5 Tips for Discouraging Hierarchy Cannibalism

By Angela Stringfellow. Angela is a PR and communications consultant.

In the workplace, no advice is better than “don’t eat your own,” especially when employee turnover is high and morale is low.

Unfortunately, in many industries where employees work under direct supervision, hierarchy cannibalism—where staff are literally at each other’s throats—happens often.

Take for example a health care facility, where wages might not be the best, shifts are less than desirable, and the tasks are often humbling and challenging (think bedpans and sponge baths). Those who quit before their probationary periods expire tend to be at the bottom of the food chain. Personal care attendants may report to licensed practical nurses, who report to registered nurses, who then report to either a nursing supervisor or director of nursing.

fish eat fish

Dog-eat-dog? More like fish-eat-fish-eat-fish-eat-fish.

It’s this food chain that creates unique dynamics and allows the bigger fishes the opportunity to gobble up the little guppies. With constant turnover affecting every aspect of production and productivity, here are five tips to help reduce dog-eat-dog behavior:

1. Leadership Buy-In:

It may be the most important component of employee buy-in. If management can’t recognize the problem or is unwilling to help create resolutions, the cycle will continue. The philosophy of collaboration and team work must come from the top. Lead by example.

Good managers know show their employees that working together and embracing each other’s strengths and weaknesses creates an environment worthy of their time and energy. If the boss tends to gobble up their own, the cycle will continue down the chain.

2. Mentor Programs:

In many companies the first few days on a job are spent following someone who has experience in the position. Often, these people become confidants and unofficial mentors. So why not make it official?

Create opportunities for the best employees to take the new hires under their wings. It gives those who do a great job and are natural leaders the opportunity to shine, and gives onboarding staff a safe and confidential person to turn to for advice, guidance or simply to vent any frustrations.

3. Open Forums:

Provide an opportunity for the newbies and seasoned pros to air their grievances in a safe place, where upper management will listen to and address their concerns. Sometimes it’s not that they’re afraid to speak up, it’s simply that they aren’t being heard or understood. Anonymous feedback mechanisms can make this process easier. 

4. Spread Thanks:

Particularly for new employees, a little pat on the back goes a long way. A simple thank you, or job-well-done can make the difference between a good day and a bad one. On many exit interviews, respondents claim cite a lack of recognition as a reason for looking for other opportunities.

Set up ways for public recognition, in a company newsletter, on a break-room bulletin board, or in your HR software. Perhaps most importantly, don’t stop recognizing achievement: make it an ongoing process.

5. Good Training/Trainers:

It all starts with education and quality training.  Training-by-error doesn’t produce anything but frustration and dissatisfaction from both the employee and their supervisor. An appropriate training period with qualified trainers allows many of the errors and unnecessary frustrations to be eliminated, which creates a more effective and positive work environment.

It all comes down to the one golden rule: Respect. Treat others the way they should be treated, and the way you would want to be treated. By respecting employees at all levels, the workplace will be a much more productive and effective environment.

How are your new hires treated? Is there cannibalism in your company?

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