Monday, March 24, 2014

Negativity in the workplace is no joke

One of my favorite movies of all time is "Office Space." No matter how amazing your job is, I think at some point in our careers we can all relate to a “case of the Mondays."

It could come from an overly confident, micro-managing superior, or perhaps outsourced professionals like “the Bobs” coming in to analyze the work environment. Then there's the clueless co-worker like Milton, who is always looking for his missing stapler.

Although it's funny, "Office Space" offers a chilling picture of how negativity in the workplace is no joke and has a very far-reaching impact on employees. It's a caricature of a workplace gone wrong in so many ways that ultimately one disgruntled employee decides to burn the building down.

Most of us of course aren’t going to burn down the building if we are having problems at work. But negativity does certainly have an impact on productivity, efficiency, employee morale, absenteeism and turnover. to name a few impact areas.

A negative workplace in theory should be easy enough to identify. What's hard is changing things for the better. From watching "Office Space," here are a few lessons on how to better manage a negative workplace.

One of the major characters in the movie is Peter’s boss, Bill Lumbergh, who is a stereotypical micro-manager. It’s easy to see how the employees' attitudes and performance reflect on Bill’s management style.  In management it’s easy to want to keep track of every aspect of the company, but in reality doing so creates lower productivity and decreased performance.

Another major issue in the movie is lack of communication. From Milton’s “reassignment” to the basement of the office and being taken off the payroll to the decision to bring in the “Bobs” for organizational analysis, it is pretty clear that communication is completely absent. Lack of communication can lead to a long list of issues, including poor performance, non-compliance with policies and procedures, disciplinary actions and even termination of employment.

While Milton’s termination seems a little far-fetched in the real world, it is a good example of how lack of communication can be a long-term problem. Additionally, while upper management isn’t required to make subordinates aware of all the issues they face or decisions they make, it’s important for employees to be told about upcoming events, decisions and changes. If communicated properly, this makes employees feel engaged and important. Open communication is the simplest way to boost morale and create harmony between employees and management.

"Office Space" works as a satire because most working people can identify with it in one way or another. Laughter is a universal way of taking power over things that would otherwise make us suicidal. But keep in mind, a negative workplace can have issues that are far reaching, and that's no laughing matter.