Compliments of Christian Collins via Flickr

Shared governance at work occurs when people have a say. Employers involve workers through survey, focus group, or town hall meetings and by asking their opinion. If however the cultural emphasis is elsewhere these behaviors won’t happen. Employees will not contribute (no matter how many participative mechanisms are in place), unless they feel a mutual respect—unless bosses have bridged the hierarchical divide. In the Harvard Business Review article, “Do Your Employees Feel Respected?” the author mentions that the most important thing managers can do is to treat people as treasured assets.

Disrespect occurs when employers focus solely on the results: how many widgets were produced, was the product under budget, were the customers satisfied, was the process efficient? When employees do not feel “owed respect” or a universal need to feel valued and appreciated, they may look elsewhere. “Employees who feel respected are more grateful for—and more loyal to—their firms.”  Lambastings from self-deputized vigilantes are the unfortunate norm at toxic firms.

Vigilantes discuss perceived misbehavior when they are unauthorized to do so and when no one asked for their opinion. “Vigilantes act on their own, taking on a self-appointed role in a community as judge, jury, and deliverer of justice.” “By definition, their actions are intended to harm others and are taken without consideration of due process, adherence to organization procedure, or managerial consent.” The problem is compounded when there is no cultural, policy, or institutional oversight rule—no higher court where employees can complain and no statement from management on the inappropriateness of taking matters into their own hands. A single uninhibited vigilante can amass a wolf pack following—workers who are willing to trade their authentic opinion for protection. Moral development may be a side issue when employees follow mob rule, and when they take their cues from the most primal organizational player.

For targets repeated exposure (or a single explosive mobbing incident) can cause PTSD. Traumatic stress is “an ongoing prolonged stated characterized by alternating and repeated episodes of intrusive thought, meeting and avoidance, and hypervigilance.” Employees may withdraw or clam up, or fail to express their opinions. A disconnect occurs between expectations and reality when leaders fail to craft a conduct policy and when companies have not clearly defined their culture. Vigilantes with free reign create outlaw rule.

The majority remains silent unless their managers create a safe space for discussion. “Company winners will be ones where workers across the board are treated as if they are important. Conversely, nonchalant firms may suffer the consequences.”  Respectful work culture sanctions poor behavior, creates positive role models, and makes people feel welcome.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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