Employees often see themselves as passive recipients of a work climate, as if it is something that is created by the organization for which they work. But the reality is that employees co-create the climate, along with the manager/leader of the department.

This is a fascinating topic to explore, and a continuous challenge. I recently discussed this topic with another HR professional as we delved into three different departments within the same organization. In all three departments, employees have complained about low morale, gossiping, lack of respect for one another, and low trust. This has been an ongoing theme for more than two years.

What is interesting is that one of these groups has had a manager change. I believe this leader laid down ground rules of engagement very quickly and did not allow for exceptions to them. For example, a “no gossiping” rule was enacted. When employees engaged in this behavior, they were held accountable. Before long, employees were calling each other out on engaging in this toxic behavior, rather than being complicit in it. This leader set the tone … not only by setting these ground rules, but also delivering on her commitments, and by so doing, created trust in her leadership, which helped create more trust among the team members. It was remarkable to see the difference in their engagement scores from 2017 to 2018. This leader sent a message early on that this team was the author of their collective reality, and they would influence how they relate to one another.

Another team we discussed is led by a very passive manager. She has not taken a stand against this behavior, and her engagement scores show a dip in overall engagement from one year to the next. This leader allows her team to bully her to the point she is fearful of making decisions. Her team is feeding off this weakness. Sadly, despite numerous conversations and even pushing her to spend time with more successful leaders, she feels defeated, and takes not action. My colleague has personally met with this team several times, with and without their manager, and called them out on their bad behavior, as they continuously blame each other, and their weak manager for their work climate. My colleague impressed upon them that they created their own mess, and only they can clean it up, but only if they really wanted to. My colleague is beginning to think they enjoy being destructive towards one another. After all, they have done nothing to change the dynamic, so they must take some joy out of it, right? By addressing them head-on, my colleague had hoped they would think twice before falling into their same patterns, but without a good leader in place to help drive this change, it has not changed.

Lastly, we discussed the third department with a similar situation. Unlike the first department with a strong management change, and the second department with the weak manager, this department turned around because this department’s leader was willing to take an inward look at her own behavior, and realized her management team was shadowing her behaviors. She was able to lead bravely, to change how she reacted to situations, and began a transformation of herself and her own leadership style. She was able to show others that they had the ability to change themselves. This was another remarkable success story. With this leader, my HR colleague took some learning from the “Fish Philosophy” (Fishphilosophy.com) principles and found ways to create a climate of “choosing your attitude”, an attitude of positivity, every day. Even their patient feedback scores have improved tremendously, so others are seeing the results of their transformation.

In conclusion, it is true that we create our own reality and that we can influence our own work climate. We should not ignore the impact a manager/leader has to help drive the right work environment. I believe it was Eldridge Cleaver who said, “If you are not part of the solution, you must be part of the problem.”

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Author Profile

Richard Finger
Richard Finger
Richard Finger has worked in Human Resources for over 20 years and has worked with small, private organizations, global corporations, and most currently, a healthcare organization. Richard has worked abroad a number of years in England as well as The Netherlands, where he acquired a great appreciation for cultural awareness. He currently holds three Human Resource Certifications (SHRM-SCP, SPHR, SPHRi), and is also teaching the SHRM-CP/SHRM-SCP preparation course at Howard County Community College. Richard earned his Bachelor Degree in Psychology at University of Central Florida, and Master Degree in Human Resources Management & Labor Relations at New York Institute of Technology. Richard has been writing for Baltimore Outloud for a number of years, contributing articles about his Human Resources experiences, as well as moonlighting as the author of Finger's Food restaurant reviews. Richard has enjoyed writing for the paper, and looks forward to many more opportunities to do so.