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Workplace Issues in 2009

Workplace Issues in 2009

November 25, 2009

As part of a year-end report, Mary Ellen Slayter at SmartBrief on Workforce asked each member of their Advisory Board to write a blog post about a workforce trend that shaped 2009. When I first got this request, frankly I was a little stumped. There are so many things that have happened this year. But a recent incident really focused my thoughts on the subject.

Mr. Bartender’s Blackberry died so we needed to get him a new phone. He decided to join the ranks of iPhone users…so we went at the AT&T store. (Side note: he ended up getting my 3G and I got the new 3GS!) Anywho, while we were there the store manager was chatting with us and had to quickly excuse himself to take a call. He came back to tell us that his brother (who lives in Pakistan) called him to see if he was affected by the shooting taking place in Orlando.

What? People in Pakistan hearing about a shooting in Orlando before me – a person living in Florida? He turned on the TV and sure enough, the breaking news story is about a guy who shot 6 people in an Orlando office high rise. This immediately gets my attention since my sister works in downtown Orlando. I start emailing her to make sure she’s OK and checking Twitter for details.

The story is being reported as an employee who was terminated for performance. After which his life starts sliding downhill. He gets angry and takes his frustrations back to where he feels the problems started – his former employer. As a HR pro who has had her life threatened, I can tell you this is both a sad and scary situation.

After the suspect was taken into custody and the surviving victims were left to put their lives back into some semblance of order (if possible), The New York Times printed a story about the incident. A quote in the article jumped out at me about what people are going through right now.

“This guy is a compilation of the front page of the entire year — unemployment, foreclosure, bankruptcy, divorce, all of the stresses,” said the lawyer, Robert Wesley, a public defender assigned to represent the suspect, Jason Rodriguez. “He has been declining in mental health.”

My take on the trend for 2009? No, it’s not social media. And, it’s not fixing a profession. 2009 is about working people and survival. Pure and simple.

While I realize the Rodriguez example is an extreme, it’s not naïve to think people are living and working in fear. Everyday. Fear they will lose their job and everything that goes along with losing a steady paycheck. This fear puts people in a survival mentality and creates a defensiveness that’s difficult to move past. Great Leadership blog recently published a post that examines the subject closer…be sure to check it out.

Fear is keeping our employees from being engaged and productive. As managers and leaders in our organizations and our communities, we need to help alleviate the fear. How do we do that? Well, here’s a starter list:

  • — Conduct ourselves in an appropriate and ethical manner.
  • — Hold ourselves accountable for our actions. Having a full plate is not justification for treating people badly.
  • — Teach others how to process change, new ideas and different processes. Being busy is no excuse.
  • — Communicate on a regular basis with stakeholders, coworkers and staff. Communication is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.

It’s simply not acceptable to wish away the tough messages or dismiss management responsibilities because times are challenging. It’s time to begin accepting personal accountability and start leading.

The working world is becoming a very ugly place. It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s time to change our views about work. Successful organizations will figure out how to make this transition and help their employees make it happen.

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