FUNNY how these days, it is not easy to talk about workplace matters with your colleagues anymore. I used to remember a time when people were more open about their thoughts and opinions about work, and how stories around the “water cooler” or the “coffee machine” were seen as the real pulse of the organization.
Due to the uncertainty that tends to accompany the modern working environment, a lot of talk these days tends to be sanitized and neutral, and doesn’t tell you very much about what people are really thinking.
It was, therefore, somewhat of a surprise when a colleague of mine, who I am very cordial with, but with whom the topic of conversation tended to be limited to football most times, suddenly remarked to me on our walk from the car park that he felt “the culture of the company was changing, and changing too fast.”
This was the cue that I was waiting for, in terms of probing what he actually meant by that declaration. And taking my probe as his cue, he in turn started telling me his real thoughts on what he perceived was really happening.
It turns out that he was feeling what everybody else was feeling — a sense of alienation and neglect over the things that were clearly happening for everybody to see, but yet were not discussed honestly and openly with everybody else.
Change is certainly a feature of the modern-day workplace. This is something that cannot now be reversed. Even the Japanese have now moved away from the lifetime employment practices, and the French have started to adapt to the Anglo-American way of doing things as well.
It is therefore not the change itself, but the way that it is communicated to the people within the organization, that is critical. After all, it is people who make up an organization, and it is perhaps only proper that they know exactly what is happening to them.
There is something to be said about keeping things open and transparent. Even the nuclear family itself is adapting to this reality, and it is now not uncommon for family members to vote on issues of mutual concern — with Mom’s and Dad’s votes counting just as much as Junior’s.
Organizations, however, seem to be reticent in being as open with their affairs. But then, they live with the consequences of this choice.
In the military, where we know the overriding importance of loyalty and trust under fire, soldiers consider themselves comrades-in-arms, and are therefore sworn to look after each other’s backs and to leave no one behind.
It is this sense of assurance that allows them to be a cohesive unit, with each one knowing exactly where they stand.It is not probably quite as life-and-death in most organizations as it is in the military, but the principle remains the same. When people know exactly where they stand, they will give their all, and then some. And this, of course, is the most important – secure people are productive individuals, who will eventually contribute to the achievement of the organization’s goals.
The reverse is true as well.
If an organization sends the message to its workforce that their views do not count, and that they should just sit tight waiting to be told when the next sequence of events is going to unfold, they are clearly not going to be as committed and as dedicated to the organization that does not treat them with the total honesty and openness that they deserve.
Published in The Sun Star Daily, Saturday, January 12, 2008