A note before reading. Workplace shadows can reflect both positive and negative characteristics. Shadows used in this article reflect the darker or negative aspects found within workplaces. Read the other articles on the shadow: ‘The role of LeaderManagers in removing the shadow,’ and ‘Bringing Light To Our Own Shadow'.
All organizations and institutions be they business, not-for-profit, or religious, cast shadows. The shadow reflects the darker side of the organization. This article focuses on those darker shadows that exist in the workplace – those things that get in the workers way by stopping or slowing them down from doing good work. They cause serious vexing and discontent in the workplace.
Here are four of those things:
1. Poor communication. Communication is the grease that lubricates the systems and processes within any organization. It is one of the necessary nutrients that nurture relationships between colleagues, across boundaries and at all levels within any given company and institution. Sad but true, many leaders within an organization keep people in the dark. They don’t share needed information, encourage collaborative effort or cross boundary communication. One of the constant complaints I received during my work with organizations related to poor communications. I heard people say: “People don’t communicate here,” or “I’m not sure what I’m suppose to do. Nobody tells me anything,” or “We know changes are coming, but we don’t know how they will affect us. We’re kept in the dark.”
Poor communication causes anxiety, in-fighting, fear, discontent, relational difficulties, and sometimes public outcry. The poorer the communication the darker the shadow becomes, until employees start walking away or the quality of their work suffers.
2. Limited Engagement. Poor communication within the workplace often brings limited engagement. Workers, who complain that they don’t know what to do or are kept in the dark, are complaining not only about poor communication but also about their lack of engagement within the organization. Engagement brings light to the shadow. Disengagement fosters discontent. What does the disengagement shadow look like?
3. Lack of mutually established objectives. Concomitant with the lack of engagement and poor communication comes poor performance. Poor performance often is a result of not knowing what is expected and when that expectation is due. What frustrates workers is not that objective are set, but that they are set without their involvement. They are given to them and then told to achieve them. This is an easy way to encourage complaining in the workplace and a lack of performance because there is no ownership for the objective.
Another factor that causes frustration is when the objectives are not attainable or realistic. We live in a time where changes and shifting priorities occur rapidly. So setting timelines for the objectives that are too far into the future may not be realistic for today’s realities. In short order the objectives become obsolete and workers then wonder why they were set in the first place, and the shadow begins to darken.
4. Poor wages. There is a growing discrepancy between the wages of leadership teams and workers, especially within large corporations. It is hard for workers, and people in general, to understand the wide gap between highly paid CEOs, Vice Presidents and others within the leadership team and those on the ground floor.
Why do employees want higher wages? It’s simple. They want to care for their families, put food on the table and buy houses to make a home. My experience with business owners and their leadership teams is that they often have two complaints: taxes are too high, and they can’t afford to pay higher minimum wages. Yet, I see these same people driving big cars, owning cottages at the lake, living in large houses, and vacationing in exotic resorts. I also hear them say the highways need to be fixed, health services need to be improved, education costs are too high, and welfare programs are being abused. What is wrong with this picture?
The shadow produces a toxic environment, and unfortunately when workers criticize or complain about the darker side of the organization leaders grumble about the workers. Here’s the deal, just because workers criticize doesn’t mean they don’t like their work. What they seek is a more pleasant workplace where people get along, they want to understand the big “Why” of the company so that they can commit to it and they seek processes that allow for green tape rather than red tape.
When the shadow becomes too dark, workers walk with their feet to other places of employment. This is a recipe for high turn-over rates and in turn, higher costs; or, it results in workers organizing for higher wages, better working conditions, and improved workplace cultures.
Does your organization or place of business have a looming shadow? What do you think will happen when the shadow becomes too dark in your workplace?
Thanks for reading,
Richard P. Fontanie