The Wrong Kind of Office Magic

The Wrong Kind of Office Magic

Ever see a woman disappear? I did. And it was awful.

Years ago, I worked in a very toxic workplace. I sat next to a middle aged woman who had been there for a decade. Over time, she became incredibly frustrated that she wasn't able to advance. Once day she reached her limit and publicly accused our boss of being racist. (I wasn't there, but I heard it was awful). The next day, I tried to grab lunch with her to get the full story. She had a dentist appointment, but suggested we catch up later. She grabbed her purse and left.

That was the last time I ever saw her.

When she didn't come back after lunch, I assumed the appointment went long. When she didn't come in the next day, I called and left a message. On the third day, an administrator packed up her desk. The rumor was that she was fired.

What happened next? Nothing. And everything.

Management never mentioned her again. There was no team meeting to let us know that she was gone. There was no strategy session to divide up her work. I don't even think someone took over her desk. At least not while I was there.

It's difficult to convey the deep impact of this event. There was an immediate chilling effect in the office. People kept to themselves. I withdrew and stopped sharing "out of the box" ideas. Before, it felt like management was indifferent to our complaints. Now, it felt like they were indifferent to us as people. No trust or loyalty - in either direction.

Now I have a business where I advise supervisors and business owners about how to repair trust among their staff. When there's an event or dispute that shakes a team, it's an opportunity to pull things apart and make it stronger. Show them you aren't indifferent to the change in office morale. Reboot. Check in with each team member to learn how they were impacted and their ideas about the best way to move forward. Digest that information and use it to inform a team-building discussion or event. People want to be heard and they want to contribute. Give them these opportunities and they may recommit to the team, to their boss, and to the employer.

This might sound time consuming. But I guarantee it takes less time than hiring and training a new team. And if you need help, give us a call.

Passive-Aggressive Redux