Monday, January 21, 2008

Workplaces Are Social Environments

Charles Schultz, the famous cartoonist and I might add philosopher, was once asked, “How optimistic are you about the future of America?” After all, Charlie Brown, his erstwhile protagonist suffered an inordinate amount of frustration. Year after year Lucy would promise to hold the football only to yank it away at the last moment. Suffering catastrophe after catastrophe a disillusioned Charlie would utter, “Good Grief.”

Nevertheless, concerning optimism and America, Mr. Schultz was very optimistic. When asked why, he said because every day millions of hard-working Americans went to work, did their job, took care of their children and met their obligations. The simple fact is the vast majority of people do us proud.

As the developer of the Workplace Attitudes Test, I was recently asked, “What percent of employees have problem attitudes?” This is difficult to answer with precision. I would say that usually among a group of job applicants, approximately one out of twenty has shown at least one very high warning signal on the test. This usually comes as a surprise to the interviewer because it is difficult to identify these problem attitudes in a regular job interview.

The anecdotal evidence suggests that there are a lot of turkeys out there. If you drove to work today, you probably witnessed someone honk at you, cut you off, or run a yellow light. You have probably experienced a cashier who was on their cell phone or had some other similar experience.

Most people follow the rules, are invariably polite and easy to get along with. Unfortunately, it is the turkeys that have a disproportionate impact. I sometimes think that it is the job of a manager to reign in the five percent so that the other ninety-five percent don’t get totally disgusted.

There is no question that one problem employee can pollute the workplace. It is even worse if that one person is a supervisor. We have probably all witnessed workplaces that were happy, then with a change in managers they became a neurosis-driven dysfunctional environment.

I am thinking of a sewing and fabric store that had a low-key, tolerant supervisor who was primarily concerned with keeping customers happy. As often happens, this manager was promoted and replaced by an individual with a different agenda. Neatness became the new top priority. In a fabric store, scraps of fabric were not tolerated and employees picked up scraps of cloth while customers were ignored. When the scraps were gone, then everything needed to be folded properly. Complaints increased, employees were blamed, and longtime employees quit. Hello neatness, goodbye profits.

The lesson is that workplaces are social environments. Ninety-five percent of the employees can be good, but that ain’t enough. All it takes is one turkey . . .


Anonymous said...

Hey There!

Good commentary, makes me smile, as your examples are 'right-on' and so true, given my experience in the world.

I have found too, that the organizational culture needs to be considered too. One may be a bad fit for a given company culture for any number of reasons, religious beliefs, sexual attitude within the culture, gender dominated culture, etc. But all that aside, I think your Turkey Meter approach would save any of us lots of headaches and dollars over time. Actually, right away!!

Good work!

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your comment. As you noted concerning work environments what is fair for the goose may not be fair for the gander. However, turkeys don't fit in anywhere.

Do you think I am carrying this bird analogy too far?