A couple of years ago I gave an address to open a conference of school science Laboratory Technicians. My subject was "The Workplace"  and I wondered aloud what it was that made a successful workplace.  My aim was not to define the workplace but to pick up on a few aspects of it.  On the day of the presentation I used pictures of some famous paintings to help lighten the presentation.
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The Workplace
 
Here is my view of some of the things I considered to be important during a working life. Or at least some of the things I hope I considered important. The hurly burly of work can sometimes obscure the finer points.
 
We spend about 20% of our total lifetime working. This figure assumes a person living in Australia, starting work in their early 20s, taking statuary leave entitlements and retiring between 60 and 65. 

Twenty percent is a lot of life.  We should be aware of what we hope to achieve in this time and it is important to consider what the workplace can do for us, as well as what we can do for it.  So many suffer a working life  in order to have funds which can be employed in "having a life".  The workplace is firmly part of life.
 
 
Let’s take the discussion alphbetically.
 
Achievement: achievement does not just involve meeting your employer’s objectives but achieving objectives of your own. What do you hope to get out of work? You will need to balance ambition, self-esteem and give special thought to how much initiative you are prepared to expend .  Successful workplaces reward initiative and engender a feeling of mutual achievement.
 
Anger: does anger have a role in the workplace? Anger brings temporary power and may get things done in the short term. It can thus be an appealing strategy.  However it dramatically increases uncertainty and decreases stability.  As a long-term strategy anger fails the test of helping to provide a happy productive workplace.  As a means of indicating seriousness of purpose it has some short-term uses.
 
Challenge: Challenge manifests as both an outward and inward motivator. Outward is pretty obvious- you have to survive in the workplace and successfully manage your employer’s demands. Inward challenges are more difficult to manage and may become the victim of ego. Ego needs careful management and many workplace casualties are the result of out-of-control ego.  Successfully managed ego is one of the forces for good in the workplace.
 
Change: change is not the same as innovation. Innovation is quite rare in the workplace and it is the successful driver of change. Change can be used as a weapon by unscrupulous employers; change for changes sake is not a successful tactic as it destabilizes the workplace and results in decreased confidence and morale. Change can also decrease recognition of past effort. A successful workplace will leave workers satisfied that their previous efforts have been properly recognized and have contributed to any changed environment.
 
Collegiality: Institutional and person harmony should not be in conflict. Empire building is an essential part of corporate and personal worlds and indeed an essential part of human existence. We all build empires both small and large. Empire building produces workplace routines and our own inner empire building gives us a structure to operate within. Of course empire building taken to excess is destructive. Ambition and selfishness often combine to produce destructive empire building.  Collegiality depends on shared objectives, ie management and staff, and balancing the demands of empire both within and without.
 
Communication: of vital importance in stopping harmful gossip (see later for “gossip”). Instability results almost immediately from poor communication. Of course those in the workplace must understand that the level of communication which reaches them may be directly related to their position in the hierarchy. There are two types of communication; overt and intrinsic. Overt is pretty obvious but intrinsic communication is just as important. How do people feel about what is happening? A look at workplace body language can say a lot about the workplace!
 
Confidence: a two way process. Lack of confidence is most damaging and it can take several forms. Does the workforce have confidence in management? Does management have confidence in the Workforce? Inner-confidence is vital too. People at all levels in the organization must feel confident that they are doing something worthwhile.
 
Contribution: the workforce must contribute to the institution and vice versa. Contribution can be quite subtle. Is the workforce at all levels interested the welfare of work-fellows? Do people “care” about each other? “Caring” is a word which has lost much of its impact because of over-use: a pity. Caring is really a form of contribution of one to another.
 
Courage: successful workplaces reward courage. Courage is not recklessness and can manifest itself personally and institutionally.  Decision making depends partly on courage.
 
Excitement: coming to work should be an exciting experience at least some of the time. Continual states of excitement are not achievable nor desirable but excitement is a human emotion and the workplace should provide it. Excitement can result from many sources; corporate achievement, personal achievement, social achievement and innovation.  All in the workplace have a role in eliminating tedium.
 
Expectancy: everyone in the workplace is entitled to have expectations as to what the workplace will deliver. Confidence is greatly increased if these expectations are made clear not just in a downward direction but across all parts of the workplace. The manner in which people relate to each other carries certain expectations.  Epectation can manifest itself from something as simple as a friendship at work to the achieving of the largest corporate ambition.
 
Function: function is always present in the workplace. Function is more subtle than meeting objectives. A persons “function” may contain un-definable parts for instance the quality of their inter-personal relationships.
 
Gossip: often seen as the enemy of management, gossip is an integral part of human existence and it occupies a vital place in the workplace. Gossip is the most constant form of communication. It is unstoppable and probably uncontrollable. Gossip travels up and down the food-chain and across it with equal effect. It is usually a force for the good. Indeed if you are a leader and not being gossiped about, be concerned! Malicious gossip usually emanates from discouraged, dissatisfied people in the organization. The appearance of malicious gossip is a warning that the workplace is not functioning in a healthy way.  It may also mean that the gosssiper is perhaps someone the workplace can do without.
 
Health: low-value workplaces cause ill health. Low-value has a broad canvas and covers physical aspects as well as emotional aspects.
 
Human Relations Departments: need to be transparent. For some HR departments this is a considerable challenge. Poor HR department operation will quickly erode morale. Whose side is the HR department on?
 
Humility: the ordinary has value. Everyday happenings contain the majesty of existence. Successful leaders at all levels in an organisation possess humility; not to be confused with weakness.
 
Influence: successful workplaces are influenced by all workers
 
Innovation: is always present in successful workplaces. It can take quite minor forms and often minor inovations can be vital in securing corporate health. Don’t just look for innovation in corporate announcements.
 
Motivation: obviously needed in a workplace and can travel both up and down the chain of command. Disengagement is as important.  Be wary of those who claim to be "passionate" about what they are doing.  Zeoletry is often not far below the surface in such people.
 
Negotiation: promotes inclusiveness. Successful inclusiveness always results in successful work practices.  Self negotiation is also important. “Pace” yourself in every way.  You as a person are important to the institution and to your work fellows.
 
Objectives: who sets them? It is important that objective setting is realistic. Setting objectives defines a workplace. Are the objectives simply about output? This is harmful.  Personal objectives need to be achievable within the corporate structure.  Ideally both corporate and personal objectives should have a common theme.  A useful set of personal objectives includes working safely, harmoniously and productively.  This will accord with any objectives set by wise superiors.
 
Positive and negative pressures: these can be outwardly and inwardly imposed. Inwardly (self) imposed pressures are often more harmful than outwardly (workplace) imposed pressures. A balanced approach to the pressures of work is encouraged in successful work places.
 
Remuneration: must at least be adequate to maintain self-respect. Remuneration is not of the first importance though and can assume too great an importance. Ego is often linked to remuneration.
 
Requirements: these are both inwardly and outwardly imposed.  Generally workplace ethics should conform to accepted community norms . An ethical workplace respects people and actively and overtly follows accepted community standards.  Departure from ethical operation is never a success in the long term, both for the institution and the individual.
 
Resolution: individuals should be resolved about what they are doing. Ethics can become an issue here too.  Insecurity about the worth of work is very damaging to the institution and the person.
 
Respect: a vital workplace ingredient and it should travel both up and down the organization. The lowliest worker is entitled to respect. Lack of respect, either real or imagined is very damaging because it attacks self worth. Insincere expressions of respect are especially damaging.
 
Results: expectation of a desired result may be both inwardly and outwardly imposed but must be realistic. Unrealistic requirements, whether personal or corporate, ultimately damage the institution and the person.
 
Self-image: maintenance of self-image is important and ideally both corporate and self-images should roughly coincide. Weakening self-image is likely to have an unexpectedly significant effect on the success of the workplace. Maintaining self-image in others by flattering them is a short term solution.
 
Structure: work should be incorporated into life and not the reverse. If work begins to dominate life personal harm is always the result.
 
Success: to be striven for but not at any cost. Success may be both corporately or individually defined. Ideally both are compatible and the work force is sympathetic to both. Unhelpful empire building may result from a departure of personal goals from corporate goals.
 
Tension: needs careful management. Some tension is essential to maintain interest and fuel excitement. Too much tension in the workplace can be very destructive to both workers and the institution.  Long-term tensions are especially harmful.
 
Time: time at work should be seen as essentially time well spent. We spend 20% of our lives actually at work.
 
Value: we must be resolved about the value of the work we do. No work is valueless. Placing more value on one contribution compared to another is dangerous.
 
Wasted time: it is very easy to waste time. Ultimately deliberate time-wasting is personally damaging. The extent of time-wasting is an indication of corporate health.
 
In conclusion: a high-value workplace offers the opportunity for:
 
Stability

Innovation

Achievement

Personal Growth
 
JRT
 

 

 
 
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