I have been in some pretty fantastic workplaces and sadly, a lot of really sad ones. The Dalai Lama talks at length about the art of happiness at work…
But I want to talk about the word that is often used to crush any shred of happiness in the workplace.
Queue the “da daaaa” music: PROFESSIONALISM or rather something I call “Uber-professionalism”.
This is what professionalism means to some organisations:
1. Don’t be real. Make sure you dress and look corporate and powerful, but don’t be human.
2. Don’t raise issues unless you do it in a dry monotone. Your not allowed to experience emotions here, and yes, expressing too much emotion may not be good – but none at all will be more destructive. I dub thee “uber-professional” communication. Dry, unfeeling and to the point, which ironically, nothing in the rest of life is. If your business has anything to do with people and their lives this is a clear double standard. You are not allowed to be human and we will respond with robotic automaton.
3. Put up with aggression and bullying. Basically a professional in these kinds of workplaces just sits back and allows themselves to be abused in the name of supposed productivity. What happens in reality is the workplace becomes less productive, unhealthy. Walk outs are common and people proudly talk about how competitive the environment is. That’s not competitive; to mean competitive it had better be Olympic standard and that involves fair play (even if lately the Olympics has had a lot of cheats they are actively screened for).
4. Follow chain of command (always). With almost military like precision (or so they think). Yes…we all know those people who think a conversation in a corridor with someone outside of your team is dangerous. In reality it opens up ways to share ideas, but to the uber-professional it is scary. Anyone who actually has been in military service will tell you an illegal or unlawful order is an illegal or unlawful order and you definitely don’t follow it when lives are at stake. Rather than try and understand this, these are the people who smack their staff with the code of conduct then don’t realise they are breaking the code of conduct by using it as weapon rather than a way of assisting people understand the parameters of behaviour. One slip in this world-view and your gone (unless of course you are the person wielding the code of conduct and then you are allowed to do whatever you like).
5. Make sure you are busy when you are just really busy being busy as a matter of survival. Busy in this sense doesn’t necessarily achieve anything. Martyrdom seems to come with this uber-professional approach, they take on jobs that are not theirs and question expertise that is not theirs, work super long hours and then complain about everyone else. They are busy dammit! Busy fixing things that don’t need to be fixed usually and not focussing on the content of the work.
6. Hard work is the driving force, but no one works particularly smart. I’m not sure where all of this ridiculous comes from, but my guess would it be from the perceptions of the glory days of the Trumps, Murdoch’s and Fairfax’s. Strangely enough they are perceptions only, the reality is something completely different. Efficiency is something altogether different. “Haste means waste”. Ask any successful professional athlete that relies on speed – it requires focus, calm and practice, not rushing, pushing and forcing.
This kind of professionalism encourages a “dog eat dog” type thinking that ever since it’s rise in the 1980’s has created a lot of depressed and injured workers and lower productivity. This is the kind of professionalism I believe in, something I will coin “People-ism”:
1. People are allowed to be themselves. In all their realness. If they have “inappropriate” behaviours from time to time because of the nature of the work or life generally – the assessment of this is determined by the team, not by a regulator or standard of behaviour that focuses on appearances rather than skills, abilities and perspectives. Everyone that appears “different” has a different perspective to offer, they are not to be treated as a threat. If the team votes Mr X or Ms X is too loud – they say so, collectively in peer feedback sessions. They support that person to tone it down with care and compassion and these are facilitated by the group and it’s natural leaders, not an imposed “nanny” manager. The team is prepared to accept each other and work with each other, not against each other. No one is perfect and nor would we want them to be in this model.
2. Issues are raised. Not only is issue raising allowed, it is encouraged. Daily. BUT it is facilitated so that it is about issues, not people. There is a big difference and the parameters are easy to work out in a healthy workplace.
3. Encouragement is the norm. Bullying, stand over and intimidation is not tolerated. There will always be times when the workload is high and the pressure as well. “Your lack of planning shouldn’t constitute an emergency on my part”. Bullies can’t seem to understand that their own fear, anxiety and lack of planning (usually) isn’t everyone else’s issue. If you can’t do something for whatever reason – raise it in the issues raising at #2 and ask people for help and surprisingly, you will get it.
4. Planning replaces power plays. Chain of command is replaced with “protocols”. Simple “what to do when” instructions. If an issue is sensitive people actually talk to each other. This is different to back to back pointless meetings, lead by a dictator. This is different to “here is your task list and go and do it by this time”. This planning is based upon a genuine engagement with peoples skills, preferences and abilities – not an assumption of them. Let’s face it, we have all heard the education metaphor about fish being asked to climb trees. Why on earth would you just randomly give out tasks to whoever based upon an arbitrary measurement of workload?
5. People are active as opposed to frazzled. Calm is the approach here. When workloads are high planning increases – not planning grinding to a halt and everyone flat spinning and flailing about. Planning is collective, not driven by one individual with a controlling mindset. If you are at work more than 8 hours a day, something is wrong. Your work life balance is shattered. You will not be productive, you will just be frazzled. If you are actively engaged in your work you will be able to have time to plan and workload crises will be a thing of the past.
6. Work smarter, not harder. See all of the above. The above requires hard work too – it’s just a different more cerebral kind of hard work. It’s more about commitment than hard work and it’s more about wanting to do a good job, not just any job.
7. Finally and the most important “Conversations, laughter and communication are promoted not prevented“. Of course, I hear the old school managers say, “not all day”. We all know the destructiveness of working in competitive silos by now, surely? In that environment conversations are about relationship hassles, mortgages and car troubles. In the right working space conversations take on the right kind of buzz, fuelled by the work and environment. Some of the best conversations are those held informally not in the board room. They should inform the generation of ideas that end up in the board room. These conversations become agendas, plans, maps and solutions. If people are genuinely engaged and active in their work, happy and focussed these conversations won’t be distractions, they will be productivity tools.