Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Workplace Rules

Welp, this newsflash regarding employee reports of the workplace at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) being a "White Men's Club" is not surprising.

Somewhat related to my sporadic presence in the blogosphere over the past few months, I've been dealing with a horrendo fucko work situation of my own that was devouring my soul and consuming all of the excess mental energy I had at the end of each day.

Don't worry though! Good for me, I'm now out of that situation.

And no, I don't work for HRC - nor have I ever worked for them.  However, as I read the HRC report as well as the regular reports and blogposts I read about women in the tech industry, it seems that many toxic, dysfunctional workplaces share many of the same qualities. Such qualities are present across sectors and, perhaps surprising to some people, are even present in organizations and companies that have supposed benevolent, social justice missions.

Kind of like how HRC rates the equality of other companies through its Corporate Equality Index, while its employees report that the organization has its own issues with respect to equality.  Whoops!

So, I thought I'd start a series about approaches people, particularly managers and supervisors, can take in helping their workplaces not become  toxic, dysfunctional workplaces.

And yes, such series have been done before by others, and these are just my opinions based upon my own lived experiences and observations. Yet, I think sometimes what's missing from articles about toxic, dysfunctional workplaces (and I've read a lot lately!) are connections between workplace issues and social justice issues.  For instance, in my experience, a CEO's failure to examine and acknowledge his own white male privilege seemed intricately connected to his racist, sexist hiring and firing practices.

Secondly, although my rules are technically geared toward workplace leaders (e.g. - managers, supervisors), articulating them can help others identify patterns that are and are not happening in their own workplaces. Naming the shittiness of certain actions can be validating for those impacted by them.

So without further ado, my first rule is: Don't Make Your People Work With Jerks.

How many of you have heard some variation of, "Yeah s/he's an asshole, but s/he's brilliant!"

Fuck that.  If you have say over hiring decisions, don't hire jerks, "personalities," or "difficult people." I seriously question whether gains from even the most brilliant mind truly compensate for the unpaid mental labor that Jerk's co-workers have to put into in dealing with Jerk via constant walking on eggshells, assuaging easily-hurt gigantic egos,  engaging in unnecessarily argumentative conversations, defending oneself, and being on the receiving end of attacks.  People leave workplaces because of jerks, taking know-how and institutional knowledge with them. They get sick. They spend time developing coping strategies and rehearsing difficult conversations to get through their day, when they could actually be working.

What is a jerk, you may ask?  I would say here to trust your instinct - I know that's vague, but these things are often context-driven within a work environment.  Like, I once had a jerky co-worker who in every email response to team members would find some small point to argue about and then copy our mutual supervisor, as if to tattle or show our boss how everyone else was fucking up.  In some workplaces, supervisors demand to be copied on everything - but such was not our supervisor or our workplace culture, so that (among other thins he did) was jerky.

But also, if you have co-workers you trust, ask them. I've found that jerks often, but certainly not always, act jerky in 1-on-1 situations, which can make the recipient of jerkiness feel isolated and uncertain if jerkiness is actually occurring. In the past, I've found solace and validation when I or others have broached other people's jerkiness with one another: "So, this thing with Potential Jerk happened, can I get your take on it?"

By trusting my instinct that jerkiness did indeed occur, oftentimes,  people respond with, "Holy shit, that's jerky … and I've experienced this, as well." It might seem like a gossipy thing to do, but in my experience it's a coping strategy born out of the necessity of cowardly, enabling bosses who refuse to get rid of assholes.

And yet sadly, maddeningly, it seems that even marginally-competent Jerks are often tolerated by management - a tolerance that is, to tie in the social justice aspect, often due to the Jerk reminding a manager/supervisor of hirself. It seems. When people remind people in power of themselves, a lot of slack is often given to those people. Such people are often given benefits of the doubt that are not extended to others: "Oh, Jerk angrily exploded in another team meeting? Well, I can tell you he's just stressed out and didn't mean anything by it."

We are asked to see things from Jerk's perspective and are told to assume good faith, despite all of their actions screaming at us to do otherwise.

So yeah. If you have decisions over hiring, don't hire jerks. If you are working with jerks, fire them. You will be a hero. If I see a manager who tolerates jerks on their team, I see a manager who is difficult for me to respect.

So that's my first Workplace Rule.  Feel free to make suggestions in the comments for future episodes.

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