It’s interesting that the movie “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” pops us just when trust in the workplace may be at low ebb. In 1987, Michael Douglas introduced us to the inimitable villain Gordon Gekko, whose greed and unethical actions mirror some true story lowlifes. He’s back.
Sadly, I’ve been hearing some disturbing opinions about how the economy has spawned real-life scary behavior among otherwise nice people. Guess what it all stems from: fear. This column is for all the fearful employees who are surprised to find themselves adopting uncharacteristic habits.
When companies are forced to take drastic measures to survive, it puts everyone’s teeth on edge. Employees become insecure in their own positions as they watch co-workers fall by the way.
Lack of information is a major contributing factor. Everyone plays it close to the vest, not wanting to release information until plans are finalized. Secrecy breeds uncertainty and fear.
The part that concerns me most is what average people feel they must do to guard their own safety. Many don the “every man for himself” cloak. Those who are in a position to hire others sometimes choose people who are less capable so there’s no danger the newcomer will outshine the manager. Co-workers keep information to themselves, understanding that “information is power” and putting others at a disadvantage in doing their jobs. People avoid making decisions for fear of being wrong; things don’t get done. Employed workers who know of an opening don’t want to refer their highly qualified friends for fear of being outperformed. People don’t answer e-mails or phone calls, leaving co-workers without the support they need to succeed.
Of course, all this behavior eventually gets seen as Machiavellian, when, in fact, it is a predictable reaction to terror. Competitiveness, jealousy, unfair behavior: These are all symptoms of how insecure people feel about their own wellbeing and their sense of not having control of their destinies.
Although we may feel helpless, there are two things we can control:
One: We can redouble our efforts to work as effective teams and make our companies successful. The almighty dollar is driving corporate behavior, and whatever we can do to ensure quality products and services will make our companies more profitable and our jobs more secure. Working against co-workers will not solve our corporate financial woes; working together will.
Two: We can shed our fear and recommit to being ethical, helpful, supportive team members. Bad behavior is a slippery slope. What could be worse than waking up, looking in the mirror and discovering that your hair is slicked back and you see some Gordon Gekko traits in yourself? Stay true to your beliefs and you’ll find that peace of mind stems not from having a solid job but from having solid character.
Susan Drake is President of Spellbinders Internal and External Marketing. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.