Thursday, September 07, 2006

Ten ways everyone can guarantee an angry workplace

This post is a companion piece to the one I wrote last week about how managers can guarantee an angry workforce. This is the "equal time" response acknowledging that not all the ills of working life are the fault of management. Managers certainly have more control over the direction of a workplace than the rank and file workers but a toxic cow-orker is more than capable of destroying any good work done by managers. Some of the behaviours listed here will make managers angry, some will make peers angry and quite honestly you'll make yourself angry and miserable if you perpetrate some of them.

So take control! Wreak havoc on your workplace and show exactly what "the power of one" can achieve. With a little diligence you could probably manage all ten of these behaviours and turn your workplace into a battlefield filled with angry, disillusioned, desperate people. (Mental note: people who actually do these horrible things are usually incapable of understanding irony. Better make the intention here a bit clearer.)

But seriously folks, don't do these things. Really. Even if you think other people "deserve" to be on the receiving end of some of the misery they've been dealing out to you. It's tempting but it's a downward spiral that will screw up your life as much as anyone's. If you're already in a toxic workplace, don't become part of the problem. Find a way to be positive, stay out of the way or simply get out altogether. But don't descend to the level of sociopaths who behave like this as a matter of course.

So without further ado, the top ten ways anyone can guarantee an angry workplace are:

1. Interfere with how others work. Everybody has their own style and it's perfectly possible yours is better than anybody else's. The thing is, trying to change how others work when your opinion hasn't been invited is a recipe for disaster. This doesn't mean ignore dangerous or destructive practices but use some judgement - if it isn't actually your job to coach someone don't rush in to tell them they're wrong.

2. Act as though some aspects of your job are below you. In the feedback to my earlier post, one reader recounted a story where a tech support person refused to go under a desk to fix cabling because they didn't want to get their pants dirty. Nobody should put up with being demeaned but if you don't like what is expected of you, you probably should be doing another job rather than making everyone angry with your intransigence.

3. Backstab people you don't like. Maybe you're right, maybe so-and-so at the next desk really sucks. Maybe one of your peers is actually completely incompetent. Don't make a bad situation worse by indulging in character assassination - no matter how justified you think it is.

4. Encourage gossip. Friendly chats are good. Talking about your own personal life is questionable. Indulging in gossip about someone else's personal life is destructive. Actively seeking out and listening to gossipers is no better than spreading gossip yourself. Everyone likes a juicy story but don't make it a central part of your work life.

5. Pass judgement on the performance of others. If performance appraisals aren't your job, don't offer them. No matter how sure you are of someone else's failings, being unnecessarily judgemental is terribly destructive. Your own performance is your concern, leave the performance of others to their managers.

6. Intrude on the "personal space" of others. There are dozens of ways to do this: physically impinging on others (this doesn't have be touching to be bad), spreading your crap out so it limits the space available to others, talking excessively loudly, having an obnoxious ringtone. Individuality is all well and good but you can hardly expect others to respect your individuality if it involves them being battered by it.

7. Refuse to support co-workers as a matter of course. I'm a bit of an old school "workers stand together" type. It doesn't make sense to be dragged down by someone who is incompetent and/or destructive but if you reflexively sell out your peers and take the other side, it will not only make them angry but it'll come back to bite you some day in a splendidly karmic manner.

8. Try to palm your work off on someone else. If you are overworked, the positive course of action is to communicate this upward to your manager. Don't dump on the people around you. No matter how sure you are someone else is dodging their fair share, unless you are their manager it simply isn't your job to push some of your work on them. Likewise if it's simply an unpleasant task, not a question of overwork. It isn't your co-worker's fault it landed on your desk. Take it up with the boss.

9. Suck up to management. Do your job well by all means. Be on friendly terms with your superiors. But actively sucking up? Don't do it. You've crossed the line when you're spending more time discussing non-work issues with the boss than you spend on discussing work. Just because a manager might be susceptible to constant flattery is no reason to indulge. This sort of behaviour is almost always blatantly transparent to co-workers and never goes down well.

10. Indulge in the negative side of office politics. You have to understand office politics simply to survive. But when you cross the line from protecting yourself to actively playing the game to further your own ends you become part of the problem. Anyone who is actually gaining happiness from playing petty political games is undoubtedly engendering a lot of anger all around themselves.

Many of the above items are a delicate balancing act. A judicious amount of playing politics and sucking up (a friend used the delightful term "upward management") can help everyone. A little social interaction between co-workers is normally a good thing but crossing the line into gossip or imposing on someone in a way that makes them uncomfortable is guaranteed to make you some enemies. In the end, the above list is an attempt to say it's easy (and often true) to blame the boss for everything bad but keep these rules in mind. Unless you can honestly say you're not part of the problem you don't really have the right to complain.

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