Unless you’ve taken a year long sabbatical and have been living on a remote island (lucky you) you’ll have heard of workplace resilience. Recognising that the world of work is in a constant state of flux, many organisations have implemented workplace resilience programmes. But how many of them have really been effective?
If you arrived at work this morning, feeling good, shared a few words or a joke with colleagues then you’re probably in an organisation with a positive work culture. If your answer is ‘Yes’ feel the love and sit this article out. If you walked through the door and the toxicity was palpable, sticking to the floor, your shoes, eventually enveloping you, then that negative workplace culture may be damaging more than your day.
Part of us knows already that this isn’t the right way to live. You don’t need to examine the science to know that sort of workplace produces a huge downer on your day, that sometimes it dominoes into the rest of your life, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and out of control. You muster all of your energy (and civility) for work, returning home with a huge vitality deficit, which slowly but surely infects both your personal time and your personal relationships.
But it could be worse than you think. I first noticed this phenomenon whilst working with a range of organisations over a period of years. From FTSE 200 to small charitable bodies, there was one thing that they all had in common. When the leader was all stick and no carrot the results were high levels of absenteeism, stressed out teams, demotivation and eventually a rapid staff turnover. Even more surprising at the time, this behaviour went unchecked and unchallenged leaving employees disclosing how undervalued, overstretched and frankly, ill they felt as a result. It was visible, easily recognisable. Leaders at the top had created a culture so toxic it was visible to everyone but themselves. Good businesses go bad, crack teams weaken or adopt bad practice by osmosis, emulating their leader’s despotic characteristics and eventually good people jump ship. It got me wondering. If negative cultures and dysfunctional leadership result in increased levels of absenteeism, what is the long term impact on our health?
Research in organisational psychology consistently demonstrates that a toxic environment characterised by hierarchical structures, narcissistic leaders, backbiting and gossip not only demotivates employees, reducing productivity, it also harms their health. Authoritarian leaders lack the self awareness necessary to recognise the hidden costs of such practices. Anna Nyberg’s research at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute highlighted a link between leadership behaviours and employee heart health. If your boss encourages a stressful practices in the false belief that a cut throat environment will increase productivity, it may just be damaging your health.
If you walk into work everyday feeling unsupported, dreading the next round of persecution or the pitting of team members against each other it could be time for a rethink. Sarah Pressman’s research from the University of California produced worrying data. Whereas the probability of early death is increased by 20% if you are obese, 30% for excessive drinkers, 50% higher for smokers it is increased an astounding 70% for those with poor social relationships. We do the same things, day in, day out, telling ourselves that we need to pay the bills, kidding ourselves that things aren’t bad, it’s ok really, when inside we know that we are in the wrong working environment. If your workplace is toxic it may just be reducing your life expectancy and that’s food for thought.
If you find yourself in a toxic workplace culture (or even inadvertently leading one) contact us to find out how you can adopt a more positive and productive approach at firstname.lastname@example.org Like to find out how you can embed growth mindset or mindfulness into what you do? Check out our forthcoming events and course brochure. Looking for something more bespoke? We’d love to talk to you about getting the most out of your team by using positive psychology, contact us to find out more.
Failure makes an uncomfortable bedfellow. Many business spend their time focusing upon performance goals avoiding mistakes or trying to shift them elsewhere when they happens. In many start ups and established businesses the resulting blame culture stifles and shuts down innovation as employees fear the aftermath of failure. The problem with this is that innovation is an inherent unknown, it’s value lies in discovery by trial and error and that path is littered with the carcasses of failure.
Many start ups, especially in the tech world are turning the traditional paradigm of failure avoidance on it’s head. Google subsidiary, X, the company’s research lab led by Astro Teller, or “Captain of Moonshots” is a failure evangelist. X works firmly in the future rather than the present. Think AI, Google Brain, the driverless car, Project Loon or Project Calico researching life extension none of these would have come into being if Google fostered a blame culture. With a fail fast mantra firmly focused on the future, this culture incubates the art of possibility, of what could be rather than what is. In fact, Teller goes one step further actively encouraging experimentation by celebrating and rewarding failure (see our blog on Moonshots for more on this). This organisational culture embraces error reporting, shunning shaming and cover up. Proving Stanford Business Professor, Baba Shiv’s claim that failure truly is “The mother of innovation.”
Creating a No-Blame Culture For Innovation
Researchers at the Johannes Kepler Universitat (Rami, U. & Gould, C. 2016. From a “Culture of Blame” to an Encouraged “Learning from Failure Culture”. Business Perspectives and Research) found 3 drivers necessary to shift away from a blame culture.
- Act on covering up errors. If they’re hidden you can’t learn from them. This comes from the top and is usually influenced by leadership style. A punitive, authoritarian leader is less likely to persuade employees to discuss and learn from failure than a delegative, authentic leader who listsens. Genuine conversations need to take place around the value of error and it’s inherent correlation with innovation. Take a leaf from Google’s dream leader, Teller and throw a failure party.
- Error communication. The research found that employees in fast paced organisations with elevated workloads were more likely to report their errors. Where error was caused by lack of knowledge or training it was less likely to be reported. One of the most important factors in error reporting was peer support. This requires a people focused leadership style along with trust, transparency and openness.
- Social backing. This is really about buy in and trust. Employees need to believe that their colleagues have bought into no blame, error reporting. They also need to trust in the leadership team and that there is a real investment in innovation through fast failing. If employees secretly believe that the honesty required for error reporting will come back to bite them on the ass, your culture of innovation will fall down at the first hurdle.
12 Steps to Creating A Failure Friendly Innovative Culture
If you’re building a start up or leading an established business these steps are necessary to shift from a blame culture to an innovative learning culture.
- Model the behaviour you want to by admitting your own mistakes. A learning culture instead of a blame culture starts at the top.
- Discourage your managers from promoting a purely task focused performance culture.
- Promote open error reporting for large and small errors equally.
- Examine your systems, do they support or reward error outing rather than creative discussion?
- Ensure that all employees prevent error cover up.
- Place the spotlight on error management rather than people blame.
- Make sure that you have buy in from your leadership team to create a constructive error culture
- Cultivate a culture of discussion, creative debate and non-judgement
- Shine the light of error responsibility on procedures and systems rather than people.
- Make sure than competency and knowledge deficit is reduced by training your people.
- Celebrate and reward failure in a tangible way.
- When you enjoy a success borne out of failure communicate it to all levels of your organisation.
Want to know more about creating a no-blame culture or building innovation and creativity? We offer consultancy, training, bitesize, half day or one day training courses along with conference sessions on how to build effective organisations. Contact us at email@example.com to find out more. We’d love to talk with you.