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October 6, 2010 / W. Stanton Smith

Who are the last men/women standing in the workplace?

My friend Leah Reynolds has recently started a blog and she asks a provocative question in her posting entitled “Who is left at work?” Leah’s first sentence says it all. “Bullies, brown-nosers and broken spirits…Is that all that remains in our workplaces?” I urge each of you to read this post and engage in a discussion: Is her premise an unfair generalization? Is it fair but little can be done about manager’s attitudes since they are being mistreated too? Is this all just whining about reality anyway?

Of dogs in mangers …

Her premise is largely correct from my observation. As our economic crisis has built up, I have witnessed an increase in “dog in the manger” (see wikipedia definition here) attitudes and actions on the part of managers. Examples are attitudes such as, “If I can’t be happy, neither can you”…”I don’t have ulcers, I give them”. Harsh, perhaps but these are eyewitness reports.

… and say/do gaps

We suffer in our business society from an epic say/do discrepancy. We “say” that we favor certain values but we act in a contradictory manner all too often. As examples, we talk about wanting innovation but it has to be “my” innovation. We want to employees to be engaged but on “our” terms not theirs.

What is happening here?

As a boomer myself, I can say with some certainty that we boomers have succeeded in, at worst, chasing out of the workplace or marginalizing, at the least, the traditional values which acted as a restraint on human greed and other objectionable behaviors. So we’ve achieved a world in which “greed is good”, and competition is Darwinian, i.e., driven at an unforgiving pace, with sharp elbows and in your face ruthlessness. Now the reality we’ve created is in our face and we’re thinking: “I didn’t expect this outcome. It must be someone else’s fault, right? We couldn’t have done this, right?” I realize that we may be overgeneralizing here and that there are ethical businesses but are they not in the minority now? I could go on but this should be enough to stir up a good discussion or two. Thoughts?

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4 Comments

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  1. Leah Reynolds / Oct 7 2010 10:14 am

    I agree with your point, Stan. The Boomers are largely responsible for the current state of our work environments. The degree of workplace change (M&A; downsizing), coupled with employee mobility over the past 10-15 years, has masked the impact of poor behaviors and bad ethics. The “victims” end up moving on and all is forgotten (or, so it seems). It will be interesting to see what happens as our economy and job growth pick up…Will the Boomers–who now believe they can’t afford to retire–dig in their heels and embrace the status quo even more? Or, will they be open to reinvention and rethinking, which can benefit them in their final work years?

    • W. Stanton Smith / Oct 12 2010 6:41 am

      Leah, thanks very much for your comment. Your concluding question is a key one that confronts us all. Can we, especially boomers, use the positive traits we’ve demonstrated (stick-to-it-tiveness, willingness to innovate) to face our fears and become part of the solution? Let’s hope so because the alternative is ugly.

  2. Carrol Johnson / Nov 16 2010 4:13 am

    It’s nice to see HR professionals recognize what those of us who work in the trenches have known for a long time. Many of the very best people are eliminated from the work place. They tend to be smart, creative folks who threaten their peers or superiors with excellence. Qualities that enhance longevity are the ones you named. Unfortunately, I don’t have a clue on how to fix the problem except to say that it is going to require a lot more than lip service from management.

    • W. Stanton Smith / Nov 17 2010 6:18 am

      Carrol, thanks for your comment. You are right on the mark. What can be done? The first step to fixing any problem is to recognize that this is a problem. To achieve this step requires self-reflection by all of us who are in the work world. How do we start this self-reflection? By talking about the behavior which we’ll do in this blog over time. I’d be interested in hearing examples of how the best have been marginalized at work. It is always easier to address a problem with a live example to consider.

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