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How Workplace Culture is Changing

written by: •edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 5/29/2013

These days, the workplace is not the same as it was in our parent’s day. If one considers how the workplace culture is changing compared to past years, the answer is a lot! Jean Scheid takes a look at this change along with tips on how to improve your workplace.

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    Yes Sir, But It's Not My Job!

    Teamwork Free Digital Photos When I consider how the workplace culture is changing from days gone by, it reminds me of the National Football League (NFL). NFL hall of fame old timers Earl “Dutch" Clark and Jim Thorpe followed the rules, understood their jobs, were accountable, and took the advice of their coaches and leaders. The NFL, when considering it as a workplace culture, is indeed not the same today, think National “Felon" League here. While this sounds odd, it’s really a good example of the way things used to be, including work ethics and accountability, compared to a few decades ago—well maybe like five decades ago!

    Along with generational change, there has been a rise in no accountability, customer service issues, and even this annoying new standard, “it’s not my job." A baby boomer myself, born in the late 1950s, as a business owner today, I’m always shocked at what employees and even teams will ask or do or deny to do at my workplace.

    Because my career is seen from both sides of the coin, both employee and employer, I’m often surprised that when I began a career in the mid-1980s, I felt pride, was accountable for tasks I was assigned, and never refused to tackle a job if asked.

    In these days of the vanishing workplace ethic and accountability, is it because of no pride, educational or training issues, or are business owners and employers changing?

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    The Employee’s View

    Wits End Free Digital Photos I wanted to really delve deep to answer the question how the workplace culture is changing, so I discussed the issue with three of my employees; a supervisor, a mid-level employee, and a newbie. These employees range in age from 22 to 48 years of age. Here are some of the insights they offered, which may surprise you. I posed the following questions:

    • How do you like your job responsibilities?
    • Do you feel you are being paid a fair wage for your job?
    • Are you comfortable tackling any task?
    • Do you feel trained for your position?
    • Do you like the team you’re on?
    • How do you feel about your co-workers?
    • Tell me about your work/life balance?
    • What would you like to see different?
    • Do you feel you should be accountable for your job performance?

    In the next sections, you’ll find a summary of their answers.

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    Job Responsibilities & Fair Wages

    Dollar Sign Free Digital Photos As far as job responsibilities, only my supervisor and entry-level employee were comfortable and happy with their job responsibilities. They felt challenged in their work, liked the responsibilities assigned, but only the supervisor said that he would take initiative if he saw a problem in his department, but probably not in another department because that wasn’t his area of expertise.

    The entry-level employee said he would ask for help or guidance but feared if he asked too many questions, he would appear incompetent. As far as the mid-level employee, she told me that she really didn’t feel she had true individual responsibilities at work and only did what she was told or assigned. Only the supervisor said he would try and help out if needed, but was resistant in offering cross-department help.

    Only the supervisor said he was 100% happy with his wage level (he is paid a salary on a monthly bonus incentive plan). The mid-level employee felt she completed too many tasks for too many people and deserved a higher hourly rate, especially since overtime was discouraged. The newbie employee was pleased that he was paid $2 over the current minimum wage, but felt he deserved more.

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    Tasks & Training

    Weight Training Free Digital Photos To determine how the workplace culture is changing, I also asked these three employees about tackling various tasks and company training options. In the area of attempting to tackle any task assigned, all three said they do try but often don’t finish the job if they don’t understand it; and only finish it if asked why it’s not complete.

    When it came to training, however, because company training is vast and diverse at our company, all three said they thought offered training was excellent, which gave me pause when thinking about their inability or fear in accomplishing tasks.

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    Teams & Co-Workers

    Because I have 4 distinct different departments, everyone within a department works on a team. When asked if employees liked their teams and co-workers, all three offered complaints. The supervisor told me no one respected his authority and rather muddled along aimlessly most days. The mid-level employee told me everyone just throws stuff at her whether it’s her job or not, and the newbie said he wasn’t aware he was on a team.

    One interesting fact when analyzing how the workplace culture is changing is that all three employees did have issues with co-workers. As I delved deeper to find the answer as to why this is, it really boiled down to the feeling that each employee felt they were doing the jobs of slacking co-workers.

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    Work/Life Balance & Changing

    Here, I asked my employees to explain how they felt about their work/life balance and what changes they would like to see within the company.

    Because my company is family-oriented, especially with regard to size, all three employees felt their work/life balance was important and were happy with the time off they were provided if needed and the ability to reorganize their schedules to participate in family events.

    As expected, all three had numerous things they would like to see changed. Topics ranged from pay scales to better direction to being respected. Surprisingly, all three mentioned an employee that should be fired (mostly due to personal dislike or because they felt the co-worker didn’t respect them).

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    Job Accountability

    Here, when looking at how the workplace culture is changing, I was a little surprised when it came to job accountability. None of the three employees I interviewed felt like it was their job to be accountable if something went wrong. What they did say is that the owners of the business should be accountable.

    Perhaps of all the questions posed to my employees, this surprised me the most. When I first began my career, I did indeed feel accountable for the things I was expected to perform on a day-to-day basis. If I made a mistake, it was my fault, I accepted the mistake, and corrected the error.

    Apparently, my feelings are not true today because I feel that very few people in the workforce today do take responsibilities and accountability seriously. In fact, during my mock interview process of these three employees, I heard those dreaded words many times—it’s not my job.

    Finally, as far as owner accountability, all three employees did say that my husband and I (the owners) made the “big bucks," so we should handle things that go wrong. I now often wonder since these interviews took place if they realize how many times both of us have skipped paychecks in order to ensure they all get paid?

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    Changing the Workplace

    When considering how workplace culture is changing, if you are a business owner and are experiencing some of the same dilemmas as I am, I have found a few things that may help:

    • Consider Outsourcing – Often a different point of view can help a workplace improve. There are companies such as the George S May Company that offer a thorough review of current policies and help you implement new ones. These type of companies take an in-depth view of practices, employee performance, and financial data and help you and your employees make necessary changes for not only a balanced workplace, but a happy workplace that is financially secure and successful.
    • Cross-Training – In order to help co-workers understand one another’s jobs and duties, cross-training can help co-workers gain true respect for one another once they realize what is entailed in certain jobs or departments.
    • Incentives – Find a way to offer incentives to all employees, not just managers or supervisors. Monetary or not, incentives are a way to improve employee pride.
    • Team Decision-Making – If all the decisions come from the owner, it’s not surprising that workers feel they have no power nor should they be accountable. Try developing decision-making teams that have real power in changing processes or procedures within the workplace.
    • Take Advantage of Generations – Like most business owners, I have a wide range of age groups. To help improve how the workplace culture is changing, consider the ages of all your employees and what makes them tick. Think about mentoring programs for the underachievers. If you have a traditionalist working with a millennial and they’re having problems, perhaps it’s a generational-gap type of problem that needs to be explored and changed. Put like-minded people with similar skill sets together; you’ll gain a happier and content workplace.
    • Accountability – Do make your employees accountable but not by yelling “I’m the boss!" If you have clear processes and job duties in place that your workers can see, feel, touch, and understand; and ones they helped to implement, you will find there is more accountability at your office.

    Attempting to understand how the workplace culture is changing is broad and a world open to all sorts of aspects. These aspects include area or region, diversity in cultures, learned ethics, and even pride in what employees do each day.

    Business owners often forget about the most important asset they have—their employees. Start making your workplace culture a happy culture by involving employees, cross-training, empowering them, and offering incentives.