying doesn’t recognise it as such whilst it is going on. And it’s not just managers with formal authority who can bully, staff can bully managers too. So if you think something like this is going on for you, what can you do? Don’t be like me and let it go on for too long, take some action. I’m not going to pretend that taking action is easy though. Some resources that I’ve found really useful that could help you through this, firstly there is the classic by Andrea Adams, which first raised the issue of bullying at work back in the early 90s, still a useful read for targets of bullying. More recently, Aryanne Oade has written with some practical strategies, including how to deal with bullying staff. And if it’s academic research you’re interested in, I can recommend Workplace Bullying by Rayner, Hoel and Cooper; a good insight, although the research is out of date now. Full details of books below.
The other thing, though, is that these two examples confirm my view that the culture is the responsibility of the organisation. David reacted immediately to the suggestion of bullying, indicating it was not acceptable. At the charity, we did not have that culture of supportive relationships where we were all working towards the same aim, and the ‘us and them’ culture allowed unhelpful relationships to fester.
I’d love to hear your views – have you had to deal with similar situations?
Andrea Adams. Bullying. How to confront and overcome it, Virago
Aryanne Oade. 2015. Free Yourself from Workplace Bullying, Mint Hall Publishing
Charlotte Rayner, Helge Hoel and Cary L Cooper. 2002. Workplace Bullying. What we know, who is to blame, and what can we do? Taylor and Francis
Just recently, a friend of mine was having some difficulty in her working relationships, and wondered, was it her, or the others? I have to confess to asking myself a similar question before now. When you have repeated issues, the same or similar, in different work contexts, you do begin to wonder if it is your own behaviour that’s the issue.
Well, I think the answer is, yes and no. I know that’s not necessarily very helpful, but let me explain, using some examples.
I’ve already mentioned some of the difficult working relationships I’ve had. There was
- The office manager in the civil service who bullied me for months, if not a couple of years
- The charity project manager who micro managed and treated me like a 16 year old novice despite my twenty years work experience, when I was low in confidence
- The charity manager who gave me last minute projects that were complicated to do – in at least one instance something she was supposed to have done
- Losing a job after I pointed out the changes a charity needed to make; a complicated relationship with the trustees, but I was right about the changes, and the trustees agreed I was – apart from the fact that I thought I’d be involved in the changes, not fired
Not yet mentioned is a difficult relationship when I was the other side of the employee/charity trustee divide, as chair of trustees for a small, nearly broke, charity. I could write a book on the issues I had to deal with there (one of these days, I might just do that). Financial, governance, operational difficulties, but underneath it all, was the running thread of the fact that at least two of the remaining three employees hated me and wanted me gone.
So no matter how easy it is to blame others for my difficulties, I have to consider how my own behaviour has contributed – is it me, after all?
One common thread is that in each of these scenarios, I couldn’t help but speak up.
I disagreed with the civil service manager on some of the decisions she wanted to take. I didn’t understand that the charity manager needed to feel in control and as though she was in charge. I didn’t understand that most of these women (and they were all women except the time I got fired) felt out of their depth and in need of an employee who would support them, not argue with them. I didn’t understand that the employees when I was a trustee were afraid that they would lose their jobs because of the financial instability.
So I said what I thought, and didn’t put myself in my adversary’s shoes. None of these people should have been my adversary. We should all have been working together to achieve our organisations’ aims.
So is it me? Am I so difficult to work with? I have admitted to not liking being told what to do.
Back to yes and no. I have to take responsibility for the way I behaved, and there are certainly times I could have acted with more sensitivity and understanding of the bigger picture, or the other side of the argument. However, life is a learning journey, and I hope I know better now, learning from all these past experiences.
On the other hand, these people, with the exception of the last example, were all my managers, had all presumably more experience than me in some respect to earn their position. It’s not unreasonable to expect managers to be good managers, to bring out the best in their staff. So in my view, it was them too. More could have been done to respect my need for autonomy, more could have been done to use my knowledge and skills to further the aims of the organisation.
But a further, more crucial point, is that the organisations could have – in fact should have – done more to support those managers to be good people managers. In the civil service, I was transferred out, and probably no help, support or coaching given to the manager to improve her skills. At the small charity project, no attempt was made to improve our working relationship, so I found another job and left. At the health charity, the trustees made me redundant, saying they had no need for my fundraising role, despite clearly still needing funds, and engaging a replacement trust fundraiser soon after. (And clinging to the belief that it was a ‘different’ job, as the one I was fired from was trust and corporate.)
So that brings me to workplace culture. What is it about the culture that believes it is best to let go of someone trained, and with good knowledge and skills, and with a great deal of commitment to the organisation? Isn’t it said that an organisation’s greatest assets are its people? So why do so many organisations not behave in ways that look after those assets? I know I’ve spoken from my personal experience here, but I’m willing to bet you have come across the same thing. If not personally, then you know someone who has.
I’ve gone on long enough, next time I’m going to look a little closer at the opposite side of the equation – firstly the time a manager surprised me by offering to deal with the situation properly , and secondly at the time when I was the employer, as a charity trustee.
In the meantime, please leave your comments below, I’d love to know what you think – do you agree the problem is at the organisational level? What experiences have you had with bullying behaviour at work?
I talked last time about Daniel Pink’s findings on motivation – autonomy, mastery and purpose. I’m going to focus this time on one of these a little more – autonomy. I’m going to consider how autonomy depends on your manager’s working relationship with you and to illustrate this, I’m going to talk about some of the managers I’ve worked with.
More than twenty years ago, I was a newly promoted manager with a team of ten staff. I went on the civil service two week management training course, but the things I’ve learned about managing people since then lead me to believe the course wasn’t much help to be honest.
However, I must have instinctively known that one of the important roles of a manager is to protect your team from pressure from above, because I spent a lot of time doing this. Unsuccessfully, on the whole – I put this down to inexperience, but at the time, it was merely a source of stress.
Well, not just inexperience, but the fact that, after a while, my working relationship with my manager deteriorated, and she bullied me for a sustained period of time.
With the benefit of hindsight, she was probably under a lot of pressure herself to deliver. She had an office of 50 staff to manage, targets to meet, laws to enforce, public money to account for. And had probably had as much effective training for this as I had.
I moved on. Well, I wrote to HR and demanded to be moved ASAP. They obliged, but as far as I know, did nothing to deal with the problematic management style. Staff at this office had no autonomy because the manager’s style was to rule with fear and intimidation, and expect things to be done the way she wanted.
A couple of years later, I took voluntary redundancy from the civil service – one of the best decisions I ever made. After a further bad experience in a job I wasn’t suited to, my confidence plummeted. I took a part time, low paid, low skilled admin job with a charity project. Seemed ok to start with, but one day, after I said something to a telecom engineer while he was fixing a telephone line, my manager told me it wasn’t my place to do this, she was the boss, I was just the paid help. Stunned, I didn’t understand why she would speak to me like that. But after that, she picked holes constantly and micro managed. I didn’t stand for it for long this time, and moved on again. No autonomy in the role, so I exercised it by leaving. To a slightly better paid, but still part time role, and thus began my career in fundraising. A couple of really good managers and a break to go full time at university later, and I’ve learned a lot.
Moving on, things changed and I found myself working for another manager. This was a strange one – everyone liked this manager; so did I to start with, but towards the end of my time at that organisation I began to feel something wasn’t quite right. I felt I’d been set up to fail a couple of times, but it wasn’t something I could exactly put my finger on. Maybe I was just imagining it? I’m still not 100% one way or the other.
I left, and worked for a small charity this time. The head of fundraising was off sick for five months, and I had a difficult working relationship with some members of the board of trustees. Whilst I had a good degree of autonomy in the day to day work, the support and appreciation wasn’t there, even though some trustees said it was. It didn’t feel authentic. Especially once I was made redundant unexpectedly.
So what does autonomy in the workplace look like? Let’s think about what the really good managers did.
- They listened to my suggestions. Even if they disagreed and overruled me, demonstrated that they were willing to consider my viewpoint. (Autonomy)
- They thanked me for things, generally showed appreciation for my contribution
- Gave me positive feedback on performance. I don’t ever remember being told off for mistakes; I’m sure I must have been, but obviously it was done in the right way. (Autonomy again – I was allowed to learn)
- Gave me the opportunity to develop and grow in the roles, encouraging me to attend training and become a member of the professional body.
I’d love to hear your views – what does it mean to you to have autonomy in your workplace?