Posted by: The Dynamic Introvert | June 22, 2010

Is Your Workplace Broken?

This past week I’ve spoken to more people who either work inside “broken” workplaces or are consultants employed to fix “broken” workplaces.    

Today I’m going to use the adjective “broken” to describe workplaces that have unusually high turnover, lots of grievances, low moral, and lack of respect across the organization.  Low productivity is a huge issue in Canada and these “broken” workplaces also have a tendency to produce less in the way of products and services.

 Another characteristic of these organizations is that they are plagued by a lack of trust.

 As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, once this trust is “broken”…there’s that word again…it is really difficult to rebuild

 What can your organization do if this is the situation? The answer depends on the size of the organization, the resources available, previous attempts at “fixing” the problem AND on the people who work in the organization.

 If your organization is small, the problem is fairly new, you’ve got some resources available and those in management positions recognize the problem and are committed to fixing it then you’ve got a better chance at rebuilding.

 If you’re working in a large organization don’t despair–it’s not impossible to repair the damage…it will just take more resources and more time.

 The key is that management recognizes the problem and is committed to working with employees (and other stakeholders if applicable) to find solutions.

 What typically happens is an outside “expert” or “consultant” is brought in to “fix’ the problem. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.  

 Bringing in someone from the “outside” is not necessarily a bad thing but outside consultants can make things worse especially if trust has been broken.

 What organizations don’t usually do is ASK employees (and other stakeholders) what they think has caused the problem and if they want to be “part of the solution”.

 “Broken” workplaces cannot be fixed by any one person or any one group. As the saying goes, “It takes a community to raise a child.” Well, it also takes a community of workers to fix a “broken” workplace.

 Here are a few key first steps:

 1. Management/leadership recognizes that there is a problem

2. Management/leadership agrees to do something to fix the problem

3. Management/leadership is open with stakeholders about the extent of the problem (this is the transparency piece).

4. Management/leadership invite stakeholders to help fix the problem.

5. Unions (if they are involved) also commit to helping fix the problem.

6. A community building or community development approach is used.

 Management is often reluctant to take these steps because they are afraid of losing control. BUT I believe that if management is honest and sincere in wanting to fix the problem then workers will get onboard.  

 It’s about sharing ownership for the problem. Even if workers perceive that management is to blame they will be more inclined to listen and agree to work on solutions if they are treated like they have something valuable to contribute.   Believe me they usually do!

 A friend of mine works in higher education and her workplace is so bad that employees are filing grievances against each other. Can you imagine? People don’t talk to each other. They don’t try to problem solve. They know that there is a problem but they don’t feel any ownership and they certainly don’t see any way to remedy the situation.

 I purposely didn’t say much about unions in this post. The majority of workers in Canada and the USA are not union members.

 I’ll chat more about using a community development approach to healing your workplace in future posts. Remember, we’re all in this together!



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