With recent workplace murders hitting far too close to home, is WCB’s Bill 14 too late? Has the damage from years of neglect of employee care and management leadership training, left us all exposed and vulnerable?
What happens when our workplace goes very, VERY wrong?
I was 18, bright, energetic, a living knowledge sponge, eager to make a difference in the world. I imagined a workplace full of unique people with different strengths, skills, talents and knowledge, creating a better future for clients, company and themselves. These people were trading time for dollars, new skills and know-how. If they cared and contributed, they would grow to become future managers or entrepreneurs, offering opportunities to a new generation of workers, with new strengths, skills, talents and knowledge to exchange.
Reality? Not so much.
I walked into a workplace full of the walking wounded. My co-workers just wanted a safe spot to hide, switch into auto-pilot, do what was expected of them and collect a paycheque to fund the life they really cared about. They lived for the weekend, vacations and stat holidays with family and friends. Here’s the advice one middle manager gave me after I shared some ideas to improve our workplace:
“Keep your head down, mind your own business, do your work and be happy to collect a paycheque. There’s a lot of people in front of you in seniority who don’t want change. You’re lucky to have a job.”
It’s not that my expectations of work life were wrong. It’s that the reality of the opportunities to advance and people’s ability and aspirations to access those opportunities didn’t connect.
- Were their hopes squashed somewhere along the career path?
- Were they unequipped to progress and never shown how to get equipped?
- Were they just content to float along, living for the weekends?
The truth is that companies use people and people use companies.
Workers hope to have a slack day and make the same money. Companies hope to squeeze maximum productivity out of every dollar they have to spend. Employees want the right to walk out the door to a greater opportunity elsewhere. Companies want to cut unneeded resources when profits and demand for its products are down. There is no loyalty up or down.
A job is no guarantee of a financially secure future. A workforce is no guarantee of future competitive advantage. All workers need to continuously learn and improve themselves. They need to learn skills that will be in demand in the future. Their companies need to encourage and support employee education and personal growth. Looking out for number one means constantly improving what you have to offer. The future of a company depends on its ability to adapt to a changing world.
We need leaders with one eye on the future and another on every human resource under his or her care.
I wouldn’t claim to know what runs through the mind of a man who would walk into the office of his former employer and kill people he once worked with. I do know that one Nanaimo ex-employee felt completely justified to do exactly that … which means he was, and likely still is, a very sick man. No excuse can justify his actions, but to prevent this in our own workplaces, we do need to ask some painfully close-to-home questions.
- Did he feel backed into a corner in life because of losing his job?
- How did we, as a society, fail him and the families he’s thrown into chaos?
- Who else is dealing with the same mind fracturing life conditions?
Can we stop this recurring horror?
Our government is generally ten to twenty years behind in creating policy. They have tried to address mental health issues with Bill 14 and several Occupational Health and Safety program initiatives. Bill 14 places responsibility on managers and supervisors to identify and fix workplace bullying and other repeated stressors that may damage a worker’s mental health. There’s another vital part that bill can play, not only for our workplaces, but for our society as a whole.
- a team of managers, fully equipped to see the warning signs in people who can use help they will not seek out on their own.
- workers who care enough to stop turning a blind eye to the off-handed comments, actions and reactions that would signal deeper problems a co-worker is trying to mask over.
- a society that places responsibility on workplaces to not only trade dollars for time, but to maintain the “human resources” they currently rely on. That maintenance includes providing access to the right help for the sick and the walking wounded, then placing responsibility back in the individual’s hands to take that help and improve their lives.
- nurture leadership rather than simply management,
- encourage that leadership company-wide, regardless of title and seniority,
- focus on accountability to their workers and hold those workers accountable to their own potential for improvement,
… these workplaces can make our world a better (and safer) place to live, work and play. So … let’s get to work!