As industry experts have declared “work from home” is here to stay, the work environment is no longer defined by one’s physical location.
Ever evolving, the work environment exists over email, over chat platforms, over Zoom, over the phone and in person. This recent evolution challenged work-life balance more than it ever had before, exacerbated by the pandemic. However, it also inspired many workers to rethink their current professional engagements. These same employees became newly aware of a toxicity in their workplace they either previously ignored or assumed was standard.
Central to what many describe as the Great Resignation are these employees who left not only their businesses but also their professions – they were unwilling to accept unmotivated colleagues, impeded growth, gossip, stunted leadership, and so much more. Companies and organizations are finally engaging in that Herculean labor of trying to make their workplace less toxic.
Though the charge is for systemic change, there is one easy adjustment to the way we conduct business that dramatically reduces the toxicity of the work environment. Workplaces often tolerate general passive aggression and lack of clarity around direction. Superiors can address this by no longer scheduling meetings with direct-reports or subordinates without sharing the content or context of the meeting ahead of time. In addition, when those same employees inquire about a meeting, responses that dismiss or avoid the inquiry worsen the toxicity.
By sharing the content and context of an upcoming meeting in advance, it assuages the natural concerns and anxiety of workers within a hierarchical workplace. In a world that often lacks positive reinforcement, we have been trained to expect “summons to the principal’s office” as consequence for bad action. And if the employee indeed has reason to worry, then the supervisor should be tactfully straightforward about it.
Sharing the full agenda of a meeting in advance ensures that an employee or team are “fully present and fully contributing,” as Arianna Huffington writes. While this is helpful for productivity it is not necessary to reduce the toxicity. Content and context are all that are key.
Though there are those in leadership who unwittingly commit such a workplace misstep, there are also those for whom this is a power play. Control of knowledge and information often is the seat of absolute power. Once such a power play is apparent, a company or organization would benefit from a change in leadership—either style or personnel.
We should not be referring to this chapter of “work” as the new normal – it is the next normal. This next normal is not only about changing work-life balance; it is about changing the workplace.
Avi S. Olitzky, formerly a congregational rabbi, is president and principal consultant of Olitzky Consulting Group based in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.