Whoops!

23 07 2011

Bad day at the office?

In an ideal world, we would all be happy and unstressed all the time. We would deal with other with respect and kindness, and would be treated the same in return. If this is the world you live in, please email me and tell me where this place exists.

In reality however, we all have bad days – some more than others. Some in fact seem to be permanently in a bad mood. And that might be a nice way of explaining away their behaviour. No names will be mentioned to protect the guilty.

The evidence linking positive morale with motivation and performance in the workplace (and in life) is inaarguable. But this also works the other way – a negative work environment has detrimental effects on performance. And it is not just that people feel demotivated and less enthusiastic – it actually affects their ability to do the tasks required of them.

In the July 2010 British Medical Journal, Professor Rhona Flin of the University of Aberdeen cited a series of studies demonstrating that being the recipient of rudeness – or even just witnessing rudeness at work – can make you more likely to make a mistake. Students who were insulted prior to performing a series of memory tasks performed worse than the control sample.

Perhaps this is obvious. Workplace bullies the world over know if you pick on someone you can push them to make errors. Usually as managers, we are told we need to deal with bullying for OHS reasons. But this series of studies link the workplace culture and the way workers treat each other to performance. And you don’t have to be the one bullied to make the mistake – you only need to be a witness.

Prof Flin referred to the risks inherent in medical mistakes and used the example of an operating theatre. But the evidence is not limited to the medical field. A US study in a department of transportation found that workplace incivility affected not only job satisfaction, but also the effectiveness of quality programs aimed at teamwork, customer focus and continuous improvement. Decision making and team work was found to be negatively affected by rudeness and incivility in a study of high school students. A quick search of www.scholar.google.com reveals over 30,000 hits.

Generally, we all want to feel what we are doing is important and respected. We want to feel we are doing a good job. We want to work in a positive and supportive environment – and to be positive and supportive ourselves.

If only “the others” wouldn’t get in our way.

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