John Hunter
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Workplace Culture

How one of the biggest tools in the industry, is one of the most neglected ones.

We have all had one, or more; that boss you just can't stand, the micromanaging, ass riding, disrespectful person that gets to dictate exactly how you do your job. Even if they themselves have never done it. The one who calls all the shots, gets all the credit, gets paid more than you, and yet is really, just kind of an asshole. My experience, mostly in an industrial workplace setting, is that bad workplace culture, and interactions tend to drive down morale. Which in turn, drives down production, which for a company, drives down profits, and increases turnover rate faster than a fast food place spits out burgers. It is the most neglected aspect in a lot of workplaces, but in my opinion, the most important.

And here is the thing, creating a good workplace culture isn't overly hard. All it takes is respect, an open mind, a positive attitude, positive interactions with employees, and a general caring, understanding, and passion for what you do. I have worked in a place for many years where the morale has, more often than not, been really low. And majority of the people I work with don't actually hate the work they do. Nor do they dislike their fellow co-workers, what they dislike is the interactions, and the choices made by management. Now, don't get me wrong, I get it, not every decision made is going to be a popular one, and when it comes down to it, business is business. But there are ways one can go about managing a place where the workplace culture can be good, positive, and take care of an endless list of issues that a company may face.

For a little over three years, I was a crew lead for a place where, on any given day, I would be tasked with overseeing around 60 employees, and a pile of projects, as well as a list of extra work that one would be required to oversee, and sign off on. Now, for me as a person, I don't mind a large work load, it keeps me busy, it challenges me, and it CAN be very rewarding. But the issues I had personally at this particular workplace were not with any of the employees I had to oversee. As a matter of fact, the interactions I would have on a daily basis with the workers on the floor were always very positive. I also made sure to always come in early enough to make a game plan, and do my best to execute said plan. And things, more often than not, ran very smoothly. And the employees always seemed to like it when I was left in charge to run the shop how I saw fit. Everyday I came into work, I was getting a cheerful good morning, fist bumps, high fives, etc. All because I had the respect of the workers, and I always treated them with respect, treated them as adults, and treated them as my equals. Because that's what it should be, no matter how high up on the ladder you are, employees should be treated as your equal.

The biggest issue I see in the workplace is just general mis-management, and poor planning. I always liked to come in early, and go over all the tasks that needed to get worked on for the day, set up the employees the best I could for those tasks, and take the time to talk with them about the plan, so we were able to go execute it together. Now don't get me wrong, there are always a couple you have to keep a closer eye on, but, for me, the biggest thing was assigning people to the tasks, and trusting them to do the job that they were hired to do.

Another key strategy I find is developing a group of core people to handle tasks that you may need from time to time. People like to feel useful, appreciated, challenged. Hell, I know I do. Giving people, not only more trust and responsibility, but also allowing them to have input, and make decisions and choices on how a task gets done, not only boosts creativity, it boost morale. It helps boost the production by getting them invested in the overall goal. A person is more likely to execute a game plan, even when presented with obstacles, if they themselves have helped come up with the game plan, whereas being constantly told what to do stifles creativity, and makes people feel undervalued, and un-challenged. 

Another thing to take into consideration that is a huge asset is recognition. Everything from the good morning at the start of the shift, to giving credit and praise where it is due. One thing that I love and value is how I interact with co-workers. At the start of my shift, I am always greeted with a smile, a hello, a fist bump, a high five by fellow co-workers. And that to me is a great feeling. Having that respect not only makes the workplace so much more positive to be at, these positive workplace relationships help build trust, and respect. At the end of the day, we are all human beings with a job to do, we are equal, and we should all be working toward the same goal as a team.

Positive recognition. When I took a training course on how to be a better kickboxing instructor, mostly directed at younger kids. One of the things that resonated with me was actually almost ignoring the negative behaviour, but giving almost constant, but genuine, recognition to the positive. For instance, when I would have the kids line up, I wouldn't point out little Rod and Todd who are talking and fooling around. As a matter of fact I would ignore them as much as possible. But little L who came to the line, standing quietly, ready to go, being patient, working hard, would get constant praise. And then maybe I would have her help me with a task, giving her more responsibility, such as helping me teach, or demonstrate a technique. That builds  positivity, confidence, and a sense of satisfaction. And the idea, and it DOES work, is that Little Rod and Todd will see this interaction, and say, " I would like to help out." Positive interaction on all levels is key. 

Public recognition of a job well done is great to boost morale. Giving those positive interactions in a group setting shows confidence, and shows that you are appreciative to the work being done. And the positive boost that an employee will get, will carry and be passed on in other interactions with other co-workers. However, not all interactions can be positive. What if you have an employee that isn't following the rules? Or who is not finishing a task? Taking that employee aside, away from the public eye as to not humiliate them, is also key. I believe letting them know the issue, discussing it with them, and coming up with a game plan together can help correct the action. And then following up in a positive way to make sure to hold them accountable, can often nip most issues in the bud. 

But what if it doesn't go that way? What if said employee still isn't getting the picture? It is ok to "discipline" said person. Now, being a crew leader, and not management, that is a task I did not personally have to deal with. However, we as employees are hired to do a job, and management also has a business to run. But doing it in a respectful way, away from prying eyes is the best method. It also shows that people will be held accountable, which can in turn, believe it or not, build respect. It shows that you are willing to hold people to their actions. And two direct things come out of that type of respect. One, that they themselves will more likely do their tasks as needed, and also hold other co-workers accountable. And two, it helps stop bad habits from forming. One of the worst things that happens when people see that other people are getting away without completing a task, especially if it means they have to pick up the slack, is it creates the "Well they don't have to do it, so why should I?"  Those kind of habits are cancer to workplace flow, and morale.

Now I could keep going and going through tons of stuff that helps create workplace culture. But, perhaps I will save that for another post, at risk of rambling. But the keys to take away from this are that workplace culture, and morale is everyone's responsibility. And that positive interactions, game planning, accountability, and just general respect, can take a terrible, unproductive workplace, to a positive flowing, productive place to work, where people feel valued, which at the end of the day at work, isn't that what we really want? When you spend so much of your time at a workplace, it should be as positive as possible. It helps a huge chunk of things from lowering training, and turnaround costs, which for most companies is the biggest profit loss, as well as it increases the work flow, and work load a company can handle. But more on that next time.

Thanks for taking the time to read my first ever post, and hey, try some of these tips in your own workplace, and see if they help. Until next time. Keep pushing the envelope.

J.

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