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A Tale of Two Workplaces: Why Organizational Culture Matters

Submitted by Ruthann Weeks, CIRS, Founder, Harmony in the Workplace

What’s the difference between a workplace that “works” and one that thrives?


Psychological health is one of the most overlooked causes of plummeting productivity and profitability. Employers have a habit of dealing with the symptoms of a malfunctioning organizational culture without correcting the underlying foundation. Why does that need to change? Let’s look at a story to gain some insight.


Why Harmony in the Workplace Matters

As Amanda gets ready for work, she thinks about the conversation she had with her partner last night. They’re implementing cutbacks at Ian’s work. Amanda sighs as she packs her lunch.


She and Ian have been saving for a down-payment on a house and nearly have enough to purchase in the spring. “That’s good news, I guess,” she says to the cat. “At least we have a savings cushion.” But she’s scared. The economy isn’t good, and jobs in Ian’s industry are scarce.


As she feeds the cat, Amanda reminds herself to call her sister and cancel the family trip they were planning this summer. She and Ian will have to stick to the basics: shelter, food, clothing, utilities, and transportation.


The radio in her car blasts as she drives to work. She usually sings along, but today she drives in silence. Amanda pulls into the parking lot at work, recalling nothing of the twenty-minute drive. She can’t remember if she fed the cat or closed the garage door. She pulls into a spot and sits in silence for a few minutes. It’s time to get her head in the game for work.

She’s an executive assistant at a large accounting firm and, along with her assistant, is responsible for two top-level executives. One of them, Cliff, has a presentation today with an important client. Cliff is a demanding professional who works hard. She knows today’s meeting is important for the firm and for Cliff’s career.


With another sigh, Amanda gets out of her car and heads inside.


Scenario 1

Amanda gets off the elevator on her floor and greets the receptionist, Marcie, with “good morning.” Marcie ignores her as usual, and Amanda turns down the hall toward the executive suite. Amanda recently found out Marcie had applied for her job at the same time she did. If Amanda had to guess, she’d say that’s why Marcie refuses to speak to her unless there are others present. Amanda hears Marcie’s cheerful greeting to the next person off the elevator.


As Amanda enters the c-suite, Cliff is yelling at Amanda’s assistant, Trina, about some handouts she’s stapled crooked.


“My eight-year-old daughter could have done a better job!” Cliff yells, inches from Trina’s face. Trina looks mortified and mumbles an apology as she takes the handouts back to the copy room. Amanda can tell she’s holding back tears.


It’s not the first time Cliff has made Trina cry. His abrupt manner and disrespectful attitude affect the entire office and most people go out of their way to avoid him. Amanda feels terrible for not defending Trina, but the one time she tried to talk to Cliff about how he addresses people, he told her that if she didn’t like it, she was welcome to go find another job. Lots of people had done just that (staff turnover was extremely high), but Amanda needed the position.


Still, Amanda has been quietly looking for a new position elsewhere. Even though she’s only been here for a year, it doesn’t feel good to come to work.


Just then, Amanda gets a text from her husband, Ian. He’s been let go and is heading home. Amanda pastes a smile on her face as she heads to the boardroom to greet the clients for their meeting. She feels like a phony as she goes through the motions. She’s trapped, isolated, and hopeless.


Scenario 2

Amanda gets off the elevator on her floor and greets the receptionist. Marcie returns her greeting with a smile and wishes her well on the big meeting today. Amanda thanks her and gives her a knowing smile; she heard yesterday that Marcie is up for a promotion and will be joining them in the c-suite.


In the suite, Cliff is talking to Trina about some handouts that are stapled crooked. Cliff asks her to fix them, admitting he’s a bit nervous about the meeting and wants everything to be perfect. Marcie apologizes for the oversight and assures Cliff he’s going to do well today and sign his biggest client yet.


Knowing Cliff is detail-oriented, Amanda follows him to his office and asks if there’s anything she can do to help.


“No thanks,” Cliff says. “I’m well prepared, and I’m sure Marcie will have everything ready to go. Just join me in the boardroom at ten.”


As Amanda turns to leave, he says, “How are things with you?” Amanda shares her worry about Ian being laid off. Cliff empathizes and tells Amanda she’s welcome to take a personal day if she wants to spend some extra time with Ian. Thanking him, Amanda heads to her office.


Amanda gets a text from Ian. He’s been let go and is heading home. Maybe she’ll take Cliff’s advice and take a personal day tomorrow to spend time with Ian and practice some self-care. She’s a bit anxious, but she’s also hopeful and confident they’ll survive this set-back. She has a good job, and she knows she’s a valued part of the team.


How to Shift Your Organizational Culture

We all face personal and professional challenges in our lives. The difference isn’t in whether they happen, but in how they play out. That difference is written into the factors of organizational culture in the workplace, including civility and respect, growth and development and clear leadership and expectations. These are just a few of the thirteen factors that make up the psychological standard of Canada.


Making positive changes to psychological safety and organizational culture in an organization doesn’t have to be onerous or complicated. Comprehensive policies and procedures, coupled with effective training programs, help ensure harmony in the workplace, which in turn leads to maximized efficiencies, engaged teams, and increased profits.


About Ruthann Weeks, CIRS, Founder, Harmony in the Workplace

As the founder of Harmony In The Workplace, Ruthann is a tireless forward-thinking crusader whose efforts have helped to bring the importance of an abuse-free work environment to the forefront of public awareness. As a gifted keynote speaker, trainer and change-agent her systems represent industry best practice in workplace harmony.


Ruthann can be contacted by email at rweeks@harmonytraining.ca or phone 780-460-1019.

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Edmonton, AB T5J 3R8

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