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July 30, 2007

Do you have annoying habits that are labeled uncivil by your coworkers?

When I read the comments posted to my last entry, I thought about having a talk with my coffee mug. To tell it to stay home in my cubicle or the break room, so I could not be slurping coffee in front of someone’s cubicle. (I’m pretty sure the mug can still attend meetings if I don’t slurp.) It helps me be more civil if I understand what annoys others.

One of those serendipitous things
The day there were comments about discourteous worker habits on my post, I found this Forbes.com piece on annoyances in the workplace--personal conversations, loud talkers, speaker phones, messy break rooms, potent-smelling food, computer noises, cell phone rings…

July 23, 2007

The seven key needs of employees

In the ‘Do you want your boss to be your friend?’ entry for July 13, I mentioned Terry Bacon, an expert in talent management, who has surveyed workers worldwide to determine what matters most for them to be engaged at work. Bacon wrote an article for a human resources newsletter on the topic. This is excerpted from that newsletter:
1. Trust. When organizations trust employees, people behave ethically, are better stewards of the company’s resources, are more committed, provide better customer service and are more satisfied overall. Companies need policies that prove trust such as flex-time.
2. Challenge. Employees want to feel challenged, to feel they are learning and growing on the job. The best employees become bored and eventually leave if they are not challenged.
3. Competence. The workers who feel competent and skilled work harder, do better and are more creative. Every employee should have a professional development plan.
4. Self-esteem. Companies that successfully create a climate of high self-esteem treat employees in a respectful manner. They ensure that managers are courteous, listen to employees, value real contributions and recognize and reward people.
5. Excitement. Employees need interesting and challenging work. People who are engaged and energized are more committed, resourceful, creative and productive.
6. Involvement. Top companies and managers learn what individual employees feel passionate about and find ways to give them related assignments.
7. Appreciation. Many companies don’t understand the importance of formal and informal recognition and the role of managers in showing appreciation on both levels.

High-performance and high-potential employees leave
Bacon writes that high-performance and high-potential employees leave or refuse to join an organization for lack of opportunity, lack of recognition and not understanding what people really want in the workplace.

This I believe
Your skills and unique personal attributes are your responsibility. Be proactive, creative and in perpetual motion working on your professional goals. It’s your career path. For example
• Be trustworthy and conscientious about your use of your time at work, your expenses, your organization’s resources. It’s a lot about being honest. Trust creates trust.
• Ask for different assignments and volunteer for new assignments. Creativity and flexibility are valued in the knowledge economy, in this job or the next.
• Learn at work and outside of work. Read, listen to books on CD on commutes or trips. Take advantage of lectures and seminars; many are free. If they are during work hours, explain how they’ll improve your skills or knowledge and ask to attend. If you work for cooperative extension anywhere in the United States, eXtension has 30 minute professional development sessions, often on social networking topics. (If I can understand these topics, you can too.) See http://about.extension.org/
• Be civil and promote civility.

The article by Terry Bacon, Retain valuable employees by acknowledging what they really need, http://www.lorenet.com/assets/Press/HRMN_643-06.pdf

July 19, 2007

Instilling civility in the workforce of the future

In scanning releases from extension news services all across the United States for posting on the national eXtension Web site, I came across this one on parents helping their children learn civility. The release doesn’t use the word ‘civility’ but that definitely is the topic. It’s an angle I’d not thought about because it's outside the workplace. Nonetheless a very good angle because children are the workforce of the future.

It’s from the University of Illinois.
It's a Jungle Out There! Coach Your Child for Social Survival

July 18, 2007

They shoot messengers, don't they?

Wickipedia says “Shooting the messenger" is a phrase describing the act of lashing out at the (blameless) bearer of bad news. The advice "Don't shoot the messenger" was first expressed by Shakespeare in Henry IV, part 2 (1598).

This is a second post using a section of ‘The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t’ (Feb. 2007) by Robert Sutton, Stanford University professor. The first was May 18, The very difficult people who are more trouble than they are worth, http://www.extension.iastate.edu/mt/civility/2007/05/the_very_difficult_people_who.html

Sutton explains that the perpetually difficult people suffer from delusions of effectiveness. In today’s competitive world, some people rise to power by walking over others. Leadership research shows, particularly in nasty and competitive cultures, subtle moves like glaring and condescending comments, insults and put-downs and even physical intimidation can be effective paths to power.

These skills may work to rise to power…unfortunately. They don’t work for effective leadership.

The people who work with such a person have ways to cope. If there’s a “shoot the messenger” mentality, people learn very quickly to be silent about bad news. There is only good news. People put on an act when the jerk is around.

In a fear-based organization, employees constantly look over their shoulders and try to avoid blame and humiliation, even when they know how to help the organization. W. Edwards Deming noted employees devote energy to protecting themselves, not to helping the organization improve. There is evidence that when people work for cold and mean-spirited jerks, employees steal from their companies to even the score.

Delusions of effectiveness

Sutton lists seven points in his list ‘Are you suffering from delusions of effectiveness?’ I’ve covered four. The other three are
• Your organization is effective despite rather than because you are a demeaning jerk.
• You are being charged taxes: people are willing to work for you only if you pay them premium rates.
• Your enemies are silent for now.

Facing the truth
A workplace atmosphere stifles growth if you can’t use research and entertain open discussion. It’s untruthful. I think of a phrase I’ve encountered several times recently, the emperor has no clothes. The allusion is to Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale ‘The Emperor's New Clothes’. The term is often used for an obvious truth denied by the majority despite the evidence they see.

When I finished Sutton’s book, my overall feeling was depression. Somehow I feel it would be cowardly and dishonest to not share and mull over some of his writing just because I’m depressed by the content. It is heavy with references to research. We all need to face the truth even when we don’t like it, which is indeed the essence of this post. Don’t shoot the messenger.

July 17, 2007

One way to prepare for the incivility that you know will come

We’re heating up in Iowa, not only weather wise, but in national politics. The incivility is sure to erupt. The more we’re exposed to incivility, the more tempted we are to take on some incivility in our relationships.

A preventative measure
Suggest this blog to your coworkers, bosses, clients, friends and relatives. I’m not trying to shamelessly promote. I simply believe we are all happier with civility. The more we cooperatively can get people to think about their actions, their words—the better workplaces we’ll have. And that goes for grocery stores too. I didn’t need to hear one side of a cell phone conversation last night on the new boyfriend vs. the old boy friend while I waited for a new butcher who was learning prices and how many slices of 9-month cheddar make a pound.

There’s always the chance that whomever you suggest this blog to will think you did so to highlight the current topic. And because I write and edit for a living, I drafted (and edited) an email you could adapt, personalize, use as is or rewrite completely.

Send this on
I read a blog on civility in the workplace that covers topics on communication methods, ethics, reasons for incivility, etiquette and dealing with difficult people. There’s some fun entries too such as If a dog was your teacher, http://www.extension.iastate.edu/mt/civility/2007/05/if_a_dog_was_your_teacher.html and the Underwear info page, http://www.extension.iastate.edu/mt/civility/2007/06/underwear_info_page.html. I’ve found some tips for workplace communications and problems and thought you might enjoy reading it. You can sign up for the mailing list or get it by RSS feed if you click on ‘main’ at the top and then scroll down the right hand column.

Preview of topics to come
Here are some requested topics, some series continuations and some thoughts:
A request for more on bullying in the workplace to supplement Sticks and Stones, http://www.extension.iastate.edu/mt/civility/2007/02/sticks_and_stones.html.
A suggestion to write about politics in the workplace, the national election kind.
Which makes me think of office politics.
Several posts left to go on the email communication series.
Something on difficult people comes out every other month on the 18th—that’s tomorrow.
More reasons for incivility, in the reading and contemplation stage.
Communication styles. Values. Time management and being civil. Cultures, both office and the culture of your upbringing. Integrity. Humility. Lots more in my idea file.
Some topics pop with current events.

If you have a topic request or a resource
please let me know. You could even vote on the ones above; tell me what to push to the forefront. And do speak up for civility.

July 13, 2007

Do you want your boss to be your friend?

A coworker sent me an article from the Wall Street Journal Online titled “OMG – My Boss Wants To Be My ‘Friend’ Online”. http://www.careerjournal.com/columnists/cubicleculture/20070711-cubicle.html

The article points out those social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace can pose a dilemma for both the boss and the employee. It’s a new awkward dimension of ‘friendship’ and the boss-employee relationship.

What do employees really want from their bosses?
Terry Bacon, an expert in talent management and author of ‘What People Want: A Manager’s Guide to Building Relationships that Work’ conducted a nationwide survey of 500 employees to learn what matters most in their relationship with a manager. The Oct. 2006 news release for the book says, ‘Ninety percent of workers rank honesty, fairness and trust as their top three needs. Bacon says what employees don’t want from their boss is fun, friendship and “interesting conversations”’. http://www.lorenet.com/About-Press.asp

How does civility fit in all this?
I think about respect and fairness. I think of brown-nosing (flatter with the intention of getting something). I think of ethics. How separate do you want your personal life and your working life to be? Do my age and my experience with many different bosses make me look at the demarcation line between a boss and an employee differently than my 20-something year old children would?

I think both the employee and the boss have responsibilities to maintain a professional relationship. There are bosses I would never be friends with outside the workplace and there are bosses that are definitely friends. The latter is more problematic. I think there are differences in friendships before your friend becomes your boss, when your friend is your boss and after your friend is no longer your boss. The real test for me is would I continue the friendship after the person is no longer my boss? Your thoughts?

More on the Internet
Boss or Friend? The Importance of a Clearly Defined Working Relationship, http://www.allbusiness.com/human-resources/workforce-management/11242-1.html

Can the Boss Be a Friend?, http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=34&aid=2408

Can Employees Be Friends With the Boss?, http://gmj.gallup.com/content/23893/Can-Employees-Be-Friends-With-the-Boss.aspx

Your Friend, Your Boss, Perhaps Your Loss, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-adv/classifieds/careerpost/careertrack/ct070698.htm

July 09, 2007

Email emotions -- duplicity and anger including sarcasm, loaded phrases and rhetorical questions

This week (already) I’ve responded to e-mail messages that had little jabs. I was tempted to write, “I’m responding as professionally as I can.” Those emails made me contemplate the relationship of professionalism and civility. I concluded Civility = Professionalism but you are certainly free to disagree.

More embellishments on and notes from ‘Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home’ by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe published April 2007.

Duplicity (deceitfulness, being twofold or double, belying true intentions by deceptive words) Examples: Knowledge becomes power so you distribute information selectively. Acting like a double agent.

Anger Would you say it in person? If not, don’t ‘send’. Flaming is sending messages that are deliberately hostile and insulting. Wikipedia says “Sometimes, flamers are attempting to assert authority, or establish a position of superiority. Other times, the flamer is simply a closed-minded or biased individual whose conviction that his is the only valid opinion leads him to personally attack any dissenters." This is the ugly side of email.

Sarcasm rarely works in emails. It takes an ability to perceive nonverbal signals so probably is understood only by those who know you very well. Sarcasm can be cutting and condescending; some people will understand your message as just that.

Loaded phrases put particular emphasis on your power over someone and sound impatient, patronizing and sarcastic.
I can’t imagine why…
You’ll have to…
Is it too much to ask…
Why in the world…
It seems odd that…
Just curious, but…
Please explain to me…

Rhetorical questions can be debilitating.
What were you thinking?
Did you really say that?
What ever gave you that idea?

The real question
Why do I need to assert my dominance? If you wouldn’t make the comment to another in person, don’t put it in an email.

“Let me give you two pieces of advice. One is practical. And one is more theoretical. Never talk when you can nod. And never write when you can talk. My only addendum is never put it in an email. The other piece of advice I would give is that I don't think you can teach ethics. You can teach it by behavior. By the time someone's in business school, if they're not going to get it, it's just a risk-reward analysis to them. The one way we're going to bring people back into the system is shame. The shame of being smeared across the headlines will work. Shame. And when you hire someone, buy them a copy of "Bonfire of the Vanities*." It makes the point that nobody is beyond reproach. Everybody can be subjected to that. That's incredibly important.”
–Eliot Spitzer, Governor of New York (1959 - )
Conclusion in a speech on federalism, corporate governance and Wall Street settlements

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, 1990 first printing is 659 pages.
(I’ve read Wolfe since JlMC 464, Journalism and Literature. Let me know if you want to read my copy.)

July 02, 2007

Freedom in the workplace

This is the week our nation celebrates freedom.
How are freedom and democracy faring in the workplace?

Freedom brings choices
Energized productive workplaces are those where the culture exemplifies freedom by
Empowering workers to design the projects and find the solutions
Expecting continuous learning to increase knowledge and skills
Encouraging civil discourse
Insisting on effective and open communications
Demanding ethics which allow trust to reign

Freedom brings responsibility
To be involved, to participate
To release the old thinking and look for new ways
To take risks, knowing you could fail but learn from experience
To be open to changing your mind with more information or when circumstances change
To be civil and develop esprit de corps
To become an effective leader where you see the need

Engines of Democracy
That’s the title of a September 1999 article about “the General Electric plant in Durham, North Carolina that builds some of the world's most powerful jet engines. But the plant's real power lies in the lessons that it teaches about the future of work and about workplace democracy.” I don’t know if the culture has changed, but here’s a current job posting on the Internet which suggests it continues to be a democratic workplace.
Assembly & Test Technician, GE, Aviation, Durham, NC
* Assemble jet engines.
* Coach, guide and train other team members and function in a team-based environment.
* Work from complex product drawings.
* Set-up operates, adjust and troubleshoot all tools and equipment.
* Perform inspections required for the quality plan.

* A high school diploma or GED.
* FAA issued Powerplant license is required.
* Excellent oral and written communication skills.
* Ability to work in a team environment.
* Ability to learn new tasks and become multi-skilled.
* Willingness to work flexible hours/shifts.
* Ability to teach and coach others.
* Ability to make and accept responsibility for decisions.
* Willingness to work in multiple roles with varied responsibilities.

Successful candidate should be able to:
* Work well with and appreciate differences in others and their ideas.
* Function in multiple roles and in different types of situations.
* Behave in an honest, fair, trustworthy and compliant manner in all activities and relationships.
* Accept responsibility for and learn from consequences of own actions and decisions.
* Work diligently and be persistent in performing all tasks while encouraging and motivating others to reach given objectives.

From the 1999 article which is quite long but very interesting, “At a place where the morale is high and the performance is extraordinary, something is going on that is often overlooked in an economy obsessed with fringe benefits, gratuitous flattery, and today’s closing stock price. At GE/Durham, the work itself is the thing. The techs at GE/Durham have challenging jobs that matter, they have a degree of control over their work that is almost unprecedented, they adhere to demanding performance standards, they receive the training and support that they need to do the best work they can—and, as a result, they do just that.”