Parable of the Sh*t-Fan

Whenever tension comes up in the workplace, I like to say, “If we all met at a party, we’d be great friends”. I believe it is often the “overhead” of the office that causes the tension, and gets in the way of good work (and friendliness). And yet, there is something I am very unaccepting about – I will not work for a person who has a “sh*t list”. And I beat myself up about it if I ever get into a heated discussion at work. A corollary to this:

Be careful of working in a place where the sh*t ever hits the fan.

So if I am ever on a job interview in your office, and I happen to notice a dirty (icky) fan next to your desk, I am not taking the job. It’s just not worth the trouble, and it’s not even good for your company, I’d say. I know anger and distress can be common, at times, but they don’t help people or companies, I’d say.

The fact is, I am a veritable Polyanna around the office. If there’s a grumpy cubicle, I’ve got a smile that can solve that, or so I think. It’s good to believe in your own ideals – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

Operating Out of Fear

It seems to often go undetected – there is a type of fear whose only symptom is: a job well done. The people with this fear are routinely liked in a luke-warm sort of way by their peers. They are considered to be good employees. Some of them stay late, just because. The fear converts into customer service which is less like “service”, and more like “just reiterate the d*rned policy”. Employees with this fear learn to avoid authority and risk, and with it (sorry for the trite ideas here!), they avoid business opportunities. A company can continue this way for many years. Management may be encouraging of this behavior, unknowingly, as a poor side-effect of a well-intentioned policy. In a previous post (Attack of the Two-Headed Help Monster), I described my view of how company policy can go bad at the front-line, even when the back-line is smart and attentive. I would love to hear your experiences, if you have seen something similar. It is a situation worth changing, I’d say.

5pm – Let’s Go!

Whether or not the office has an actual “sh*t-fan”, offices which continue to routinely operate under a condition of lukewarm fear can risk sinking into a morass of non-wanting-to-do-anything. Folks leave work, on-the-dot.

In the words of Peter Gibbons, modern folk hero of office workers:

It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation?

Because hand-in-hand with a culture of fear in the workplace is a culture of not-really-caring. I do my best work when I don’t care about losing my job. I witness low-quality work everywhere when it is clear that the person doing the work is concerned about pleasing a boss (or worse, a policy).

If you are a manager, how do you encourage employees to care more about results, and less about retaining a job? If you are an employee, how do you (especially during an extended economic downturn) keep-up your spirits, and do the best work, regardless of policies that unintentionally make work difficult, and without care for shaking things up a bit?

Does your office have a sh*t fan? Do you care?

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