Sunday, 14 August 2016


After leaving my previous work to take some time off for travelling and working out what I want to do next, I’m facing a fear I’ve never experienced before: the fear of joining the wrong workplace. Searching for a new role, I’ve realised the particular responsibilities isn’t necessarily where my main focus lies anymore. Sure, I’d still want to be interested in the tasks and feel that I have the capacity to fulfil them, however whatever they are I know that I’d be giving 100% to get them done as thoroughly as I can. My main concern has shifted to whom I will be working for: I want to work for someone that truly believes in what they do, knows why they do it and inspires their team to commit to this journey with them. I want to be part of a team that takes their work seriously, looks out for one another, feels safe to challenge the circumstances and does this with their best intentions. Unlike knowing the type of responsibilities I’m signing myself up for when applying for a job, how can I be sure of what kind of work environment I’ll be in for?

The interesting thing is that currently I’m surrounded by people who are going through related issues: people in their “dream jobs” burning out because there isn’t enough support; people wasting time trying to piece together their available resources or keeping up with the changes because communication within the organisation is poor; people with high potential being placed in challenging roles but being provided with little to no structured development plans, mentoring or consistent feedback. All these people are really close to me and I know they take their careers seriously. Why are our relationships with our workplace breaking down?

It’s definitely a two-way relationship between us and our workplace – both parties are meant to give and take. Not unlike being in a romantic relationship, you do become one unit with the other party while maintaining your own identity and voice; you work towards common goals together, but as an individual you are able to make unique contributions that can help the unit achieve those goals faster or better. There are going to be conflict and fallouts, which may or may not be resolved.

At work though, you’re in a relationship with a whole bunch of people, each of whom you have a different type of relationship with. Relationships within a relationship: already sounds like a disaster. Is that perhaps why nobody wants to talk about how the workplace-employee relationship should really work? Is that why often when problems arise, the surface gets scratched, maybe a bandaid gets slapped on, and off you go back into the battlefield until you either bulldoze over your opponents or drop out yourself? Are we just expected to get along with everybody at work, “get on with it already”, “talk it out like adults” because in reality the system is way too complex and no one wants to deal with it?

Like in any relationship, each individual has his or her own personality, goals, priorities and attitude. However unlike in a romantic relationship where two people are working towards finding common ground and learning to love/accept/tolerate each other’s differences, at a workplace you have lots of these individuals under one roof, which is meant to have its own mission, objectives and values as well. It’s like a bloody Reddit forum: you’ll need moderators to keep shit under control, but also respectful, considerate contributors who understand that they’re not the only ones entitled to be there and get something out of it.

It feels like people from both sides in the workplace seem to forget (or ignore?) that it’s very much a big, messy relationship that requires love, care, understanding and effort from everyone. I’m not saying it’s like that everywhere – there are indeed people out there who love their workplace and/or put a lot of energy into making it a healthy environment for their team. We need more of them sharing their learning and practices to inspire their peers! Nevertheless, what myself and the people around me are going through shows that many do view work as a Lego game: gaps get filled and every block is just meant to fit with the other. Some structures will just look like shit through because the colours (i.e. personalities, objectives, intentions) might be all over the show.

Pupils on Rue de Rivoli, Paris, 1978. Photo by R. Doisneau 

Again, just a bit like in a personal relationship, there is nothing and no one regulating what it means to be a healthy workplace; there are some compliance boxes that need to be ticked, but work satisfaction and loyalty are all based on how people feel, which is rather hard to consistently measure. I’ll leave it up to you to decide how important it is… all I can say is that it’s hard to deny the role it plays in productivity, which in turn affects the bottom line. In an ideal world, here are questions that I strongly believe all parties need to frequently ask themselves and work on to play an active part in building a healthy workplace for everyone: 

Company decision-makers – questions around the company’s identity and values, the importance of their people and their hiring process

  • What is our true mission and how do we ensure we don’t get sidetracked from what we are meant to achieve? E.g. at our very core, do we exist because we want to be a hospitality company that delivers the most unique experiences, or is our true priority to just gain as much power in the industry and profits as possible? (I do understand that people are in business to make profit for one reason or another, however the mission does dictate much of the approach and direction of how things are executed)
  • What are our values, how do we ensure we embody them as a company and that all staff is on the same page? What kind of culture do we want for our company and what kind of behaviour will be expected from everyone?
  • How much do we need our people? What exactly do we need them to achieve for us and in return, what could they possibly need and want to perform their best? Is it in our best interest to keep employees as long as possible, and if so, what could they possibly want to have a fulfilling career and work life?
  • How do we hold people accountable when there are not delivering on any aspects – tasks-wise, culturally or morally?
  • Do we want feedback from our employees? How do we ensure people feel safe to raise issues and what’s the process to make sure those issues are resolved?
  • Do we fully understand everyone’s positions within the company? Are our roles and company reflected accurately when hiring new people? Are our expectations clear and reasonable for what we provide in return?
  • What can we do to ensure we find and hire people that can do the job, fit into our culture and respect what we stand for? Who are the people their performance and behaviour will affect most and should they be part of the recruitment process? Are there any creative ways to get to know the candidates better (and also give them a realistic taste of what it’s like to work for us) before hiring them?
  • Can we do our work without everyone else in the structure? If not, why should they be doing it with us and not someone else?

Employees of all levels – questions around their own objectives, priorities and the ability to work with others

  • Why am I applying for this job: because it’s the responsibilities that I want for my career development, it’s a company I want to work for, it’s the title and/or salary I want, it’ll help me pay my bills, I need a change from my current role, or I’ve been told to apply?
  • What do I want out of my next role and workplace? What could they possibly want in return? What do I know about the company and do their objectives and values seem to align with mine?
  • What are the things I would like to know before I start working for someone new? Am I prepared to ask those questions in my interview or have I thought of any other ways to find out?
  • Am I aware who I will be placed to work with and therefore my performance and behaviour will be affecting, and vice versa? (i.e. will I be working under someone alongside other peers, be in charge of a team or will I be mostly working independently?) Do I enjoy being part of a team, do I have the skills and empathy to lead others or do I rather enjoy working alone?
  • How do I deal with conflict or confronting situations? What’s my way of being reasonable and fair, and where do I draw the line? Do I have someone I trust to speak to when an issue can’t be resolved on my own?
  • Do I take pride in my work? What are my true strengths and weaknesses, and how do I seek to improve yourself?
  • Am I ok with the fact that at work, it should be as much about me as it should be about everyone else?

By no means do I have all the answers to this, but I do know one thing: going in blindly from any direction will cause issues in one way or another. I hope to spark a fresh conversation around what is hurting our relationships with our workplace and what measures we can take to change this… or do we live in an era where work is rather considered a transaction, and whoever doesn’t like it should just go and start their own thing?

 Sourced from Dailydoseofstuf

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