Coming to Terms with the Water Cooler

Confronting the HR news head-on for the week ending February 22nd, 2013:

Step 1: Appreciate the family

A lot of HR is about figuring out how to interact with employees to maximize their comfort and productivity. While it’s generally a best practice to keep things ultra-professional, a dash of family values can go a long way towards keeping things on an even keel, particularly for companies that are transitioning out of start-up mode. Inc. offers up three lessons every organization can learn from the family.

people signing a contractThe first lesson is to maintain open lines of communication between the “parent”—i.e. the boss—and the kids/employees. Workers see knowledge as an indication that they’re valued members of the team. Don’t be shy about it. When the going gets rough, don’t be afraid to pop the bubbly to celebrate wins. The second familial lesson? Make family time. Taking happy hour breaks or lunches out of the office to reconnect as a team and recharge is time well spent. Finally, managers should make an effort to make it clear that they care. Small gestures like asking about a employee’s kids or bringing in coffee help spread the love.

Step 2: Stop the bully

Just as there are lessons to be learned from the family, managers can also take a point or two from the schoolyard. TLNT has a post this week on how to put a stop to bullying in the workplace. Believing that you can push employees to be their best by harassing them will kill your business. Employees who are happy work hardest. A culture of fear often has the opposite of the intended effect.

Bullying can also be subtle. People with power sometimes wrongly try to make those who are “different” fit in. One solution to consider is to support those who are a unique by creating a culture of “weird.” When one employee is the principle bully, it’s best just to eliminate the problem. That will help create an environment where everyone can thrive.

Step 3: Reframe your thinking

Communicating is never easy, but it can be especially difficult when done across cultures. Harvard Business Review tells the story this week of a German executive who was sent by the German corporate headquarters of his company to improve efficiency at the company’s manufacturing plant in Shanghai. The style that was so effective in Germany—tough, critical, to-the-point negative criticism—was highly demotivating to the Chinese employees, who were accustomed to hearing much more gentle feedback.

HBR offers three tips to keep things moving more smoothly for anyone trying to work with employees from another culture: learn the new cultural rules, find a cultural mentor, and customize your behavior. You won’t get anywhere by trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Reframe your thinking to find greater success.

Step 4: Talk about it

Another struggle is how to communicate in a multigenerational office. Forbes breaks down the conflicts in offices playing host to Baby Boomer, Gen-X, and Millenial workers. While a Baby Boomer would perhaps rather pick up the phone, Millenials may find it easier to text. Younger employees are less concerned about working their way up, while older workers are focused on hierarchy. The breakdown in communication can lead to anger, frustration, and meltdowns among employees.

The first step to bridging this gap is first to recognize its existence. Every employee must identify how they prefer to communicate, and think about how they can work harder to meet their coworkers on their own levels.

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