When I named the New Workplace Institute in 2006, I did so with institutional transformation in mind, hoping that it would contribute to the development of better workplaces. Some seven years later, I now realize that the term “new workplace” has at least three meanings. One involves transforming existing organizations into better places to work. Another involves creating brand new workplaces that are healthier and happier than their predecessors. And yet a third involves individuals finding new places to work, hopefully much better than the ones they left, and possibly including a career shift.
Each form of “new workplace” brings its own opportunities and challenges. With apologies for diving rather deeply into conceptual perspectives that I’ve been mulling over during the past few months, I’d like to share a few thoughts on each:
Transforming an existing workplace
Transforming the culture of an unhealthy workplace may require blasting through hedgerows of resistance and hostility, especially in a toxic environment. If successful, the payoff can be significant. In most cases it requires a full-on commitment from the top, especially in workplaces where command & control has been the dominant decision making model. Creating transformative change from the middle or bottom of the organizational chart is not impossible, but typically such efforts can, at best, mitigate, rather than reverse, the effects of bad top-down management.
Starting a new workplace
Creating a first-rate new business or organization requires an entrepreneurial spirit and a commitment to the quality of work life. Many start-ups are big on the former but neglect the latter. Energies are driven by a vision of what the entity will do, requiring long hours and close attention to endless details. The founders are “all in,” and may not anticipate the day when they hire employees who do not necessarily share their round-the-clock zeal. Unless a commitment to building a psychologically healthy workplace exists from the start, it’s more likely that this new workplace will morph into the latest employer dealing with high levels of worker dissatisfaction and disengagement.
Finding a new workplace
Finding a new, good place to work can be liberating, especially if it follows a nasty layoff or prolonged exposure to a toxic work environment. Recovery and renewal are no easy tasks under such circumstances, but they are eminently possible. In some cases it may involve a career shift. In others it may mean creating your own business. These options may require much more than “simply” looking for a new job. In any event, thinking through all this and weighing options can be the first step on the road to something better.
Creating healthy, productive, and socially responsible workplaces requires many, many stakeholders. They include individual workplaces, labor unions, business groups, advocacy & public education associations, and legal & regulatory structures. In the background, consultants, coaches, and mental health providers can help to guide institutions and individuals to and fro.
This also requires individual commitment to effecting beneficial, healthy, and constructive change. Hopefully, from time to time each of us can step back to assess our contributions toward such efforts.
David, it has been my experience that much of the resistance to changes in workplaces at least in government comes from mid level management folks. I think much of it comes from a fear that if change happens folks may see that there is no need for their jobs. Empowerment of front line workers scares the devil out of these folks. There are two solutions I’d like to suggest for this problem; first have the highest echelons of the executive staff reassure them that they will still have jobs without pay cuts, and second, insure that the change happens by taking away any incentive to resist. The second comes from a book I read on change within organizations. The conclusion of the authors was that change happens most readily when those in the organization fear that the organization will cease to exist without change. That lessens the attraction of resisting change a whole lot!