Bad behaviour at work a cry for help - expert

Human Strategy's Simon Hurry.
Human Strategy's Simon Hurry.

Cape Town - The bad behaviour that is starting to show up in the workplace is simply a cry for help and it is time we started to listen, according to a behaviour specialist.

Only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work, according to Gallup’s new 142-country study on the state of the global workplace, said Human Strategy founder and CEO Simon Hurry.

The business he started in 2010 was born out of a passion to see people find their relevant place in society.

Q&A with Hurry:

What insights have you gained into the average South African worker? What are their needs, desires? Can businesses leverage off those to their advantage?

My work has allowed me to glimpse into a number of diverse industries ranging from retail and banking to social enterprise and entrepreneurial start-ups. I have worked with people from almost every economic class and race.

What astounds me is how respectful and hardworking we are as a nation. People actually want to enjoy their work and in return, be looked after. But this is also our weakness as we tolerate far more than we should.

We have a high tolerance for things that are mediocre simply because we wait for someone in power to fix it. The bad behaviour that is starting to show up more and more is simply a cry for help and I think it is time we started to listen.

Why is there so much absenteeism and poor “presentism”at work?

Most people appear to be operating in survival mode. What we don’t realise about human behaviour is that apathy or disengagement is not a state people want to be in. It is a pointless and hopeless state and of no real benefit other than creating a psychological dissociation from reality.

Being absent is purely a survival mechanism or at its worst a way of getting back at the system. The real question needs to ask why people are in this state in the first place. The simple answer is that there is too little in their daily work that generates a sense of satisfaction.

In some cases it is even worse: they live in fear. A sense of satisfaction is a key ingredient if you want ownership in a team.

What do most companies need help with?
By far the most common request is for the leadership to understand themselves and their people better - they want to get to know the personalities in the room so that they can work better together.

People are tired of ongoing, unresolved conflict and are looking for better ways of working together. Believe it or not your average employee just wants to do great work, but breakdowns in communication and unresolved conflict take the joy out of what they do. As they say, “People don’t leave businesses, they leave managers”.

Human strategy thinking is growing in popularity because it is rooted in positive psychology, which means that you try and focus on what is right with people rather than on what is wrong with them.

Strength and weakness is placed in an affirming context and a language is created, which helps teams understand individual intention better. Accountability and ownership are encouraged as an outcome of increased self-awareness.

Businesses want to have the right person in the right place doing the right thing. Getting that wrong can be an expensive exercise for a business. The science is now available to help in crafting better teams and creating more productive environments.

What is the first question you ask businesses?

I simply ask them how serious they are about their business and what people really mean to them. I always try and start with the decision makers - the people in charge of the company culture and who have the ability to create sustainable change in the way people are valued in the business.  

It is easy to just have a “get to know you”, but do nothing more than that. It is a massive commitment to actively engage with different personalities and to derive value out of this diversity.

How can companies redesign their structures to enhance a better workforce?

Many companies are designed in an “add a room” fashion and yet reside in architecturally-designed, beautiful buildings, which is a strange irony. This is largely due to the organic way many businesses evolve from their start-up phase. Time is always of the essence and so no time is given to the structural design of their internal business, processes and people - they just evolve.

While this may work in the start-up phase, it becomes problematic and sometimes even toxic later on and in most cases money is thrown at fixing the symptoms and not the cause. Better organisational design is in understanding that the biggest limiting factor (and greatest asset) to an organisation is its people.

You can have an incredible product that people really want, amazing technology and the best address money can buy, but if you have the wrong people in place, then the business will be operating in a less than optimal space. Great design principles understand how to integrate the human genius with the functional reality of doing business.

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