On a recent trip to my local discount supermarket, my attention was drawn to members of the staff team looking, well, thoroughly miserable and bored with being at work. They seemed to be just going through the motions, no eye contact with customers or co-workers, no smiles or any joy in being there. Now I do appreciate it is a supermarket and it may not be the type of job that makes you bound out of bed singing hallelujah and praise be to be going to work. However, it seems to be a common theme that runs through all members of this staff team. Its almost as though the business is made more difficult by having customers in the store rather than an opportunity to engage with your customers & co-workers and enjoy yourself more. For my sins, I have visited supermarkets in many different countries, and enjoy a rummage around the shelves, as seems to help me to get into the culture of the place and understand the people a little better. My local discount supermarket seems to stand head an shoulders above all others as being a miserable and unsatisfying place to work. The impression then is one of no fun, targets to meet, productivity to maintain and encouraged not to bother customers with any contact what so ever. For risk of not loading the shelves or getting customers through the checkout in record time.
So that got my juices flowing in what constitutes job satisfaction, do we all have it, or have a right to be satisfied in what we do. Is it the case we have some jobs just for the money – so head down and just get the shift done, smile and take the money. Or is there more to life at work that we should be looking for and ensuring is in place to help us make the most of what we do, more to the point why we do what we do.
Job satisfaction is important not just because it boosts enjoyment, happiness and work performance but it also increases our quality of life at work and home. Many people spend so much time at work that when it becomes highly dissatisfying, the rest of their life soon follows suit. Studies from psychology suggest that the top satisfiers are:-
- Fair Pay – Whatever job you do, for you to be satisfied the pay should be fair. The bigger the perceived difference between what you think you should earn and what you do earn the less satisfied you’ll be.
- Sense of achievement – we feel more satisfied with our jobs when we have achieved something. As smaller cogs in larger machines it may be difficult to tell what we’re contributing.
- Positive feedback – Getting negative feedback can be very painful but at least it tells you where you can improve. On the other hand positive feedback can make all the difference to how satisfied people feel in their jobs.
- Variety – To be satisfied people need to be challenged a little and they need some variety in the tasks they carry out. It sounds easy when put like that but many jobs offer neither complexity nor variety such as our discount supermarket.
- Control – If people aren’t given any control, they may well attempt to retake it by finding other ways to undermine the system. Psychologists suggest that people who work in jobs where they have little latitude find their work very stressful and consequently unsatisfying.
- Support from the organisation – Workers want to know their organisation cares about them, that they are getting something back for what they put in. This is primarily communicated through how the managers treat us etc. Generally if people perceive more organisational support, they experience higher job satisfaction.
When you look at this list of what makes for a satisfying jobs, it makes you wonder why everyone can’t have one. With a little thought and motivation by HR & management, most of the predictors of job satisfaction can easily be provided. However, the answer is as you can probably appreciate not quite that simple.
Organisations tend pay lip-service to keeping their employees satisfied, but many don’t really believe or have objective measures to know it makes a difference. What research shows us is that it can make a huge difference. If you’re a business is looking to improve job satisfaction in a workplace then start with the list noted above and work through them to reflect upon where you and the workforce are with workers job satisfaction. It may not appear to be much but it will make a huge difference to people on the shop floor and hopefully my local discount supermarket with be a nicer place for me and the workforce to be.
For us here in the UK we have been reading and discussing an incident on a television program “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here”, where a contestant was believed to verbally bullied another member of the group. Now in his defence the person doing the alleged bullying stated it was just banter and that it was accepted between both parties that it was just that a bit of fun. However, the watching audience saw the incident differently. The cry of “bully” and abuse rang around the corridors of the media for at least 36 hours until another minor incident subsumed the short attention span. Though the incident raised an issue in the contemporary workplace between groups and individuals of what does constitutes abuse & bullying and what is just consigned to being banter. What is the cut off point between verbal jousting and causing offence? Hopefully exploring this cultural issue can shed some light on the moral maze we all seem to encounter at work and within organisations.
Having experienced may different working environments banter and joking can be fun, reduce stress and raise morale within the group but it can be difficult to recognise when harmless fun becomes bullying, victimisation or even discrimination. Personal jokes and banter, friendly insults and quips are often how we interact in the workplace, at social gatherings or when we meet up with our friends and family. Sometimes closer friendships and the degree of familiarity allow for insults or name calling to be exchanged, with lasting effects of feelings or upset. Clearly everyone is comfortable and shares the laughter and enjoyment.
The darker side of the banter questions can happen when a person is singled out to be the butt of repeated personal attention and cutting comments and then the banter can become harmful to the person concerned. It is clearly no longer fun and the line between banter and bullying or discrimination has been crossed. However, what is the tipping point pushing banter over into abuse and discrimination and subsequent personal isolation and upset.
It is difficult for employees to know and comprehend when the line is about to be crossed and have the confidence to tell colleagues that enough is enough. Factory life (mainly male dominated) can be tough for the thin skinned. Sometimes personal differences will be highlighted with a nick name or term that describes the person that clearly identifies them to the group. Its usually not overly complementary so can be hard to come to terms with. Usually the shift team are bonded as a group and the ribald banter is part and parcel of your working life. This environment is similar to male dominated dressing rooms in sport, it is this culture that the alleged celebrity bully comes from. Perhaps then exhibits a different tolerance to the banter than other groups? There is a hierarchy and men occupy roles within the group. The banter is part of the motivation and bonding process to suggest although we can have some fun at each others expense we are a team. Its easy to make some lazy hypothesis to suggest its men that allow banter, experience in female dominated environments suggests otherwise. The banter is there but in a different more subtle form. Perhaps more passive aggressive, less obvious but nevertheless still present within the group. Of course this is a generalisation and there always exceptions to the rule.
So In principle the bullying or banter question is about context and culture within the group and the organisation. When cultures collide i.e. a factory or dressing room toward families sitting in their armchairs at home & media hacks, then perceptions on the interaction change. We formally accept different rules and expectations within different environments. Psychologically called attributions. A attribution is the process by which individuals explain the causes of behavior and events. So home life is different than being at work, out with friends or in the dressing room. Behaviour and language adapt to the different environment and cultural expectations. I am sure you speak to your friends differently to your line manager to your family? So the term bully is very difficult to define or attribute from a distance unless we understand that the people concerned consent to the interaction rule of engagement.
Tbe bullying and banter question is a moral maze. Measuring it by external standards through a politically correct lens will no doubt always veer toward bullying as these robust interactions do not appear polite or appropriate from a distance. However we may need to take time to understand the different cultures we exist within and what rules apply and to whom before we make snap judgements. Understanding how we attribute events and behaviours with different groups will no doubt help us look behind the smoke and mirrors of society, social interactions and groups. Bulling cannot be tolerated but where do we draw the line for wholesome and group bonding banter? A question for us all to cogitate.