Castoffs from the Island of the Doomed

There’s not much that’s more painful to one’s soul than working in a toxic environment.  Bitter rivalries, back-stabbing co-workers, gossiping busybodies in the lunchroom.  All overseen, and apparently supported by, blood-sucking overlords toxic managers.

But yet, chained there by a bad economy or a fear of moving to a new (and unknown) environment, some people toil in these sorts of workplaces for years.  Decades even.

**********

There once was a mid-level administrative worker, Claire, who had put in years in a demeaning, soul-crushing workplace.  She initially felt chained to the job because it was all she knew and she had doubts about her ability to learn something else.  She also felt somewhat handcuffed to the company because of great benefits (she carried all the insurance coverage for her family) and a sense of ‘connection’ to her co-workers.  In a way they were like shipwrecked passengers; washed ashore onto a treacherous jungle island whose only way to survive was by relying on each other.

So a great number of them stuck together for years.  Occasionally, one would find their way off the island, and the others would furtively whisper “good luck; please take me with you” as they clutched each other and sobbed uncontrollably at the department farewell luncheon.  Inevitably, the festivies would end at 1:01 PM when the blood-sucking overlord manager would remind them all it was time to get back to work even if it was Bobbie’s last day.  The temporary goodwill would vanish and petty rivalries would once again surface as if the entire department and organization was being filmed for a yet-to-be-scheduled season of “Real Office Workers of Pomona.”

But one day, the blood-sucking-overlord manager had a bit of news to dispense.  The department was being downsized and positions were being eliminated.  She asked Claire and a number of her coworkers to go to the HR Department for a scheduled meeting.

And with that – Claire was free.

**********

Now not to make light of a terrifying situation; losing one’s job for any reason is not something to be taken lightly, and our hearts ache for Claire and others in these situations.  But even in the face of this drastic change, Claire was presented with an opportunity.  She was given the chance to get OFF that Island – leaving an environment that caused stress and pain and self-doubt.

And now we all have the opportunity to help Claire or someone like her this Labor Day by participating collectively with the Zero Unemployment movement.  It’s not hard, it’s not time-consuming.  All you’re asked to do is “just take 15 min of your time to help a friend find a job. Make a referral, review a resume, help write a cover letter… do whatever it takes.”

You can even help one of those blood-sucking overlords managers find a job.  Perhaps just throw in a bit of personal coaching first.

No Need to “Get A Room”

Quite often, when hanging out on the social media channels, we get exposed to lots of PDA; the luvs, the likes, the pokes.  It’s an orgiastic delight of shared appreciation and good old-fashoned virtual hugging.  There’s a lot of love on display, but I’ve certainly never felt the need to put an end to it.  Unlike some of the activities witnessed on crowded dance floors or at beer tents at county festivals: “Good grief Hazel; will you look at those two?  They need to get a room!”

**********

I took an out-of-town trip the other week to attend my HS reunion, hang with my daughter and soak up some Wisconsin goodness – also known as indulging in cheese curds, frozen custard and deep friend beer (verdict? – ick!) at the WI State Fair.

As part of the trip I made some plans to connect with some social media/online friends whom I’ve never met in person.  Jim Raffel and Shelby Sapusek live and work in Milwaukee and part of what they do (and I swear to God neither of them ever sleeps) is host a weekly twitter chat (#shehechat) on Thursday evenings.  They’ve also just recently begun live streaming the chat via UStream and taking it on the road!

Now I’ve never even “talked” to either Jim or Shelby; we’re twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ buddies. But when it became apparent that I would be in Milwaukee with no specific plans during the Thursday evening #shehechat, we started talking about my attending and horning in on getting in on the show.  And that, my friends, is how I ended up talking about Human Resources on a live streaming show that’s normally devoted to discussions surrounding social media, affiliate marketing and blogging. As an added bonus – we were broadcasting live from AJ Bombers so I could simultaneously enjoy a killer cheeseburger.

In some way, I imagine the regular #shehechat audience didn’t know quite what to make of the topic.  But, as any good advance men/women will do, Jim and Shelby prepped their audience about the topics via a blog post earlier in the day in order to best encourage interaction and questions.  They kicked off the hour by tossing me the question “Should HR control its employees’ social media voices?” and we were off.  We chatted about SM policies, SM content and using SM effectively/ineffectively in recruitment to bolster or destroy the employment experience.  We tackled the topic of employers searching SM networks for candidate information – the pluses and minuses.  And after about 20 minutes of HR goodness (I dare to say a first for their show), the hosts deftly moved on to discussions about SEO in blogging and using bad grammar in social media channels.

A fun time was had by all.  And the cursing was kept to a minimum – both mine and Jim’s.

*********

Earlier this week, Shauna Moerke penned a post over at Women of HR called “How to Really Connect with People”  where she stated – “I love getting to sit face to face and chat with people that I have connected with online.”

How I agree. The glorious part of social media is turning all those online connections and conversations into real relationships.  Moving beyond the tweets and the posts and the facebook updates into social interactions.  The types of interactions where one can lend a hand, share some resources and have some fun.

So amen Shauna.  Amen.

And let’s keep it going.  No need to worry about having to get a room.

*********

Now go follow my pals – check out Jim’s blog and Shelby’s website and follow them on the twitterz.  Perhaps you too can shove your way in tag along with them when you visit the midwest.

Going ‘Home’

I just got back from a trip to my hometown for a high school reunion.  Total time-machine (minus the hot tub); seeing and talking to people who, in some cases, I haven’t laid eyes on for several decades.  The after-party (as it were) went into the wee hours of the morning as I sat around and chatted with a bunch of people who were first my friends well before puberty.

It was fun, interesting and a bit sad all at the same time.  So much time has passed and I had momentary visions of my old age/mortality.  In these intervening years between HS graduation and NOW we’ve grown into adulthood, fallen in love and lost people we love.  Did the lessons we learned back in the day (literally), and the lives we led, set us on the path to the choices we’ve made throughout our lives?  How much of what we absorbed on the grade school playground or in 8th grade gym class continues to rule our actions as we move into middle age?

As adults we spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about changing our behavior.  For many who linger on blogs such as this one focused on HR and related issues, there’s specifically an interest in our behavior at work – influence, leadership, management and all the things that keep industry humming and the world of commerce moving.

But what about the ‘pieces’ of us that grew out of our childhood?  I’m quite certain that these things continue to shape our destiny.  And may be the hardest of all to change.

A Change of Habit

Many years ago I worked for an organization where there was a long standing and firmly held belief that if you had a conflict/issue/negative interaction with a co-worker it was of the utmost importance that YOU be the first one to report the issue.  Now this did not occur from a good-for-the-business-and-the-organization cultural value.  Rather, it arose from the absolute conviction that if you told the BigBoss your side of the story first – then that was the version that would become the gospel.  Too bad for your co-worker or teammate, also involved, who didn’t get to the BigBoss first . . . s/he would be presumed guilty and have to prove their innocence.

Naturally, when I went to work in this environment I refused to believe that this was how things operated.  “Surely,” I said to a peer, “the BigBoss isn’t really managing situations in this manner?”

“Just you wait,” she replied cryptically.

So I waited.

**********

And I saw it come to pass.

Margie and Betty had a verbal tiff (it barely even registered as a disagreement) on how to complete a process.  Betty didn’t like the way Margie “was bossy” so she ran to the BigBoss and reported this atrocious transgression.  The BigBoss began an investigation (yes, really) and assumed that Margie had committed the most egregious act possible…before he even had one word with her.

Stan noticed his co-worker Bob reporting to work late on a regular basis.  Stan decided his best course of action was not to have a word with Bob, nor even to mention it to his Manager.  Rather, as you can imagine, Stan high-tailed it to the office of the BigBoss.  And thus commenced another ‘investigation’ by the BigBoss who, when he spoke to Bob, came to learn that not only did Bob’s Manager know what was going on, he had approved a temporary change to Bob’s schedule so he could attend some medical appointments.

And on and on.

Wow.

**********

I came to find that this was a long standing (think decades-long) practice.  As I got a sense of some of the historical and cultural norms it appeared that this way of operating had come about for a couple of reasons:

  • The BigBoss (and some managers) felt that their role was to keep their wayward children in line – with kindness of course – and teach them right from wrong.  So in the name of caring for employees (“we’re like a family after all!”) and teaching some important and necessary work skills, a culture developed that encouraged this sort of childish behavior on the part of the employees.
  • Staff members bought into this paternalistic environment where they were treated as children rather than fully functioning professionals; heck, in a way it was all somewhat easier!  So for years being the office tattletale was validated.  At its core, of course, it wasn’t so much about ‘getting someone else’ in trouble.  Rather, it was all about getting some love, appreciation and face-time with Dad the BigBoss.

Not an easy habit to change.

**********

But change it we did.

And while there were a number of contributing factors that went into a major adjustment of this particular workplace culture, there were a few key action steps that helped us change this particular habit:

  • We defined (and communicated) the role of our managers – for their own benefit as well as for the benefit of their employees.  We mapped out competencies, expected performance indicators, and accountabilities.  People were amazed and astonished at the positive things that happened once we let our managers “manage.”
  • We clarified what our ‘open-door’ policy meant (because yes – it was an actual policy in the actual Employee Handbook).  While we still encouraged feedback and sharing of information, we migrated, by example, from a tattletale culture.  Primarily by…..
  • Encouraging the BigBoss to (gently) turn employees away from his door by asking one simple question – “Have you spoken to your manager first?”

Three relatively painless shifts in how we operated.  And over time we witnessed a transformative effect.

As for the BigBoss?  He was extraordinarily happy.  He hadn’t realized how exhausted he was.

Double the Goodness

One of my very favorite bloggers is joining another one of my very favorite bloggers!

If you’re not already a regular reader of Blogging4Jobs – well, what are you waiting for?  For quite a number of years already Jessica Miller-Merrell has been sharing her insight and expertise with business owners, leaders and professionals on the topics of social media, recruitment strategies, and human resources.  She’s one of my must reads every single day and I’m so lucky because we usually cross paths several times per year and get to hang out together too!

So it was pretty nifty to see the announcement that Rayanne Thorn, with Broadbean is joining Jessica over at the Blogging4Jobs community.

So add B4J to your RSS feed and get ready to learn even more about how your business can establish an online presence through the use of Social Media and how you can stay on top of the best Recruiting & Strategic Business practices.

Check out the press release here

Congrats ladies!