Nicola Walsh examines the dire need to develop positive workplace traits

The relationships we have with our colleagues are important; and to build them, we need to interact and communicate effectively. Positive work environments are both healthy and productive, and the transformation of unhealthy offices into good workplaces relies on individuals making the right choices – i.e. about their own behaviour and how they interact with others.

Grumbling about another’s behaviour in the office is the most common form of misbehaviour in the workplace because it can spiral out of control, and lead to negativity and ill feelings amongst colleagues. To eradicate this problem, managers could actively promote and practise Greek philosopher Socrates’ triple filter test: “If what you want to tell me is neither true, nor good nor even useful,
why tell me at all?”

Applying this yardstick may remind colleagues of the need to consider their comments first and then apply the gossip checklist – is it true, good and  useful?

Changing the behaviour of colleagues who are willing to attack others through negative comments is a difficult proposition. At a recent TEDx talk in Genoa on behaviour in the workplace, Louise Evans referred to people who act this way as ‘jackals.’

Complaining can elevate their sense of self-worth; it is an easy way to attract the interest of others. Mother Teresa’s comment that “the more we judge people, the less time we have to love them” is so true. Spending more time considering the benefits of individuals and celebrating success rather than judging their mistakes promotes positivity.

Some individuals underperform because they don’t attack others but consciously judge themselves. They blame themselves and have periods of self-doubt about their abilities, fearing rejection or failure. Productivity is eroded as a result.

And there are those who wait, consciously observe what’s happening but take no part in it. This is the middle way and it contributes nothing good to developing a healthy workplace environment because such employees rarely engage or interact.

A positive environment is created by people who can detect what’s going on around them and reflect on their own behaviour. They can be relied on to speak the truth and are powerful people to have in any workplace, since their conduct is positive and beneficial. A healthy and productive organisation has employees who know themselves.

In the best work environments, people connect. They share the same ideals and don’t judge each another. They care about one another, value diversity and consider what’s important to ensure that the team as a whole moves forward.

Consequently, they stay connected irrespective of what happens. They can ignore the mistakes and errors in day-to-day operations in the interest of achieving long-term goals. They see only the positives in one another and judge their own behaviour rather than those of others. A work environment full of people who are connected and reflective is both positive and productive.

The Office, which is a TV sitcom that was first aired on BBC in 2001, is a mockumentary of an unhealthy work environment where the business of paper is celebrated with the ironic slogan ‘Life is Stationery.’ The entire series mocks the lack of productivity through the creation of a fictional negative and unhealthy working environment.

David Brent (Michael Scott in the US version), who is the main character, is a manager who is perceived by others as rude, selfish and annoying. He tries unsuccessfully throughout the series to be liked by his staff by acting inappropriately. Brent’s lack of empathy or ability to reflect on his position creates a sad and humorous character.

The show centres on themes of social clumsiness, the trivialities of human behaviour, self-importance, frustration, desperation and fame, all of which are attributes of unhealthy working relationships. It was a hugely successful show with international acclaim possibly because we could recognise at least some of the traits of a dysfunctional team.

Managers who allocate tasks to employees based only on what they know and can do, rather than how they interact, can damage a good work environment. Some HR departments are now focussing more accurately on personality traits before considering subject knowledge or skill sets.

Large organisations have recognised that creating a healthy workplace of positive and reflective colleagues is better for business. Productivity is dependent on employees feeling good in the workplace; not necessarily on having the most qualified people in the field.

Evans refers to the benefits of having giraffes in the workplace. They have the biggest heart of all land animals and the longest neck for a 360 degree vision… and they stay connected. We don’t need jackals; we need giraffes.