Posted by: ginalazenby | April 9, 2018

Values in the workplace can make us love or hate our jobs

Conscious Cafe March 2018

Our Conscious Cafe meeting in March to discuss values in the workplace

Our last Conscious Cafe meeting in March in Skipton we discussed values in the workplace. Did you know that a lot of people are unhappy at work, and if not openly discontented, ongoing research by Gallup states that over two thirds of people are not engaged in their jobs? They would leave if they could. That is a shocking statistic but the survey data comes from an ongoing daily global poll, taken since year 2000, of hundreds of thousands of employees tracking enthusiasm, contentment and commitment in the workplace. It’s not just about the work that each individual has to do, or the team of colleagues that they work with, job satisfaction is very much tied up with the culture of the employee’s organisation.  And the culture comes from the top, led by a set of guiding values that vary from company to company.

As I opened our evening circle I shared my experience of one boss who talked openly and publicly about compassionate management. Jeff Weiner, CEO of Linked In, spoke of the three values that guided the company: being open, honest and constructive. It surely is one of the reasons that Jeff has been lauded as one of the USA’s top CEOs, as rated by staff. I had attended an interview Jeff gave in San Francisco during Wisdom Week in 2014, and have transcribed what he said about how he runs LinkedIn with compassion … “We are not just building companies, we are building humanity” said Jeff. Oh that all companies felt the same!

At our March Cafe evening we had 4 questions on the table to discuss about how familiar people were with the values that formed their own company culture, what might help people thrive and whether a culture could be changed. From the shared feedback, these are the insights below that I have summarised:

Where do we learn our values?

Family upbringing is key. Good parenting is crucial. Many who were brought up in a family environment that taught strong values but because of the changes in family life, there is a worry for young people today and a fear they might have lost their moral compass. That may be true for some but there are many young people today who care deeply about the future in a way that previous generations might not have. The young seem to have different aspirations, many are more enlightened as if something has been awakened in them.  Perhaps there are old-fashioned traditional values that have different priorities to the newer modern values that steer millennials?   It is clear that single parenting with a father missing can be a disadvantage for some young people. In the USA, troubled youths involved in gun violence invariably come from broken homes.  How can we supplement values education for children in challenging family situations?

The workplace is a key place for us to live our values

Where we work and spend so much of our lives provides an important place for us to learn and change. Coaching and emotional support at work is now more readily available than it was 20-30 years ago. Workplaces are so much enlightened places for us to be.  If there is a misalignment of values between what we feel is important to us and what is prioritised by our employer, then that can be a great source of stress for us, and eventually a reason to leave.

Do we know what the values are in our workplace?

A lot of people don’t know and they don’t question or think about them while others  know specifically what the work values are. These can be stated in policy manuals and reiterated at annual reviews .. but that does not help people to remember and become familiar.   How many values are there.. a long list? There should be a top three at most to be memorable. There is something called a 30% rule, and the magic of three.  … people only ever remember 30% of what they hear. Most people can only quote three of the Ten Commandments, and that is after they have been around for 2000 years!  Even when values are not explicitly articulated, if they are embodied and practised daily by the top leadership and/or business owners, then they are present and can be followed and modelled by others.

Are the values practised in the workplace?

It is one thing to state a set of values but it is quite another to embody them and have them guide daily work and decisions. Sometimes people are not aware of the values that create their work culture until they change employment and discover a whole different way of working guided by a different value system. Only then, by comparison, do they become aware of the guiding values behind their workplace. People who work in coaching, with several corporate clients, get to witness the very different values that people have to operate with. The opportunity to make comparisons can help them give insights to their clients. An example was given of destructive values  operating in an educational establishment which only really became apparent when that person moved, after twenty years, to a non-profit and found that back-biting was not normal as it was not tolerated with kindness as a core value. It is not always possible to see the impact of a work culture that tolerates negative behaviour until you move to one that does not.

When positive values are absent and situations deteriorate …

This is when situations look so unsafe that some individuals feel that the only way to bring about change is to blow the whistle. This is no small thing to do and often requires enormous courage to bring to attention of a wider group, that positive values have been lost and a shift is creating a damaging culture. Systems and organisations can be so deeply resistant to change, and feel so threatened that whistle blowers have to be promised anonymity and protection, instead of being openly rewarded for the good service they are providing. Cultures of openness rarely need to have change brought about by whistle-blowers.

When the leadership compromises …

Sometimes the values that are embraced by the organisation come under threat, like during austerity programs or profit drives. Then it seems that in some cases they are set aside for other priorities. If management does not adhere to the same values as everyone else, that is a big problem and can be confusing and demoralising.   The higher up the hierarchy and the culture changes with leaders playing lip service to the values required of the rest of the workforce.  An example was given of an organisation that embraced Compassion as a strong value but during austerity cuts, the notion that people were told they were lucky to have a job felt very uncompassionate.

Bosses from hell can ruin a business

One individual can change the work environment for a team and even a whole organisation.  A poor leader who is a bully can raise stress levels in a way that is very different to having a large workload. If people feel valued, appreciated and respected, large workloads can be tolerated, especially if everyone pulls together under a good leadership. But when one person is hellish in their behaviour, they make others’ lives hell too.  These people who are critical, moody and unsupportive create a negative and damaging culture around them. Invariably, these people have been over-promoted, under-supported in their own progression and cover up their struggle with defensive bullying behaviour. They can close down to feedback because they have not been taught how to be a good boss and have not had good role models to learn from. Teaching all children emotional intelligence in schools helps prepare them to handle relationships, good communication and personal feedback in a positive way. Bullying behaviour rarely starts as an adult at work with the genesis forming earlier in life.

Handling the Boss from Hell

Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, is well known for being a champion of compassion for LinkedIn. When he spoke about how he managed his business through the value of compassion, he set out 4 key pointers for dealing with difficult bosses. Read more here on the transcript (page 3). Where you feel your job is unsafe with any attempt at feedback to your boss, or there is no listening at all, supervisors and mentors can be extremely helpful. They can give guidance and support to make a difference.

Bosses we love

Jeff Weiner has been rated number one by employees in a top ten list of highest rated CEOs in the USA so it is worth reading the transcript of the talk he gave about managing compassionately.  In the UK we came up with examples of good bosses as John Lewis (currently a female CEO in 2016, Paula Nickolds), Quaker owned businesses, ethical Yorks university, Suma wholefoods cooperative.  John Lewis is an example where product knowledge was less important than the positive attitude of all the staff, who are called members rather than employees.

Is there hope .. what can we do when there isn’t a culture of positive values embedded in our workplace? 

What can be done if you don’t resonate with the work values and you choose not to or cannot leave? Take it in your own hands, be an exemplar yourself. What have you got to lose if you decide to fully embody the strongest values of your workplace.  If you take the easier route and don’t, then you end up compromising and lowering your standards which ultimately means you lose your self respect. If you become a champion of positive values, then you will be seen as a leader and a light to others. No matter where a person is in an organisation, they can contribute. Their voice is important and they will have impact if there is any listening within the organisation structure.

Restorative work practices can create important shifts

An example was given of bringing restorative work practices into the workplaces, this is something this is invariably sanctioned at higher levels but not always. There are many references online of Councils doing this. One aspect of this is frequent weekly meetings that are essentially listening circles that offer employees the opportunity to really get to know each other and develop better relationships. It was noted that people can work alongside each other for years without knowing many personal details about people’s lives that help to make them who they are. These communication building blocks really help change the culture and help share positive values.  Restorative work practices – toolkit.


The key to a successful work culture is good, strong leadership

Difficult and bullying bosses can literally ruin people’s lives and cause massive damage to a business.  In cultures of domination, bullies seem to know how to thrive in the hierarchy. A good team can survive in a bad organisation. When a good boss leads a team, and has strong positive values, they provide a good role model for everyone for best practice behaviour. These people walk their talk, listen well and see people’s strengths. As Jeff Weiner says, it takes courage to be compassionate, it is not a soft option but it is strong way to operate.

Our Conscious Cafe event was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of rich conversation. Feedback at our closing included people being intrigued and inspired with new ideas, nourished by having a space to share what was important to them, feeling hopeful for the future .. and feeling good about making time for oneself to take part in brilliant conversations even though there are so many other calls on personal time in the evening. Thanks for showing up folks and for your wonderful, heartfelt contributions!

NEXT Conscious Cafe event in Skipton is Wednesday 18th April and we are asking “Are You Doing Too Much?” Read more here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: