I Don’t Get Any Respect!

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I recently ran into an acquaintance of mine who was working on a large engineering and construction project team. He was a highly skilled engineer with many years of experience, and I asked him how the project was going. His response, “I hate it!”

He had a project manager who was a bully that liked to scream and intimidate people in an attempt to get more work done. The work environment was toxic and lacked any sense of collaboration or commitment. People were simply showing up and keeping their heads down to avoid the wrath of the leadership team.

Although not ready for retirement, he wanted out and was hoping to switch jobs, willingly taking less pay or a lesser role within another organization, ideally in an entirely different industry. Although his career had been filled with many similar experiences, either the jobs were getting worse or his tolerance was getting less. He no longer felt proud of the work that he had did and he knew if he didn’t make a change soon, he’d end up retiring in another ten years feeling empty and dissatisfied with his career.

A 2008 study, completed by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (ebri.org), found that a full 68% of recent retirees were “Somewhat Satisfied”, “Not Too Satisfied” or “Not At All Satisfied” when asked about their level of job satisfaction at the time of retirement.

Isn’t that sad? More than two thirds of workers, many of which were professionals such as this engineer, really had not enjoyed their careers. And the number one reason for that dissatisfaction was due to a lack of respect and appreciation by their employers.

These are people who lived through the “good old days” when America (and Canada) was great and companies supposedly took care of you. Many of these retirees likely worked for a single employer their entire lives. They dutifully did what they were told and they didn’t question authority and at the end of it all, they did not feel respected or appreciated.

 Another acquaintance who worked as a health care professional, was being bullied at work, so she went to the human resources department to report the behavior only to be told a few weeks later that the organization could not guarantee her safety at work and for that reason she was let go.

Can you imagine? Getting bullied at work, reporting the incidents and then rather than dealing with the problem, the organization fires you for reporting it! She ended up suing for wrongful dismissal and won but can’t talk about it because of a gag order that came with the settlement. Talk about a lack of accountability! The memories from that incident still bring tears to her eyes today.

A recent CBC interview of Calgary city councilor Diane Colley-Urquhart, who sits on the Calgary Police Services (CPS) commission, called out the force for its lack of action to improve a culture of bullying, harassment, intimidation and retaliation that had been highlighted in a 2013 internal workplace review. The report noted how such behavior left the people on the receiving end “feeling attacked, angry, isolated frustrated and unsupported.” It also noted that in most cases, the affected person did not bring their concerns forward because of the culture of intimidation and retaliation.

In response to Colley-Urquhart’s statements’ the Deputy Chief noted that many of the recommendations from that report had been implemented but seemed to be having little impact, based on the feedback from members of the force. He also added that he could only act on complaints if they were formally received.

Can you imagine, an organizational leader as important as the Deputy Chief of Police saying he must turn a blind eye to disempowering and disrespectful acts in his organization unless someone is willing to stick their neck out and raise a formal complaint?

The report specifically points to the “Old Boys Network” found in these male dominated organizations, with allegations of favouritism, suppression of ideas and suggestions, and the ‘bribe, promise and threat’ processes used to get ahead or avoid accountability by overlooking, tolerating and rewarding bad behavior.

Civilian and sworn members, both male and female called for the creation of a culture based on respect and inclusion, more autonomy in decision making, appropriate dispute resolution mechanisms, an increase in organizational transparency and trust, and the exploration of ways to promote accountability for behavior in the workplace. It stressed the importance of considering a shift from traditional “command and control” management style to a more customer service-based approach. The Deputy Chief recognized that the real issue was “a culture issue. How to become a much more trusted place?”

So, if many of the recommendations from the 2013 report had been implemented, why has nothing changed? Why do such disempowering and distrustful cultures survive despite organizations’ best attempts to fix them? Is a lack of accountability, disrespect and pervasive bullying just a fact of life in our organizations?

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