Monday, May 28, 2018

Please and Thank You Is Only a Start

I could not help but notice the recent headline in this paper stating that New Brunswick is Canada’s most polite province. Diving right into the article, I quickly realized that this grand pronouncement was based on the percentage of businesses that say please and thank you in email communication. As wonderful as the headline sounds, 15 percent of the 250,000 examined emails that include please and thank you is hardly a ringing endorsement for politeness.

Saying please and thank you is what we are supposed to be taught as soon as we learn to speak. The fact that so few of us use these phrases in business communication explains at least in part why the general culture in the North American workplace is not polite but is fear-based.

A work environment must go far beyond simple platitudes to qualify as truly polite. An organization that provides a safe work space for all of its employees, one in which encouragement and appropriate support are a part of the culture, qualifies. An organization where high employee retention is reflective of a high morale qualifies. An organization where employees speak highly of their job and of their boss qualifies. An organization where civil debate and respectful communication occurs qualifies. An organization where an employee has someone to turn to if unnecessary stress, harassment, or abuse rears its ugly head qualifies. And, an organization where every point of human interaction is a positive one qualifies.

If you look at these qualifiers within your own organization or place of work, what answers do you discover? Dismally low ratings are revealed on an almost daily basis, with survey after survey uncovering the ugly truth. Mental Health America and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence have both conducted such surveys in partnership with Canada’s Faas Foundation that indicate that less than 25 percent of employees are fully engaged in their work or speak highly of their boss or the organization for which they work. And the remaining 75 percent are actively looking for other work.

These are facts that cannot be refuted. They are however clear indicators for where we need to look to begin to fix this colossal problem. It’s not much of a stretch to see what a long road we have to travel to have businesses that qualify as being truly polite. Although please and thank you are a start, companies need to understand the interconnectedness between our life at work and our life outside of work. Given that most of us spend more of our waking hours at work than we do at home with our families and friends, I suggest that significantly more attention needs to be focused on our workplace culture.

Most human resource trainings, though regularly offered, seldom have any lasting impact. The reason for this is a lack of desire at the top to welcome any real change. If this desire to maintain the status quo is the experience you are coping with, you have little choice but to change jobs. Given that 75 percent of the workforce is in this situation, it’s a scary jungle out there.

As scary as the landscape may be, it is up to you/us to make choices for ourselves that help steer us to a more fulfilled life. Employers need to refocus their thinking from simply being a place that is offering work to anyone qualified, to a place of excellence, where there is little turnover and a line-up of potential employees seeking work because of the way everyone is treated. That would qualify as polite.

There is an effort afoot within the province to become the innovative province. I have my doubts that leadership found within the government has the ability to accomplish this without a tremendous amount of input from the public at large that they will listen to and implement when appropriate. My doubt comes from the number of fundamental challenges facing the province that have gone unresolved for generations.

If one looks at poverty, education, and access to quality healthcare, the steep hill to climb ahead of us is daunting. These challenges will not go away without significant effort. This requires realigning priorities from community to community. Without changing the water on the beans, you can expect the status quo to continue. The weakest links in our society will continue to be marginalized and not given the assistance needed to achieve a real change. Not until this real change occurs do we deserve to be dubbed as polite.

Please and thank you is a start. What will you do to carry the conversation further?

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