The Oxford English Dictionary defines humane as “Having or showing compassion or benevolence.” Which fits neatly with workplaces I’ve seen working well for both employers and employees. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought and after discussing it with folk at a conference session recently, thought it may be useful to put to paper some of the red flags indicating that a team or organisation may NOT be a humane and happy place to work.
- High churn is indicative of a problem. Marginalised people are like canaries in a coal mine — if you see them leaving its an early warning sign.
- Unwillingness to fire people. Organisations get bonus evil points for being unwilling to fire a toxic employee because they are “high performing”. Tech in particular has an unfortunate culture of putting up with and even encouraging “brilliant jerks”. A related warning sign is a workplace that describes any of its people as “rock stars” or “ninjas” — organisations run according to “the superchicken model,” where the value is placed on star employees who outperform others isn’t conducive to happy, healthy, productive teams.
- Micro-management and overly restrictive company policies are other team killers, whether it takes the form of the CEO/CTO making decisions on UI colours, or the kind of expense policy that leaves an employee spending more work-hours trying to find a solution that fits within the policy than the expense would have cost.
- Lack of transparency in the decisions being made and also the data and reasons behind those decisions. Is information shared freely and easy to find? Can team members ask questions about decisions made?
- Constant direction changes; startups pivot, but if the company focus changes on a weekly basis there is a problem.
- Watch out for environments in which questions are used to assert dominance instead of to gain understanding. This kind of aggressive, combative culture silences many members of the team and in doing so stifles creativity & thought.
- A lack of pride from employees about where they work, a good example being removing the organisation name from social media profiles, not identifying where they work when attending conferences and work-related meetups. The same can happen from the employer’s side when employers don’t feel comfortable with employees identifying themselves as part of the company outside of the office and respond negatively to people who want to present their work.
- Demo/slideware — building for investors rather than customers. Organisations that care deeply about their customers tend to be more positive places to work, primarily focussing on investors takes the focus away from customer (and team) happiness. It is okay to focus on investors as long as you focus on customers and your team first or equally.
- No allowance made for life outside of work. If the organisation is strongly focussed on the time people spend at work and shows a lack of interest in employees as whole human beings it doesn’t engender a great deal of trust and loyalty.
- “We’ve always done it this way.” An unwillingness to try something new or adjust processes is a bad sign. Rigid adherence to the ways things have always been done will stifle smart, creative, problem-solving people.
Moving away from micromanagement, opening up to allow greater transparency, and having a strong focus on looking after the people in the teams I work with has made a noticeable impact on the success of the team.
I’d love to hear whether you or your organisation has made changes in any of these areas and what the impact has been.
Up next, see “Humane Workplaces: 10 Green Flags to Watch Out For.”