Identifying, facing and bringing light to the dark sides of work is uncomfortable, the process is often uncertain and the reaction from individuals is feared or unknown.
Too often, people focus on the day to day work trying to avoid the issue and sweep it under the rug in the hope it will somehow go away. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
Sweeping problems under the rug creates mountains. If they’re left to fester and get mouldy, they can grow into monsters and can end up taking a culture, a company or even an industry down (with many individuals along the way).
Every workplace has shadows, it’s nothing to be ashamed of
It’s how you handle the problems that matters. Your team notices when issues aren’t being dealt with, and what is allowed will continue.
It takes courage to recognise the shadow, create a strategy or plan to effectively work through it, or ask for help to bring light to the issues and help your workplace shine.
In my career, I’ve found 7 shadows that create an unsafe and unhealthy workplace.
1. Bullying and harassment
This behaviour causes psychological injuries, decreases productivity and harms the organisational culture.
This is where people are treated differently based on who they are or the relationships they do or don’t have with others. It’s a form of bullying however it involves so much more. It includes sexism, racism, ageism, and even favourtism. People can be discriminated against based on their religion, disability, culture or social class.
3. Mental health stigma
Even today, there is still a stigma around mental health and wellness. There’s a lack of understanding on how to support people, or how to not cause further harm. I recently completed the Mental Health First Aid certificate and have noticed many things that are said and done in the workplace that cause mental injuries in the workplace. Some people do not know, understand or believe mental safety is as important and physical safety.
4. Office politics
Games that involve power and authority. It’s about winning for personal gain or ego boosting. It can happen to improve someone’s status or advance their personal agenda, sometimes at the expense of others. It is informal, self-serving actions and includes gossiping, manipulation, backstabbing, game playing or ‘throwing someone under the bus’.
5. Incomplete leadership toolbox
Managers are only as effective as the tools in their belt. If we haven’t learnt good practices through training or mentoring, how are we expected to have the skills or teach others? Most managers get to their positions based on their technical knowledge. The people skills and communication skills may not be there. When a manager’s toolbox is incomplete, friction occurs and it may show up as avoiding or an inability to:
- Do performance management and reviews
- Effectively manage change
- Have difficult conversations
- Build good working relationships internally or externally
- Empower their team and work to their strengths
- Have a positive team culture
6. Profit before people, community or the environment
This focus can encourage unethical practices in the pursuit of making money without thought, care, respect or consideration of the implications – a recent example is Rio Tinto destroying Aboriginal heritage.
7. Systems and structures
Often the reason the shadows above occur is because they are allowed to through the systems or structures of the organisation, or it’s part of the culture. There are a few other ways shadows can creep in:
- Recruitment – are you hiring people with the above attributes?
- Staff Surveys – what are you workers telling you? Are you listening and focusing on continual improvement?
- Policies and procedures – do your policies prevent damaging behaviours or are they vague and standard because they’re a requirement?
- Exit interviews – what do you do with them? Do you do them? People join an organisation and leave a boss – is there a pattern that is bringing a darkness to the workplace?
Can you be courageous?
Remember being young and afraid of the dark? In the shadows you were sure you saw a monster… But once you turned the light on, it disappeared. The monster was only a sock, a toy, a shadow.
That’s what I do. I work with courageous companies who want to make positive, long lasting change. I work with companies that understand they have some dark corners and aren’t afraid to bring light in. I provide tools to help name it, claim it and reframe it, and I never shame it.
Dealing with the dark side of work requires courage, accountability and commitment. The benefits are brilliant.
The benefits of a healthy and safe workplace include:
- Increased trust, communication, commitment and loyalty
- This leads to increased productivity, diversity, innovation and risk management
- A positive reputation, which can lead to becoming an employer of choice and increases the calibre of your workforce
- Reduced costs – improved physical and psychological safety reduces the harm to workers and means less injuries, less claims and less time spent dealing with shadows
- Better customer service
- Increased bottom line – happy workers are productive workers that support customers better and their team, which means a better bottom line.