Thursday, May 3, 2007

Decency at work

Visions of CEOs doing the "perp walk" as they are taken into federal court by stern-faced federal marshalls, front-page stories chronicling executives billion-dollar compensation packages and top managers traveling in corporate jets while hundreds of their workers are laid off are just some of the images that adversely impact the workplace these days.

Such images are demoralizing, of course. Most of us can't hope to make in our lifetimes what some of these executives earn in one day. Add to that the companies that are stingy with annual bonuses or raises, managers who routinely take all the credit for themselves and benefits constantly being trimmed back and it's no wonder we have a problem with ethics in the workplace these days.

Wouldn't it be nice, then, if these negative images were balanced by some everyday decencies on the job? What if instead of the bully manager -- who governs the workplace through bluster and profanity -- there was a boss who welcomed employees by name each day? What if the CEO showed up for the midnight shift and brought in pizza so that workers could take a break and talk to him about their concerns? What if a supervisor gave an employee an extra hour for lunch because the worker had been doing such a good job?

These may not seem like much in the face of rampant corporate executive misdeeds and greed, but companies have got to start somewhere and the answer may be that they begin with the small stuff. Or, as Steve Harrison says, these small decencies would become the "building blocks of an ethical culture."

Harrison, head of Lee Hecht Harrison and author of "The Manager's Book of Decencies," says that while regulatory actions such as Sarbanes-Oxley were supposed to restore investor confidence and increase accountability, some companies have been so "ham-fisted" with their responses to the regulations they've reminded us quite clearly that "regulations by themselves can't move the needle to create well-behaved companies."

While Harrison suggests numerous ways for companies and bosses to improve their decency factor, it's worth noting that one of the key improvements is for bosses at all levels to listen more to employees and quite hogging all the limelight and credit for themselves.

So, let's start listening. It's time the voices of those in the trenches be heard when it comes time to decide how best to create a decent place to work.

Some ideas:

* Be polite. This goes beyond just saying "please" and "thank you." Don't interrupt when someone else is talking, don't gossip and don't exclude anyone.

* Don't lie. Lying is a way of controlling and manipulating people and situations.

* Ask questions. By listening to what someone else has to offer, you continually learn -- and that's critical for companies striving to compete in a global marketplace.

* Don't blame. Look for solutions. Don't make personal attacks or criticize personal characteristics.

* Keep your word. It's not fair to say you'll do something and then not follow through.

* Communicate. Controlling information is a power play that demoralizes employees and leads to hostility.


Anonymous said...

You know what I would like? I would like to not be called at home every weekend because my boss can't figure out how to access his work e-mail from home (I'm serious!) I'd like my company not to give some cheesy award to some slacker just because he shows up for work every day. I'd like decent raises to be given to those of us who really do work hard, and not some pittance that does nothing but go to taxes. And, finally, I would like my boss to quit bumming change off me for the candy machine. He makes twice what I do...and seriously, he can't afford the calories.

Anonymous said...

When we started to see things go bad at work and heard that another company might be taking us over, me and some other people asked our mananager about it. He said that no way was that going to happen. Two weeks later he left for another job and two days after that I received notice that my job was being restructured and I would be given two weeks vacation pay and then that was it. I think the thing that made me the maddest about the whole deal was that when we asked about it, I know management was lying to us. My manager had to have known, or why else did he jump ship? Its hard looking for work, and if the suits had been straight with us, I would have had more time to start looking. Believe me, with the next employer, my loyalty will be to myself. If you don't look out for yourself these days, you're screwed, because employers only care about the bottom line. Employees are nothing but commodities.

Anonymous said...

I think I work at a pretty decent place. It's a small business, but we all get along well. One thing that I really like it that our boss lets us work out a schedule so that once a month, each of us has a Friday afternoon off. That gives each of us a chance to take care of personal business. One of the other things I really like, and this may seem like no big deal, is that every month he randomly pulls a name and that person has their parking paid for for the month.

Anonymous said...

As long as companies keep paying executives these huge salaries, then you're going to have problems. They don't even live like the rest of us, so why shoudl they care what we think? They don't have to answer for their behavior, and even though some of them have gotten in trouble, most of them just keep on raking in the money with little regard for the people who can hardly pay rent every month.