Workplace from hell?

Gene Palmer, worker suspected of helping two convicts escape Dannemora prison in New York State, was quoted:
“With the money they pay you’ll go bald, you’ll have high blood pressure, you’ll become an alcoholic, you’ll divorce and then you’ll kill yourself,” he said, calling the workplace a “negative” environment.

Is there a case to be made that a disenchanted and alienated employee can be driven to the dark side? Is this merely at the extreme end of the ‘presenteeism’ scale that keeps organisations challenged as to how to keep people away from facebook and gainfully ‘employed’ for the requisite hours they are ‘clocked in’?

As with most things there are two sides. Having seen the conditions under which prison staff, supervisors and managers work, I have some sympathy. These are people working under the most extreme pressure. Can you imagine the quality of leadership required to keep people, every minute of every hour, on the right side of the ledger? This challenge is huge and unrelenting. Lives depend on it. Is it likely that such leadership exists in every corner of every prison?

Great leadership is hardly in abundance. It is all too rare. From retail stores to mines, leadership and ‘the human factor’ are, in some form or another, under constant pressure. There is a potential Gene Palmer in all too many workplaces; where people, year after year, feel insignificant, objectified, bypassed or patronised by an uncaring or possibly misguided, misinformed or even well-meaning employer. (That famous line about Mushroom Management where people are “kept in the dark and fed with s&^%.”)

In the 80s, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman published a book called “In Search of Excellence” which revealed the connection between real employee involvement in an enterprise and success across a range of metrics. A key factor was where employees felt (emphasis on emotion) significant and critical to business success……where they were trusted, informed and required to be the best of themselves.

At that time, it was not so much surprising as it was a relief that indeed it is profitable when a workplace aligns with the full actualization of human potential. “Not a normal person with something added but a normal person with nothing taken away.” (Charles Garfield)

Thirty years on, those organisations that get this right are still too few and finding them is still the search it ever was. There are all manner of theories as to why this is. The real question is: when will organisations call time on outmoded ways of thinking and managing and enjoy the type of success where everyone wins?


About Cherri Holland

Fascinated with business, brains and how to use the brains on the payroll to make business buzz.
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2 Responses to Workplace from hell?

  1. How much of this is because of management and how much because of the mental outlook of the employee? I do think sometimes people in exactly the same environment succeed and others fail because they train themselves to look for negatives whereas others see something differently. I’m not suggesting that working at a prison ins’t hard, but I’ve also seen from every side of the cube that it can come down to an individual’s personal experiences and outlook that gives them that glass-half empty approach that you simply can’t change with any amount of positive leadership.

    • Hi Louise
      I relate completely to what you said. Sometimes, patience is tried with some who constantly focus on the negatives. In my experience, people are highly susceptible to environment and one person with one manager responds very differently in the same organisation with a different person ‘at the helm’. But you can’t fake it. If you inherently value people, and they feel important, they tend to respond in a different way. That is my experience anyway, even working with people who I think I can’t possibly bring any hope to as their situation is so dire…..when we talk about how powerful they actually are, something in them comes alive and they all want to make a positive impact. Everyone has that inside and seem to be looking for either permission or inspiration to take charge of their circumstances. It delights me to see people do a complete shift in the space of a day, when they get a vision of how things can be different. It is powerful stuff. I want managers to realise their power too – to uplift and inspire or diminish and denegrate. We all have that power. How we use it, in every conversation, and then energy we bring to that conversation, is what differentiates the leaders, in every corner of the organisation. Thanks for the conversation! Cherri

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