Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rage in the workplace

I just posted a new discussion on the leadership forum site. I will list it below, and if you want to join in the discussion go to:

William Sweetland from Ragan Communications wrote a blog post on rage in the workplace. It came to my attention because he mentioned research from the leadership pulse (and ok, he said very nice things about our work).

He interviewed me Friday, and it was a real pleasure to find out that someone else has been observing the same kind of data points we're seeing in the research and coming to the same conclusions.

I thought you'd enjoy his blog post, and I'd be interested to hear what you all think. It's below:

Blog post by William Sweetland of
Ragan Communications
uly, 2008

Recently two online stories, one in the New York Times and one in Yahoo News, dealt with Anger in the Workplace. What are its causes? How common is it? What can we do about it?

The Times article, partly tongue in cheek, assigns blame to petty rudeness and thoughtlessness, mostly such things as food theft, dishes left in the company kitchen sink, and cell-phone abuse by the idiot in the next cubicle. The Yahoo News article, a straightforward, serious examination of the problem, concludes that the rising price of gas and the falling economy are to blame.

What baloney. When nearly half of the workers in America report yelling and verbal abuse on the job, and a quarter say they've been reduced to tears by such abuse, the cause is NOT four-dollar-a-gallon gas. Nor is it that my retirement package is worth 18% less today than it was four months ago. And it certainly isn't the rumors I've heard that my entire department is going to be outsourced to Nepal within the next three months.

No, as worrisome as these concerns are, they don't come close to the heart of the matter, the real reason why people yell and scream at others at work. The real reason is on top of your desk right now.

It's your damned workload. The workload that's so big, you don't know where to start. So big, you don't know how to attack it, how to assign priority to the most important stuff, what to work on, who to blame, where to go for help, why it happened, or how to solve it.

That is the reason people snap and start yelling at subordinates. They're at the end of their ropes. They can stand the hour-and-a-half commutes in from Schaumburg, the waste of gas, the trip that costs $15 or $20 in gas instead of the $4 it should cost. The terrible state of the economy is something they know they can't do anything about.

But those piles of work on their desks: That they feel personally responsible for. And those piles are growing like a malignant cancer. And this knowledge is driving them crazy, the most senior management as well as the line supervisors in the Podunk, PA factory.

Don't believe me? A very smart professor at the University of Michigan, Dr. Theresa Welbourne, has made a deep, wide-ranging study of anger, disillusionment, disgust, and disengagement inside the American corporation, and here is her conclusion: The problem of undone work piling up on everybody's desks is so big that it's the No. 1 cause of disengagement. Not only for management, but for everyone in the corporation.

We don't want to admit the overwhelming pressure of this problem, because we think we're at fault. Deep down, we think it's also the fault of the executives in the C-suite. The systems they created (or didn't create) are responsible. Or it's the people who work under us. They just don't care as deeply about their work as we do. In our desperation we make bogeymen out of innocent people. And we hate ourselves for doing that, because we know we’re being unfair.

So the next time The Wall Street Journal or the Christian Science Monitor tells you that the real cause of workplace rage lies outside of work, write them a note and set them straight.
It's the work that isn't getting done, no matter how hard we work, no matter what we try, that brings on these attacks of rage. It isn't the price of gas or the declining value of our 40l-k's. To blame the morning commute or the fact that we can no longer afford our annual vacation in Bermuda is ridiculous.

Getting our job done well is FAR more important than any of these secondary annoyances.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Management old wives tales 101: Maybe the manager isn't as important as we think!

I feel like I have been in the 'busting old wives' tales business for the past year. I keep doing research that finds results that are counter to what everything "thinks" is the truth. I'm going to talk about a few of these over the next few months. The first one is:

The direct manager is most important for retention and engagement.

Not so - not for everyone!

I'm not saying that this research is absolutely exhaustive, but in at least three fairly large studies I've found the following:

* Lower and average performing employees are more likely to leave because of their manager.

* High performing employees really don't care about he manager; they leave due to culture.

In fact, engaged and higher performing employees seem to not care too much about the manager. From reviewing the data, my sense is that they know they can do well with or without their managers. They can get transferred, work around their manager, get a new job, etc.

But the 'not so outstanding worker' - for that person, the manager really matters. They probably need more help, more direction, and maybe because they know they are not going 'above and beyond' at work, they need the manager to really like them .. because if the manager doesn't like them, then they may start seeing consequences that they won't like.

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