It’s time we wake up to the fact we have created toxic workplace environments that may not be killing us outright but certainly are destroying our health, happiness, humanity and creativity. Unfortunately, this has been going on far too long. An original study on social systems in workplaces (Trist & Bamforth 1951) demonstrated an epidemic of mental health problems and a reduction in productivity when small cohesive groups of workers (teams) were broken into individual jobs (assembly lines). Over 60 years of continuous research findings repeatedly tell us the same story — hierarchical, command and control workplace designs and structures are the root cause of workplace mental illness and low productivity (Emery, de Guerre, Aughton & Trull 2008).
There are no bad people, only bad systems that frustrate good people
from doing good work.
So, what are we waiting for? Isn’t this what leaders and managers have been seeking; something they can control? Don’t we all want to work at jobs that intellectually satisfy us with people we like and trust in workplaces where we can be creative, productive and healthy?
Case study after case study (Tongal; Zappos; Menlo Innovations) where creativity, self-management and joyful work are concerned assure us that redesigning core management and coordination structures and practices is at the root of providing us with the results we desire.
Whether we want it or not, workplace revolution is upon us. Daily, the news media pummels us with revolts against workplace structures (governments, financial institutions, hospitals, schools) that no longer meet the needs of the people they were designed to serve. When there is so much need for change, it can feel overwhelming. Often I see two personal responses from those affected — anger and/or withdrawal. Neither of these reactions is healthy or helpful to ourselves or others.
Anger diminishes our power to distinguish right from wrong, and this ability
is one of the highest human attributes. If it is lost, we are lost. Sometimes it
is necessary to respond strongly, but this can be done without anger. Anger
is not necessary. It has no value. Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama
Anger also diminishes our creativity, joy and ability to learn. Furthermore, anger is the source of bullying abusive behaviour, which has become a significant challenge in contemporary face-to-face and virtual workplaces. Anger is a personal choice, and if you find yourself having unpredictable, angry outbursts, then it has become your addiction of choice. No one causes us to be angry. We choose to respond to people, situations or things with anger. We can choose to respond differently. Not choosing to respond with anger is not repressing our anger but instead choosing to respond in a healthy, helpful way.
We now know that changing what causes dysfunctional workplaces returns health, humanity and creativity. If you are not in a position of power to bring about these workplace changes, don’t lose heart. There is still something you can do. Get to the source of your own anger and/or withdrawal. It follows that changing what causes anger will also bring positive results.
When I ask clients “What is the cause of your anger?” most reply “I don’t know.” In fact, they do know, but the answer is buried deep within them and each time they respond in anger another layer of protection gets added to the heap. Anger is self-defeating because it pushes others away from us (withdrawal) and keeps an unhealthy belief about ourselves repressed within. Most people fear angry outbursts from others and their fear of being hurt triggers their withdrawal, which is the opposite response needed to eliminate anger from our experience.
For those of us who respond with anger, try the following two actions when anger surfaces —
- Ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?” Wait for the answer.
- Repeat the following affirmation three times: “I am a loving, peaceful and joyful person. Anger does not live in me.”
For those us who fear anger and respond by withdrawing, try the following two actions when we are attacked with anger —
- Imagine you have an invisible shield that does not allow their anger to enter you. Do not escalate anger and defensiveness by responding verbally or otherwise.
- Wait until the angry person has calmed down (may take an hour or a day), then approach them to talk about what they are willing to do differently next time.
Click here for more tools and techniques that help discover and transform root causes.
Trist, E. L., & Bamforth, K. W. 1951. The stress of isolated dependence. Extracted from — Trist E. L., & Murray, H. (Eds). (1993). The social engagement of social science: A Tavistock anthology. Vol. 2. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 64-83.
Emery, M., de Guerre, D. W., Aughton, P., & Trull, A. 2008. Mental Health in the Workplace: Recent Results from a Joint Canadian and Australian Study, International Academy of Open Systems Theory, Inc.