OFF CENTRE: Watch it: danger in the workplace!
“Working here may be hazardous to your health.”
Such a warning should be prominently displayed at many workplaces – or better yet, in their advertisements for positions and on their application forms. And not just because of “sick building syndrome”.
There is another deadly stressor in many an office, staffroom, factory and shop: unethical staff communication (talk, paper memos, email, BBMs).
Put your hand up if, swearing to tell the truth, you would have to report that this or that colleague in open office blasted forth the F-word or Rihanna’s seeming favourite or some other “pip”.
The modern workplace throws up lots of that, passed off apparently as adult behaviour. Isn’t it strange that conduct that shows a lack of self-control, little sense of place, little regard for others, is now often considered adult?
Time was when a colleague, seized in a fit of something-blumma or worse, would utter a quick sorry in recognition of his overstepping the bounds of good taste in company. Or, figuring that he had crossed someone’s religious line, would apologize to a specific person (“Sorry, I forgot you are a Christian”), ignoring the others.
Like the fellow who picked out Dave Burchett (When Bad Christians Happen To Good People) with “I hope my language hasn’t offended you [as a ‘God Squadder’]”, to which Burchett replied: “Your language doesn’t offend me because of my faith. [It] is an issue of civility and good manners.”
But some other things register higher than cussing on the workplace hypertension scale. Unprofessional, rash treatment of colleagues is way ahead.
In many workplaces (I hear things, too), it is not uncommon for workers to communicate with and about others in wholly inappropriate ways. (Not that I believe one should never speak sternly and powerfully to a fellow worker about breaches: where the person has been spoken to several times – including by superiors – but is resolutely wayward, the big guns should sometimes come out.)
What I am talking about is often shown in public imprudence that ravages a colleague with an I-don’t-give-a-damn nastiness.
Its not so public sidekick is the incestuous malice practised in wizzy-wizzying on-plant cabals, where unbridled judgementalism, excoriation of others for perceived faults, unkind generalizations and other uncollegial indiscretions are shared like Christmas gifts.
(Again, I am not suggesting that workmates never have good reason to discuss their colleagues. I think that developmental expressions of concern about work-related behaviour, habits and performance are quite appropriate. But low-minded, bad-minded denigration of others can have no positive outcome.)
And then there are those who, seemingly possessed of full-bore superciliousness, regularly impugn the competence of co-workers, “dropping remarks” like dog dung.
In truth, workplaces have some of the highest concentrations of mean-spiritedness you will find anywhere. Not many people seem to have the strength of character to undertake a quiet one-on-one or a passion for treating others with dignity.
If a colleague is messing up, instead of going to the person, his mates tell it around. Indiscreet, malignant.
All these negative behaviours have flourished because an agenda of relational ethics is remarkably absent in workplaces. In your experience, how often is it discussed at staff meetings? How many times has action been taken against communicative trespasses at your place of work?
In fact, does your workplace have a code that clearly identifies no-nos in this respect?
Bosses, many of whom nowadays seem cowardly and afraid of certain staff members, must take a lot of the blame. They have not, by word and unflinchingly robust action, emphasized the absolute non-negotiableness of high standards in intra-office human relations.
Now, I know bad attitudes abound. What’s more, they are not susceptible to easy change, and seldom surrender to direct assault. But history has taught us (through civil rights legislation, for instance) that if you inhibit undesirable behaviours, you make much needed progress. As Martin Luther King Jr said: “The law cannot make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also.”
So, don’t focus on the bad attitudes – go after the behaviour that emanates therefrom: the snarkiness, the disrespect, the indiscretion.
If we want to reduce the number of “sick” days the supposedly well take, one of the things we must look at is staff relations. If we want to reduce stress, we have to look at staff communication – a lot of it makes people “sick”.
Bosses, you are, critically, managers of the human relations in your workplace.
You are not being paid to supervise disrespect, disparagement, divisiveness – and stress.