Thursday 4 March 2010

Hell On Earth is ... Your Workplace?

There are so many ways to be miserable at work! (by the way - did you do my You at Work Survey  yet?)

I'm working with a lady at the moment who has quite a set of issues, and I sent her an email response to give her something to think about until our next session.
Many of her issues arise often with my clients, and the thinking fodder is the same, so I thought it might be useful to some of my readers to read it.
I've changed the names and gained permission from my client to publish this email.

Hi Kim,

Since our next session is now two weeks away, I've jotted down some thoughts and ideas for you to play with until then.
They're inline, below.

Hi Chris

Nice to talk to you again on Friday [...]

You asked me for my 'misery' list from where I currently work - I hope you're ready for this ....

Deep breath....

a) Colleagues - Culture of gossipy duplicitousness (I hate this).  Majority of staff never worked anywhere else (many for 30 to 35 years plus) so change or new people are anathema and instantly hated.  There is a clique of 'negative' people who talk about people behind their backs (and sometimes to their face) - will criticise their work, their clothes, their accent, their weight, or have 'names' for people (whatever they can find).  If challenged they will either deny and state challenger is 'paranoid' or will do it as a joke within the safety of the pack so they look like they can't take banter.   

This is what I call the "playground mentality". In a healthy work culture, it's not tolerated. You may want to re-focus from the problem to considering more successful approaches to a better outcome. Ideas might include (but not be limited to):

Dump it with "management" to deal with
Take it to HR, if there is one
Confront hostility with charm
Confront hostility with greater hostility
Drop intelligent one-liners
Re-frame - Rise above it and enjoy the fact that daily, they show you how much better than them you are
Succeed in your work massively, making all this irrelevant
Physically isolate yourself from them
Divide and conquer
Enlist the help of a friend there
Start a counter-culture

What else? Remember that partial solutions are entirely worth having.
Pretend this issue is something a friend of yours is going through. This may help you to think intellectually rather than emotionally. How would you help her?

Minority of 'normal' people keep head down and take it or leave.  

Start a coalition of normal folks? Enjoy their company. Come out of the woodwork and FLAUNT your niceness and the fun you have at work in front of them. Show them another way to think and to be?

I don't take it personally as they talk about everyone, but they do sap my energy and I feel their behaviour is unjust/unprofessional  

Can you decide not to let it? How can you minimize this effect?

 - I am aware of being disliked for being a new girl (I've been there [3] years!) for having challenged people in the past about their behaviour (which has been close to bullying on occasion) and as I will not be drawn into gossiping about people behind their backs. 

You're taking the moral high ground then. Good on you! People like them are pretty much bound to react as they have done to that. 

b) Weak Leadership - MD is [N]th generation of family run comany (started in [the 18th century])  A  nice  'public school' gentleman (more suited to a Monastic life) very interesting and likeable away from work but as an MD has no idea!  He does not provide any leadership or direction for management or company (he provides no monthly reports so that I can see how we are actually performing (I have had to set up my own way of collating info which he is not happy about)  He micro manages his management team (especially the newer ones - the older ones scare him as they've been there longer.)  If you advise that the micro managing is not necessary and is denting confidence in good and efficient managers he states that we should all embrace the opportunity for continual improvement and that he likes to play the Devil's Advocate (this however only seems to be with more concientious managers - who to be fair he does tell he rates highly - actions however speak louder than words)   

Crikey. (I hope that was useful!) 

He is aware of militant attitude of existing staff (he knows there is a 'the company owes me a living' attitude and laziness within certain quarters and that many staff have no respect for directors (all family except one) or management team, but does nothing to improve the situation - despite me asking for his assistance previously (His response being [unhelpful]) 

Try asking questions like:
- Do you think that all companies are like this?
- You can have anything you want, but not everything you want - does he want to be popular, or a good manager?
- Does he want to grow a happy efficient company or does he want a quiet easy life?
- Does he want to please the nice hard workers - or does he prefer to pander to the bullies and the liars?
What other really creative ways are there to tackle specifically him or others in the management team?

Monday management meetings led by MD are an inter departmental war every week - they are seen as a point scoring opportunity (I mainly try not to be drawn into this but if seriously provoked will answer back)  

What RADICAL options do you have? What would a fearless hero say? What would Duncan Bannatyne say? 

c) Petty Rules - Non management staff are docked 15 minutes pay if more than 3 mins late, not paid for a minute over. They are not paid sick pay and docked bonus for the first 3 days off work due to illness.  They have to take 1 days holiday for a close family member's funeral (anything other than spouse, child or parent)  If MD sees anyone talking/chatting he asks me to tell them it's inappropriate (even if I haven't seen it -  he won't approach them himself!) I know the staff hate this - have no respect for him or me then (why should they) but he sees this as part of my role running the office (only when this suits though) 

Same idea - can you ask him questions to get him to illuminate his own stupidity? (without getting fired). 

He has phases of breathing down my neck asking if everyone's working hard enough, are we busy enough, why is so and so chatting.  I have suggested that the very fixed and rigid rules and attitude of the company do not generate a culture of goodwill with employees and do not promote two way flexibility -  but he does not agree with me. 

Hmmmm. Asking questions may help here again. You could try:
- Well, clearly we disagree on approach. But do you feel we have a happy healthy workforce under your regime?
- Do you think that your way is what they're teaching MBAs and managers these days?
Clearly dangerous stuff - but perhaps you could find a way to get it said which would not get your head ripped off.

d)Undermining - one member of my team, [resents me].  He is a very knowledgable employee (been with the company [a long time]) being fully aware of all processes and systems, but is not a team player  and often tries to undermine me (he does not like women in any kind of authority role. 

Exactly this scenario is extremely common. Options include:
Get it out. Acknowledge the problem, point out it's not your fault; he should take it up with management.
Acknowledge his expertise publicly, and enlist his help often. Show him another way to be successful at work
Point out that his behaviour is unhelpful and not what he's being paid for - allude to further consequences
Ask him how he sees the next five years, and what that vision holds for each of you - and how you might jointly find a better one.

A [person] recently complained to the MD about his aggressive attitude (nothing was done about this) and he refused to put me down on her form as his line manager - bless!).  


I have tried to talk to him and even tried to help his situation, giving him more responsibility, and status (which is v important to him) and a pay rise for his trouble, but he can be extremely aggressive and duplicitous and has [the] backing of 'old school' militant clique who will go directly to him to ask a question, or get something done and cut me out of the system, which assist with his undermining.

When he does this, do you address it very fast and decisively? Within minutes, are you in a room with him alone, discussing it?
Is there an escalation or disciplinary process available?

e) General - Minimum two hours travelling on ... motorway (my spiritual home!) then 8 hours in a tiny box office, with no privacy whatsoever and no windows to see out of.  Although I have made some very small improvements (this has required tremendous effort!) and I cannot move any further forward which makes me bored.  In addition all pay increases are inflationary and not linked to performance - so no one seems to care anyway!

ZZZzzzz are you asleep yet Chris?  Apologies for the length and detail of this.... but once I started I couldn't stop! 

I ain't asleep Kim, I'm incandescent :o)))))

It's so sad that people live out their working lives in holes like this.
You did what I asked you to do and I did what you're paying me for. It's all good, and I bet you enjoyed the vent.

It may be that you simply have no options there, in which case, the writing's on the wall.
But perhaps there are some things in the above suggestions which you could adapt for partial success in some areas.

I'll wait to hear from you about the dates etc. and sorry to bore you with it all.

Thanks for listening.


OK Kim, we'll speak again on 12th.

Best Wishes,


  1. I read all of this and found it facinating. I have been where Kim had been myself. Sometimes you must accept that what you have is not good enough for you. Kim why waste your life working for this Guy? Just move on to another company and this time really make sure that the company you join is the kind of company that you really want to work for. That job is there for you somewhere, you just have to find it. I spent far too long doing what you are now doing in my past career. When you do land that job you will ask yourself why did I put myself through that hell for 3 years? Use the experience in your new job. I wish you all the very, very best Kim.

  2. Leave this company - I don't think this man will ever change and you will waste an awful lot of energy trying. You are clearly more than capable and can use your talents elsewhere and be appreciated. I thought that my work life was bad but compared to yours it's fantastic. Good luck Kim.

  3. . . . . regrettably all too familiar! You show wonderful insight and perseverance with 'this lot' . . . but I'm afraid that you should seek to employ your skills and talents elsewhere . . . this isn't surrendering or being defeatist . . . just exercising your right to have something better . . . something different . . .

  4. Hi Guys, and thanks for your comments. Somehow I was not alerted to them, so this reply is several years late! Great comments which I hope Kim found helpful.