Work Is the Great Equalizer
Dec 11, 2020
BY PAMELA GARBER
Workers on a project all have equal participation in the same structure, which is composed of the desired outcome and the required effort in various forms to reach this outcome. Each employee is a participant in this process and structure.
Employees will most likely have different ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds. However, it is the personality and performance of individuals that is relevant to the level of cohesiveness and comfort among employees. Should a co-worker or a management executive exhibit prejudice or any demographic-based biased treatment, then that individual is failing to provide the organization with professionalism—and his or her performance is then failing. The clearly defined territory of professionalism will prove this person to be out of bounds. The unacceptable behavior has been identified. The next steps of how to address the problematic employee will follow the HR system in place.
THE EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT—AN AGREEMENT OF EMPLOYEE EQUALITY
A person and an organization partake in a contractual agreement. Employment begins with a contract between the employee and the employer. Merit and conduct are the ingredients that an employee brings to the job.
Merit is the earned knowledge, skills, and proficiency that make doing the job possible. It is the culmination of all the employee’s training, schooling, degrees, certifications, and mentoring. Conduct consists of the employee’s workplace interactions, and can include talking, emailing, and on some occasions, breaking bread, making small talk, and celebrating birthdays. Conduct also includes the harder-to-pin-down factors of demeanor, energy, and presentation.
Work assignments, compensation, and treatment are the overall ingredients the organization gives to the employee. From the information presented thus far, the employment contract looks like a clear formula of quid pro quo.
ELIMINATE THE FAULTY PREMISE
The following faulty premise is shouted at us like a mandatory creed: For members of a minority race and members of a majority race to work together, on anything, at any time, there must be careful instructions from an elaborate, psychologically vetted formulaic program. The only equalizing force in this creed is that it equally insults all of us. Us.
Work proves that real progress in anything takes the efforts of all us. When we believe that the faulty premise is within the hearts and minds of our co-workers, then all involved have an unnecessary cross to bear. Hunting for evidence of prejudice in another’s subtext is a burden that can be removed. Once removed, people enjoy the freedom of focusing on each other’s actual words and deeds—the text and gestures taking place, without looking for possible hidden insults and slights.
WORK REVEALS PERSONALITY
During team projects, the unique personality style of each employee becomes apparent. How each person relates to the team is established, and his or her work temperament becomes easy to read. Co-worker knowledge, such as who likes to get started early, who works late, who feels a need to communicate, who prefers status updates by email, who likes coffee talk, who needs formal meetings, who thrives on challenges, who welcomes compliments, and who struggles with constructive criticism or feedback in general will become as clear as each person’s name and face. Personality is its own variable, independent of background demographics. The glue holding each employee in good standing with the organization and with co-workers is a combination of work performance and overall presentation. How effectively assignments are executed and how warm and professional interactions with peers are remain key above everything else.
PERSONALITIES IN THE WORKPLACE: EMOTIONS VERSUS WORK
The standard professional demeanor is body language synced for the sole statement, “My attention is on the work at hand.” Just as the state of mind of a fellow traveler in a shared elevator is obvious, whether we know him or not, the emotional well-being and mental state of mind of a co-worker is easily detected. How our co-workers feel often claims influence over the team’s performance, communication, and results.
Sometimes co-workers’ “professional” demeanors are just not professional. Here are some common demeanors that employees bring to the stage of the workplace:
Mr./Ms. Managing Up. These employees know how to position themselves in the best light possible at the best time possible to be seen by the best person(s) possible. Like a moth to a flame, this person always finds his key light. He walks in with the right folder, quote, or joke at the perfect time. She shines in the staff meeting or is seen in the throes of busyness throughout the day. But hidden from plain view is how the sizzle has no steak. All the busyness ultimately produces little more than fanfare and display. The epitome of style over substance, he smiles slightly at his desk as he claims credit for work he has only witnessed.
The Sincere Soldier. With the frequent stance of a careful waitstaff taking your order, this one aims to please. Nary a birthday is forgotten, and messages, in fact all communications, are delivered with kid gloves. Assignments are executed with thorough, efficient thought. Pluses of the Sincere Soldier are dependability, a well-meaning nature, and transparency in motives and agenda. This is a good egg. The drawbacks are that when there is any need for a person to vent to, or if they are asked to validate when someone’s actions are toxic, or even just when the plain petty actions of others encroach on the team, the Sincere Soldier will not respond and instead adopts a stance like someone learning a new language, not comprehending the words uttered.
The Supportive Mentor. Like the Sincere Soldier, the Supportive Mentor is on the side of good. He wants each member of the team to succeed. He will draw from his own catalog of experiences. He will also do his best to access the assets of each person and provide encouragement, while pinpointing the negative traits in the most diplomatic and supportive manner. Think favorite high school coach or drama teacher, but with a genuine love of business.
The Fairy Godparent (FGP). This type can be male or female, but more commonly is female. The FGP offers nurturing at its most visible, ready with an ear, a tissue, and compassion, especially when others are watching. Soon it will be apparent to her chosen protégé that every conversation is supposed to be one in which the FGP is helping the designated weak disciple. By the time the protégé realizes the dynamic at play, the FGP’s teeth are already planted firmly into the flesh of the pattern. The best next steps are to minimize contact and be as concise as possible with word choice and disclosure. Conviction and security from the protégé will end the game. Eventually.
The Wounded One. This is the Whistle-Blower, Slip and Fall, and All-Around Victim. These people feel they are being persecuted; it’s just a matter of when they’ll let you know all the particulars. Firing such employees is out of the question, as they won’t leave without a fight. Any probation or plan of action after a poor performance evaluation must be well finessed and massaged lightly, but even then, any interactions with them that fall outside the realm of high praise are dicey at best. The best move is to be boring. Any display of emotions is like food for ants. Be dull and matter of fact and use as few words as possible. Be the empty kitchen cabinet.
The Bigot. This person can be overt or covert. Because projects and planning rely on team interaction and the exchange of ideas, when any team member makes choices from a belief in superiority and inferiority based on race, prejudice seeps through and poisons the execution of every project and development of every plan. Religion and gender are sometimes in the prejudice abuse arsenal, sitting alongside race, though race tends to be the gold standard. Typically, bigots manage their own feelings of inferiority by bolstering themselves up through designating others as inferior. Weakness of self is redistributed toward their targets. This eventually escalates to finding fault with the designated inferior one’s work, similar to a mean teacher’s angry red markings all over the eager student’s essay.
In Catch-22 situations, it’s always best to get in front of the overall circumstances at hand. Even if the timing isn’t right to act, you’ll want to identify best options for the inevitable future decisions. Waiting to act is an action. Frame the whole mess as a challenge, the best puzzle to solve. Solving challenging puzzles has a set formula, which begins with documentation. And that’s certainly what you’ll want to do when dealing with a bigot. Document events and create a comprehensive report. To take the bitter edge off a little bit, think of your note-taking as pages for a mystery novel or pretend you are a doctor doing research on a subject—your co-worker.
In sum, there is a war—productivity verses sabotage. Bigotry is one form of work sabotage, though there are many others. Jealousy and resentment are emotions that accompany behaviors geared toward ruining a project or a fellow professional. There are situations where seeking aggressive legal and upper management involvement becomes mandatory.
Regardless of whether the engagement of upper management and beyond becomes necessary, establishing and maintaining a clear path of productivity is crucial. Picture bad weather during an outside event. The venue changes to indoors. Chairs are moved and dried off. Out come more towels for the attendees. The podium is repositioned. The bad weather is not denied. The changes have been implemented. And the focus of the original goal continues.
About the Author: Pamela Garber is a licensed mental health counselor who has been published in trade journals and is a speaker and workshop presenter at national conferences. She is a member of the American Psychological Association, an Associate of Crisis Care Network, and a licensed chemical addiction professional.