4 Signs of a Sick Workplace and How to Cure It

When my daughter was about six years of age, she answered the phone. Someone was calling, saying they had an important message for Dr. Zimmerman. With her most polite manner, she responded, “I’m sorry. You have the wrong number.”

When she later told me about the call, she was so proud of herself … for handling the call like an adult. Of course, I had to praise her for that, but I also had to gently explain that I was Dr. Zimmerman.

She looked confused. She never saw me wear a white lab coat and never saw a stethoscope around my neck. So, I explained that kind of doctor helps people when their body gets sick. I was the kind of doctor that helps people when their communication gets sick.

I doubt that she understood my point, but that’s what I do. I help organizations — and the people in those organizations — become more vibrant, positive, effective and productive.

As a Doctor, I have to diagnose an illness before I can provide a prescription. The strange thing is … I’ve discovered that most companies and most people have some degree of illness in one of four areas. I call them the Four Fevers.

Have you noticed any of the Four Fevers going on inside of you or the people you work with? If so, you don’t have to sweat it out forever. Because they are all curable

► 1. Frequent complaints

Coworkers trash-talk their company, their team mates, their leaders, products, and customers. They tell their coworkers in the company … and they tell their friends, relatives, and acquaintances outside the company … how bad things are. And they do so over and over again.

Prescription: Of the Four Fevers, this one is the most contagious. So limit the time you spend with these kinds of people.

► 2. Nonappreciation

In many organizations, the number one job complaint is … “You can do a hundred things right and not hear a darn thing about it. You do one thing wrong and they’re right on your back.”

If that’s happening in your workplace (or your family), that’s pathetic, because this is the easiest of the seven sicknesses to cure.

Bottom line? Every employee, from the entry level to the executive level, needs to know that their work is appreciated.

Eric Harvey and Steven Ventura talk about that need in their book, Walk Awhile in My Shoes. If you were able to listen to an employee’s thoughts, they say, you would hear something like this:

“I’ve been known to say, ‘I don’t want any pats on the back — just put it my check.’ Well, don’t believe it. It’s a crock! Regardless of how I may act, I do care a great deal what you and others think of me and what I do. Recognition is important to me. That’s why I display trophies in my home and hang certificates on my wall.”

“Believe it or not, I’m looking for more from this job than just a paycheck. There’s got to be more, ’cause I’m sure not gonna get rich on what I make! What do I want? I want to feel good about myself and the work I do; I want to feel like I really am an important part of this organization. And I tend to gauge my self-worth by others’ perceptions. I often see myself through your eyes.”

“I don’t expect you to see me as a top-notch performer all the time. But I do expect to be periodically recognized when I either go above and beyond the call of duty or just maintain good, solid performance over a long period of time. And the more you recognize my good work, the more good work I want to do. It’s funny the way that works. I think it’s all part of human nature.”

Prescription: If you see it, say it. If you see someone doing something good, comment on it a bit more often. Express your appreciation.

► 3. Disengagement

I’m sure you’ve seen this in some of the people around you. I call them R.O.A.D. Warriors: Retired, On Active Duty. They’ve retired, but they haven’t told the Personnel Department just yet.

You see it when the other person’s body shows up for work, but their spirit doesn’t. You see it when someone does just enough to get by. You see it when someone is spending more and more time at work on personal phone calls, the Internet, the coffee room, the rest room, or a host of other non-job-related activities. And you hear it when someone says such things as “I’ve just got four more years, three months, and two days and I’m outta here.”

Whatever the case, it’s kind of like the boss who yelled at his tardy, disengaged employee. The boss yelled, “You should have been here at 8:00!” To which the employee replied, “Really? What happened at 8:00?”

Prescription: This fever is more deeply rooted and takes longer to cure. But it can be cured. I teach the entire process in my program on 4C Leadership: Communication, Cooperation, Change, and Commitment. You can start the process of re-engagement by asking the disengaged person a simple question: “What would it take to get you 100% on board?”

► 4. No-win situations.

This Fourth Fever is a cross between a headache and a stomach ache. No matter what you do, you’re wrong.

For example, your company says it wants you to contribute your ideas for making things better. But as soon as you suggest a new idea or a different approach, you get teased, criticized, mocked, or attacked. And people tell you your idea wouldn’t work, even though they haven’t even tried it. It’s a no-win situation.

It happens when the boss tells you to show more initiative instead of waiting to be told what to do. You give it a try. You take the bull by the horns. But it turns out badly. What happens? The boss gets on your case for not checking with him first! BOOM, you lose.

There may be times when you get punished for a doing a good job, handling rough tasks and problems, while some of your peers are goofing off or doing just enough to get by. So, what happens the next time there’s a tough job? You get stuck with it. BOOM, you lose. And, if you happen to screw up that next tough job? You guessed it: BOOM! You lose again.

Prescription: Have a “crucial conversation.” Engage in some feeling discussion. Create a safe place where you can share your feelings and your feelings are respected.

If you have any signs of these Four Fevers in your organization (or your family), follow the Comanche Indian proverb that says: “When you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.” In other words, get a new approach.

Dr. Zimmerman’s Tuesday Tip, Issue 990– 4 Signs of a Sick Workplace and How to Cure It