Recently, I listened to an NPR news report on bizarre workplace policies.  The story (2015) developed out of a New York Times article on Amazon and the organizational culture which appears to be one of persistent workplace aggression.  NPR reports that some of the bizarre policies consisted of mandating what kind of laundry soap employees used, footwear that was allowed, and the use of cologne or perfume.  All of these are policies are an attempt to regulate the workplace environment, but what impact do they have on the workplace?

Before I get started, I do want to acknowledge that people are in fact impacted by smells and scents which can cause healthy issues.  I am not negating that these things are real and should not be addressed in the workplace.  I am going to assess how these policies are developed and implemented.

There are certainly times when a supervisor or leader of the organization needs put into place policies and/or procedures.  But as a general rule, policies and procedures that can be mutually discussed, created, and implemented tend to have better results than those that are mandated from the top down and then enforced heavy handedly.  

If a policy is needed in an effort to maintain someone’s health or a code of dress, it is beneficial for leaders and supervisors to gather input from their workers about the policy development including what modifications the workers need to make and what adjustments the organization is willing to do.  Leaders need to take the input from their workers into consideration.  It is very likely that their involvement will improve the policy and the implementation process.  It is of the utmost important that employee contributions are seriously considered and that these efforts are not merely for show.

In the case of the laundry soap, a meeting to discuss this with employees might offer suggestions to expand the policy.  For example, workers might suggest that the organization supply air filters and cleaners in conjunction with requesting workers to change their laundry soap.  Or, the organization could supply an incentive program or even provide workers with a month supply of the soap to start with. 

This really demonstrates for workers that the organization is committed to all workers and improving the overall environment.  It is not just dictating a change that the workers must abide by.  It is a more collaborative process.

Education about a new policy should be provided.  This demonstrates and reinforces respect for employees.  Most of us are willing to accept and follow a policy as long as we are aware of the rationale for it.  We might be reluctant but most of us are prepared to change our behavior especially if we know it might be impacting a colleague’s health.   

The workplace culture is an opportunity for cooperation to for both personal and organizational self-reflection.  Both are essential for managing the workplace, for growth, and creativity to occur.  Despite popular belief, workers who feel valued and heard make better employees.  They are vested in organization and with that vestment comes loyalty, harder work, and overall a better worker.  

Persistent workplace aggression, on the other hand, stifles workers because they are being psychologically abused by their colleagues.  Targets are on edge and a large majority of time of their valuable is spent trying to combat the aggression rather than on productivity.  Organizations are the real losers when it comes to this kind of behavior.  Not only do they great workers leave but these workers take with them their ideas.  Organizations ultimately lose money.  So the CEO of Amazon may be under the assumption that he hasn’t really lost anything, but the real reality is that he has.  Former workers have taken their ideas and creativity and most likely have made other companies money.   Employees deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.   For myself, I am really re-evaluating my loyalty to Amazon.   

For more information, please contact me at jankircher@jankircher.com or 320-309-2360

References

(2015). Bizarre Workplace Policies [Radio series episode]. In Morning Edition. Kansas City: David Greene.

 
 
One of the main and most consistent behaviors that I have witnessed in the workplace is that of defensiveness. It seems to be a universal behavior for targets, bystanders, and/or aggressors. Defensiveness looks similar among these roles, but the reasons behind the defensive behavior tends to be different.  

Targets use defensiveness as a means to “defend” what the target is doing. Typically, to prove that they have actually done what they are being accused of not doing. The goal is not aggression but rather protection of their workplace behavior.

Aggressors, on the other hand, use defensiveness as a way to cover up and as a tool to keep people out of the loop.   Defensiveness for the aggressor is an act of aggression and a form of workplace violence. Aggressors use defensiveness to preserve the illusion that they are working hard for the organization and that they are at the top of their game. Defensiveness is also exercised by aggressors to manipulate the environment and influence the behavior of others in the room.

I was recently in a meeting where a discussion ensued around incorporating another program into a department. The discussion focused on the purpose of this program and in particular the advantages of a narrow focus versus a broader perspective. The conversation was very general and non-threatening. Nothing arose in the discussion that was directly aimed at the person who was identified as the possible director of this program. However, the aggressor, also the potential director, became both verbally and physically defensive. Physically the person began moving around in their chair, shuffling papers and rolling their eyes. Verbally the person began talking over everyone else making statements such as “I am the best person for the job and this is my area of expertise.” These statements were an attempt by the aggressor to take away from the actual conversation which was valuable and productive. The defensiveness was an attempt to refocus back on the aggressor and their abilities.  If the conversation had been allowed to persist, the risk for the aggressor was that the program direction may have been expanded and their skills and abilities may not have been a good fit.  Fortunately for the aggressor,in this case, the conversation was halted and the poor workplace behavior was rewarded.

Bystanders use defensiveness for both reasons—to defend themselves and to deflect. They are in a unique situation as they frequently flip flop between being loyal to the aggressor or the target. The bystander uses defensiveness as both a means of protection and a means of workplace aggression depending on circumstances they find themselves in.

I recommend that we try to get away from using defensiveness behavior in the workplace. No matter who is being defensive, it is not a productive use of time and can be a harmful for the overall workplace environment.

For more information, please contact me at jankircher@jankircher.com or 320-309-2360.

 
 
In an organization where persistent workplace aggression exists, targets are often not believed making the overall work environment more difficult.

When targets are off doing their job, aggressors are manipulating and building false relationships with those in power and other potential aggressors.  This becomes extremely problematic for a target who later tries to report that persistent workplace aggression is happening. 

The aggressor has already laid the foundation of lies and untruths about the target because the aggressor positions themselves to be eyes and ears of the office.  They are the ones telling the boss what is going on.  Some of which is likely to be true, but also are embellishing and in some cases making up stories about the target.  Therefore, the system is already skewed in the favor of the aggressor and away from the target.  This is partially the reason why targets are not believed.  Aggressors become trusted members for the supervisors, whereas targets are not.

Being a target of workplace aggression is an extremely emotional and upsetting.  As a result, targets are regularly put into positions where they are on the defensive.  They are always being attacked and as such, repeatedly respond in seemingly confrontational ways. 

I know for myself, I fell into this trap on several occasions and because of this, I was not believed.  I allowed my reactions and emotions to control my behavior.  For example, I repeatedly felt the need to show how the workplace was unfair and regularly pointed this out in emails and meetings.  In an effort to identify the workplace aggression, I actually made it worse for myself.  People viewed me as whiny, insecure, and certainly not a reliable source of information that was believable.

Targets needs become hyper vigilante with their emotions and reactions in an attempt to protect themselves from persistent workplace aggression.  Targets should try not to defend their actions or behaviors.  Targets should also remember that opting not to respond or responding later are acceptable choices.  Persistent workplace aggressors are highly skilled are pushing the buttons of a target so that the target responds poorly.  Targets need to develop the skills to preserve their work environment and to adequately combat the workplace aggressor. 

For more information, please contact me at jankircher@jankircher.com or 320-309-2360