When considering the workplace, consider its intangible aspects first.
Sure, access to natural light, well-thought-out office layouts, and transportation are important, but there are so many other factors that go into how a workplace makes you feel.
I’ve worked in several different offices in my career and they all have a distinct atmosphere. It seems to be a product not just of the way the office is laid out but the way that people are treated in that space. The most comfortable places I’ve worked have been those where I implicitly feel trusted and respected. I don’t question my place, my ability to do my job well, or whether I belong.
And it’s been really hard to put into words what exactly made me feel that way — or, on the flip side, what made me feel left out, uncomfortable, or insecure. Which led to some serious procrastinating in writing this column.
What I keep coming back to is people and how they influence their environments, to either the benefit or detriment of those around them.
You know when you walk into a room and feel a black cloud hanging over it, the energy is just dark and low? There’s usually a person, or several people, behind that energy. Their feelings are so intensely negative that they permeate the room and others start to feel those feelings as well.
If the leadership team’s values aren’t aligned with each other or the rest of the staff, the conflict inherent there will seep into the workplace.
I was once involved in a group interview between two candidates, where I felt there was only one choice — one candidate had the skills required for the position, one didn’t, and the decision seemed cut and dry to me. The group conducting the interview discussed the candidates for a very long time as if they held equal skills, which led to a lot of emotions for me: frustration, incredulity, anger, disbelief, impatience.
I thought I was hiding those emotions well until the person next to me said “Valerie is practically vibrating over here, I think she might explode if she doesn’t share what she’s thinking.” The big and intense feelings are more noticeable.
It’s the smaller feelings that aren’t so noticeable, or the feelings that are always there without a sudden burst of intensity. And that often invisible current affects how you feel in the workplace.
Let’s say you are in a role that you don’t feel qualified for. You feel insecure, your confidence is low, and you’re worried that everyone will think you’re a fraud. You overcompensate for those feelings by exerting control over those on your team: You don’t want to be caught with your pants down, so you’re overly involved to ensure that everything is perfect.
This intense mix of emotions you’re feeling constantly, coupled with your micromanaging of your team, is going to lead to a rather unpleasant workplace for your team. They’ll pick up on your feelings and start to feel them too; your constant criticism will make them question their own abilities and they’ll start to spiral into insecurity.
Or, on the flip side, let’s say you feel overqualified for your position. You feel overlooked by your superiors and that the work you’re doing is beneath you. You’re constantly looking for opportunities to assert yourself to show that you’re competent and ready to take that next step, and you frequently discuss both your successes and other’s failures to show just how much better you are.
Your feelings of impatience, stagnation, and superiority will also lead to an unpleasant workplace for your team. They’ll unconsciously start to feel those feelings too, which means you will all feel unsatisfied with your work.
Can anyone control their feelings all the time? Of course not! There will be bad days and good days. Last week our office had a day or two where everyone was cranky. Everyone. Angry over things that didn’t necessarily require so much ire, frustrated at things that normally wouldn’t frustrate. We were all feeling each other’s feelings and feeding off of them, and we all ended the week very much looking forward to taking a break over the weekend.
Bad days aside, I feel comfortable here. I feel like I belong. I’m part of the team, even when we disagree. I don’t wake up and feel dread about coming to work. I don’t feel out of the loop or like an island all to my own.
What is it about our workplace that makes me feel that way?
- Trust. There’s never a question about my abilities, my skills, or my judgement. Am I superhuman? Not at all. There are times when I’m wrong or when I don’t get my way. But there’s always an undercurrent of trust that I’m using my best judgement and doing my best work, even when my peers disagree with me.
- Respect. This word can mean different things to different people, but to me, it’s being appreciated and valued. I may not have a background in social work like the majority of our staff do, but they still value my input. When I participate in all staff trainings, my insights are appreciated equally to the rest of our team.
- Kindness. There’s an understanding here that we’re all doing the best we can. When someone is having a tough day, we’re quick to recognize that and offer support. There’s no judgment or speculation about whether someone is really struggling or just faking it. We’re all afforded the same kindness regardless of our position in the organization.
- Challenge. Despite what you may be picturing after the first three items on this list, we’re not all sunshine and rainbows here. I’m constantly challenged: by our environment, by my peers, by outside forces. And at times that can be stressful. But there’s an understanding that we can do this — no matter what, we’ll face this challenge and come out on the other side. It’s not a challenge that I’m destined to lose, it’s a challenge that I will overcome.
- Team. This one I think stems from our shared case management mode. We all are working toward a shared goal, and we’re working together. We’re not in silos, we don’t try to push unwanted work to other departments or staff. It really feels like we’re all in this together.
These values are important to our workplace feeling welcoming and inclusive, not just for staff but for our participants as well. And most importantly, these values are instilled from the top down.
The leadership team sets the pace for the rest of the workplace. And if the leadership team’s values aren’t aligned with each other or the rest of the staff, the conflict inherent there will seep into the workplace.
It’s true that people leave bosses, not jobs. And often, they’re leaving a boss who didn’t share their values, who allowed their negative energy to affect their teams and their workplace.-30-
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