It breaks my heart to hear friends and family tell me about their stressful, de-humanizing experiences at work. When you consider that the average person will spend between 90,000 to 100,000 hours or more at work during their lifetime, it’s sad to think that so many people have a negative experience of those hours. Obviously, this takes a huge toll on an individual’s life. And what about the companies these people are working for? The bottom line is, unhappy employees are bad for business.
Much has been said about hostile working environments. If an employee feels physically threatened or verbally abused, or bullied in any way, they can take legal action. What I want to talk about here isn’t quite as extreme, but it’s almost as harmful–and it’s unfortunately quite common.
The Unkind Environment
My definition of the unkind environment is a workplace that is not supportive or encouraging, but rather a place where criticism, judgment and blame are standard practice. It is a place where new ideas and creative approaches to problem-solving are not welcome. These are not legal issues, but the conditions in such environments often degrade and become fully hostile workplaces.
When people don’t feel safe, they let their egos guide their behaviour. It becomes a blame-game, where an individual’s goal is to make sure others are seen as guilty and they are always in the right. It prevents people from trying to improve the situation, because they don’t believe their opinions are valued. And to paraphrase the movie “Office Space”, conditions like that will only make you work hard enough to not get fired. Businesses like this do not foster innovation, a strong work ethic or pride in accomplishments. Instead, they become breeding grounds for petty behaviour, misery, illness, theft of company property, and high staff-turnover rates.
How to Create a Kind Environment
This starts with you, the business owner, and your management team. It starts with having a clear vision, mission and core company values that consider the treatment of staff, customers, suppliers and anyone else your business will be interacting with. You must work hard to create a culture where pettiness, gossip, and negativity are not tolerated.
When I hire staff for my businesses, I make it very clear that I expect all of my employees to be positive, genuine, kind, and supportive, and that anyone making mean comments or talking about co-workers behind their backs will not fit in with the team. I use the 3-month probationary period to make sure each new employee meets my ‘kindness standards’. The truth is, people generally want to fit in, so if you create a kind culture they will happily uphold it.
How to Deal with an Unkind Environment
If you already have a problem, it’s not to late to deal with it:
- Revise your company vision, mission and values to reflect a new approach that includes kindness at every level (however you choose to describe it).
- Let employees know what the new expectations are, and let them know that they can expect the same from you. This is a two-way street, and they will be looking to you to be the shining example. You can all hold each other accountable for creating a thriving workplace.
- Get tighter at the gates - make sure new hires have the positive attitudes and traits you need.
- Say goodbye to the people who are bringing your business down, but only after you make your new expectations clear and give them a chance to improve. Critique their behaviour rather than them as a person (e.g. “you have said negative things about your co-workers”, not “you are a negative person”.)
- Catch your employees being positive, supportive and kind and praise them for it. Reinforce the new behaviour you want.