The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; War, Disease, Famine and Death are often portrayed as horrific ghouls on horseback riding into the world bringing chaos and destruction.
Considering the workplace, I have come up with some alternative apocalyptic riders, that can have a destructive impact on an organisation. I’ve named them Cynicism, Intransigence, Blame and Death. They ride into organisations which are under stress and their presence is toxic to productivity and creativity.
Few people would deny that the modern workplace in the UK is under pressure, there is much written in the News and Social media about the fall in wages and zero hours contracts. The NHS is in crisis, the impact of Brexit on business seems to dominate the news. There is job insecurity and pressure on workers to produce more for less money. We have suffered years of austerity, Public sector organisation make cuts, trim budgets and yet are somehow expected to produce a high-quality service. The private sector is similarly challenged with an emphasis on attaining targets, increasing productivity and generating profit. Workplace relationships are under pressure and there can often be a significant “them and us” mentality in organisations where management and worker seem to be at loggerheads instead of cooperating.
When I listen to the stories of clients who come to counselling exhausted and stressed, I have started to notice a pattern that results in a sense of hopelessness and despair in the client where their capacity to work effectively is seriously impaired.
It seems to begin with the organisation wanting to instigate change. Senior management will have an idea to change a system as a way of improving things, or they may want to implement a change that is less palatable to the employee. As an example, they may want to move staff around, or they may decide not to replace people who leave and make change to the structure so that more work is done by fewer people.
Enter the four-horseman thundering through the organisation;
And the first to arrive is Cynicism a jaundiced misanthropic creature:
I often hear clients say things like “Management have a new idea to get X done – of course it will be a waste of time…” they have a very jaded view of the organisation and they perceive, rightly or wrongly, that the senior management of the organisation are coming up with a new hare-brained scheme that is destined for failure. It’s a “vanity project” or it will be for the benefit of management not the worker. There is much eye rolling as the employee tells me why something won’t work. I get a sense that they perceive the senior management team to be out of touch with the worker and they believe that the employer doesn’t really understand their employees and more importantly the work that they do.
Cynicism is such a poisonous feature in a workplace it will strangle any attempt to inject change and I believe it arises as the result of a loss of trust in the organisation. I know there is nothing worse than some naysayer who has to be dragged along, resisting and moaning about change. It can be depressing, it can waste time but how did it get there?
This cynicism towards the employer is enhanced by the next Horseman: Intransigence.
This guy is a real beauty- unyielding and obstinate; such a useless creature.
When change is introduced there will be inevitably some criticism of said procedure, sometimes the criticism is legitimate and sometimes it may be nothing more than moaning. BUT what I hear from clients is that management will tell them that they “must get on with it” or “just suck it up – that’s the way it’s going to be, so get used to it”. It is perhaps the most pointless, unhelpful reason a manager can give staff about change. There is a rigidity that makes the change more unpalatable. And of course, cynicism grows ever more yellow and complaining.
Intransigence frequently reflects an inability to effectively communicate and explain the reason for change. It seems that nobody really wants to take responsibility for the change being instigated and rather than listening to the criticism the manager gets defensive and seems to panic and the best response they come up with is to say “just get on with it”
I know that change, no matter how unpalatable, must be implemented and it would be great if people just accepted it and stopped making unhelpful comments on why it isn’t going to work. But saying “Nothing to do with me it wasn’t my idea, this is what management want to do so get on with it” isn’t helpful. It affirms the cynicism and the lack of trust.
So here comes the next horseman: Blame.
A miserable, spiteful creature constantly waving a pointy finger a whoever is in its eye-line. Blame is all about avoiding responsibility and allocating blame on the poor individual who gets caught in the crosshairs of its sites. When intransigence and cynicism run through the organization there is inevitably a blame culture coming close behind.
Sometimes there are legitimate concerns about some systems being replaced or altered. If you have fewer people on a task it will take longer to complete unless you have put contingencies into the system that means it will compensate (i.e. your IT system is upgraded so it works quicker and more efficiently thus offsetting the loss in staff). However, when there is the slightest sense of failure or something not working as planned then you hear, “I told you it wouldn’t work”. The employee blames management for being out of touch and the employer blames the employee for being incompetent and negative
Any shortcomings or mistakes that arise results in a great blame game – and the organisation faces the final horseman – Death. This character is life destroying; creativity and productivity are stifled and cannot flourish. Poorly managed teams will be failing, long term sick leave due to stress increases, and bullying and harassment claims increase. Any good-will between management and employee will be lost, nobody wants to help, it’s always someone else’s fault.
These horsemen are so unhelpful and they are easily avoidable: what is needed is an organisational culture that is based on trust, open communication and accountability.
This will tether those pesky horsemen and possibly even run them out of town,