Who is Managing the Managers?

Allow me to start this post with a less than positive, yet unfortunately accurate, statement:
“The workplace can be a complex and insensitive place…”
Different personalities scramble to be known and heard, often not caring too much whether they hurt or upset a co-worker along the way. These people can create a good amount of turmoil, no matter how small or large the environment.
Now imagine one of these people is a manager- the situation has suddenly become much worse…
I’m sure you’ve heard the term “attitude is everything,” well, whoever said it was right (and perhaps for more reasons than he or she had initially thought).
I’ve worked in a variety of workplaces. Sometimes, there are days when you walk into the office and you immediately sense that something is wrong. You can cut the tension with a proverbial knife. It wasn’t like that yesterday, so what happened today?
Likely what has occurred is that someone has said or done something that was perceived to be plainly wrong.
Also, chances are that the manager didn’t do anything about it, or that it may actually be the manager who is the topic of discussion. And when that happens, it tends to bring everything to a sudden halt, each employee saying to themselves, “Did that really just happen?”
Employees who witness or encounter unwarranted and unjust treatment within the workplace are usually impacted by their experience.

So, what sort of behaviours are we talking about?

  • It could be unmanageable workloads, tough deadlines, or having little control over the work being performed. These simply compound the strain already felt within the environment.
  • Additionally, being shouted at or someone losing their temper towards an employee doesn’t help much.
  • Perhaps an employee is being treated disrespectfully or rudely, or someone has had an insulting or offensive comment made about them.
  • Possibly it’s the classic gossiping and rumour mongering that occurs in organizations, or maybe an employee has been ostracised from a group of coworkers.
  • It could even be the consistent criticism of your work or the lack of acknowledgment of your views, thoughts, and ideas for improvement.
  • It is bullying regardless of which way you look at it. And you thought you left that all back in high school…
  • The distance between disrespectful behaviour, incivility, and unjust treatment is often grey and blurry.

I feel certain that you’ll have a mental picture of a place and time when what was described has happened to you or a colleague of yours: was anything done?
There are a number of quotations that pop into my head with the theme of:  Employees Are An Organization’s Most Valuable Resource!
This is true to a certain extent, but I contend that it’s the RELATIONSHIPS between those employees that are really a business’s most important resource.
Robert Putman described one of my favourite analogies regarding that relationship in his book, Bowling Alone.  Let me elaborate.
Putman talks about the physical capital of a business as being the bricks and mortar of the building and the property that lies within its boundaries. He discusses the human capital as being the people who work within those walls.
I think you’ll agree that both are critical to all businesses.
However, Putman contends that it’s the Social Capital that needs the most consideration and attention.
I agree with that wholeheartedly.
Social Capital refers to those invisible, but very real, connections that exist between all groups of people: the trust between those individuals, the shared sets of values, a shared understanding. Those are important within any team, be it a sports team (remember the Super Bowl game?) or a group of employees.
Let’s say an organization has attracted a new employee to apply for a position with their advertising slogan proclaiming that they are ‘leaders in their field’ or an ‘employer of choice.’ They then train that person according to the new employee orientation manual and eventually provide job-specific guidance. The new employer introduces that employee to the range of human resource (HR) practices that the organization supports– possibly one of those being that workplace safety is a top priority.
Now, what if a gap begins to appear immediately in the system when the employee perceives the HR practise is stimulated by an organization’s concern, not for the well-being of the employees, but by a desire to cut costs associated with workplace accidents? Or maybe he or she even realizes the concern is stimulated by legal requirements forced on the business by regulatory authorities such as workers compensation or occupational health and safety boards.
To change such inconsistency, organizations MUST take a long, hard look at the way every level of the business interacts. This is no easy task.
Often, the corner suite will have no idea that the business is even ill, so why would they go to the doctor?
Well here’s a hint: someone needs to manage the managers! So, let’s start there. It is they, after all, that set the tone in every workplace, right?
Managers, whether they realize it or not, are expected by the employees to model and exemplify appropriate behaviour and treat everyone respectfully and fairly.
What sort of leadership style do they demonstrate and is that style reflective of who they actually are? Is the manager autocratic, laissez-faire, self-centred, or synergistic? The way in which managers conduct themselves has so much to do with how employees will behave around them and, maybe more importantly, how the employees behave when they aren’t present.
Now let me ask you to ponder this:
What if the leadership of an organization hasn’t made it clear to their managers what their expectations are of them in the first place?
Could that be the problem? Could the reason for the chill in the air simply be because the leaders of the organization have not actually sat down with their managers and discussed what their expectations of them are in terms of promoting fairness and respect?
When accident investigators are examining incidents, they often look for the root cause of the incident.
Generally speaking, root causes are systemic in nature and are found near the top of an organization– quite removed from the physical site where the incident actually occurred.
I suggest that the root cause of the unwarranted and unjust treatment experienced within a workplace could well be that the leaders of the organization have not clarified to their managers what their expectations are of their role.