Money Matters

The work environment

Money Matters
By Sirajuddin Aziz
Mon, 11, 21

A Pogo comic strip said: “we have met the enemy, and he is us”. We have a choice to be friends with ourselves firstly; and then secondly be friendly with our surroundings. Alternatively, we may choose to be eternal foes, with both. In the exercise of choosing between these two distant attitudes, we end up making for our environment. In the context of human relationship, creating friendliness with the self and others brings out the best of qualities. In isolation, besides the natural habitat as the surrounding environment, there would be no need to have an environment that calls for shunning the negatives that can be hurled at others. Robinson Crusoe being alone on the island was the environment - he had none to interact with. The need to meet and work with people requires special skills and expunging feelings of unnecessary competition or even ill-will for no good reason. “The two great moves of the human mind are the desire for good and the fear of evil” (Samuel Johnson). Most men tend to sway towards their inherent goodness, but there is also the presence amidst us, at work places, who represent the opposite thought - that creates a challenge to develop, keep and maintain an environment of general goodness.

The work environment

A Pogo comic strip said: “we have met the enemy, and he is us”. We have a choice to be friends with ourselves firstly; and then secondly be friendly with our surroundings. Alternatively, we may choose to be eternal foes, with both. In the exercise of choosing between these two distant attitudes, we end up making for our environment. In the context of human relationship, creating friendliness with the self and others brings out the best of qualities. In isolation, besides the natural habitat as the surrounding environment, there would be no need to have an environment that calls for shunning the negatives that can be hurled at others. Robinson Crusoe being alone on the island was the environment - he had none to interact with. The need to meet and work with people requires special skills and expunging feelings of unnecessary competition or even ill-will for no good reason. “The two great moves of the human mind are the desire for good and the fear of evil” (Samuel Johnson). Most men tend to sway towards their inherent goodness, but there is also the presence amidst us, at work places, who represent the opposite thought - that creates a challenge to develop, keep and maintain an environment of general goodness.

Too often we hear the remark that the atmosphere at the workplace is “toxic”. Almost everybody at some point does complain about the environment being not friendly. Toxicity relates to the harmful or undesirable or the unpleasant - it can be tangible or intangible. The tangible toxicity can be ascribed to chemical emission of acids, poisonous gases and industrial waste. Tangibility doesn't necessarily confer visibility. Intangible toxicity is almost all about relationships, behavioural attitudes, lopsided performance and or even the worst of all, the possession of a belief system that justifies the unjust mechanism of various types of prejudices and biases that managers exhibit and enlist in their everyday interaction.

An organisation that promotes partiality, based on prejudice and bias, is a hotbed of creating toxicity at the work stations. The human resource of an entity is a collection of different types of people; reflecting varying levels of education, wisdom, maturity, gender, age, etc. In any organisation not all human resources are bad. They are also not all good. At the induction level to ensure that acidic behaviour will not get induced or encouraged, it is imperative to hire good people. The usual fault line in hiring philosophies is to assume that you can hire anybody and train them to be good. That’s not possible. Skills can be imparted, but attitude is a very personal aspect, that has behind it a history of how the attitudes were made up.

Richard Branson is reported to have said “hire good people and then get the hell out of their way”. Most hiring, however, is done to make the new joiner submit to the peculiar corporate nature of our institutions - its established norms of behaviour. All the uniqueness for which the hiring may have been done in the first place goes out of the window - the individual surrenders his identity and becomes ‘one of us’ or ‘one of them’.

Attitude on its own is a manifestation of what the individual, since the years of infancy has been fed, upon. If it is evil thought or bad behaviour, with all the negativity in attendance, such a person is bound to be difficult, in the establishment of a cordial working relationship with co-workers. Toxicity in such cases is assured. Conversely, those who are given honey dipped training of seeking proper behaviour at the home and school will not manifest any malice but only goodwill, as their basic characteristics, are bound to inject at the workplace an atmosphere of respect, courage and friendliness. Able managers do not create an environment of doubt and suspicion. If people have to work together they must not have upon their person the shackles of distrust, as the guiding light, in relation to either people or processes.

If the supervisor / manager demonstrate on a continued basis an attitude of intolerance to less than expected quality in the output of the teams, they do not achieve anything, except erosion of the confidence of the team members to improve and do better. Those managers who yell and thump tables, for impact, destroy the workplace environment. Patience as a trait must be a perennial friend of any manager. Understanding the root cause of low performance with patience and forbearance will ensure better achievement and contributions from the team members. Uncontrollable anger or fits of a negative person only make the environment murkier. Fear descends; and fear is not the best of motivator for a high level of performance.

In managing human affairs, there is no better rule than self-restraint. To humiliate colleagues is inhuman. The satanic and sadistic pleasure taken while de-robbing a staff member, either in public or private, is time bound. It doesn't last forever. To the many I have witnessed doing so; it always came back like a boomerang – that left them with a bloody nose!

No person performs at his / her best, if they find their supervisor snooping over their shoulder all the time. Managers, who are indulgent, in these kinds of activities would do so, not for facilitation of work of colleagues, but for undermining and being an impediment in their pursuits. The failure of a team member is the failure of the manager, is a truth conveniently forgotten.

A congenial, non-toxic environment would be where no individual is exposed to feelings of anxiety or fear; or seen to be neglected and where each unit of energy feels secure, based on their unique skills and strengths; and where there is free flow of information, from sharing of ideas to creation of sound knowledge base - this imbibes and inculcates a climate of friendliness.

I recall reading that an insecure president / chairman, who contributed generously and significantly towards making the organisation toxic, wrote to the HR Manager - “search the organisation for alert, aggressive young leaders capable of stepping into my shoes. And when you find them - fire them!” The proponents and practitioners of this approach in managing others have the belief that no one should feel secure in their respective assignment - their slogan is keep them off balance; catch them unguardedly.

It is the people who make the culture of an organisation. So if there is an overload of an insecure and inept manager / supervisor, one can imagine what kind of environment they would give to themselves and others. No single individual can fight against an organisational environment that reeks with toxicity. People will have to battle for wholesome satisfying work environments, ethics, and culture.

The writer is a senior banker and freelance columnist