Power and its relationship to workplace culture is something I explore in detail in my upcoming book, Road to Respect: Path to Profit. Employers have traditionally had most of the power in the workplace, but that traditional power balance may be shifting more quickly than many of us realize.
I recently discovered eBossWatch, a web site that lets people anonymously rate their current or former boss. A straightforward, respectful evaluation form provides relevant information about management leadership styles. Now job-seekers can go online and look at reports detailing the ratings of potential bosses.
The purpose of the site, according to its founder Asher Adelman, is to empower people who are looking for work. His goal is to offer those job seekers information so that they can avoid an experience that Adelman has had more than once in his working career, starting a new job and finding himself working for a “bully” boss.
Gen Xer Adelman has held management positions in the technology and telecom sectors at small companies, start-ups, and in large publicly traded companies. Twice he interviewed for what he thought would be interesting positions with prestigious firms. Both times he met his prospective bosses and thought they would be great to work for. Both times he was dead wrong. Soon after starting work he found himself in toxic workplaces, working for disrespectful, bully bosses.
He watched fellow employees being targeted by a barrage of personal attacks, verbal abuse, public humiliation, yelling, screaming and even having things thrown at them. Most of his co-workers simply “hunkered down and tried to stay out of the boss’s sight as much as possible”. However, when he himself was targeted, Adelman chose a different path. He defended himself, as his co-workers sat there watching in a state of shock.
In one case Adelman’s actions stopped the bully. In the other case the bullying continued. Regardless of the outcome, he left both those workplaces. Even when he wasn’t being targeted, others were. He didn’t want to continue working in a toxic environment.
While taking leadership courses as part of his MBA studies at UC Irvine, Adelman reflected on those work experiences. What really bothered him, he said, was that he considered himself a good judge of character. He had been interviewed by both of those “bullies” before he started those jobs. There had been no indication of any disrespectful or abusive behaviour. The fact that this had happened more than once really concerned him.
One of the problems, he decided, was that job seekers have no way to see into their prospective work environments, or to get a look at who they could be working for. In June 2007 Adelman founded eBossWatch to help provide that information to employees. As one media source stated, “Now the Rank and File are Ranking”.
To further empower job seekers, Adelman recently launched GreatPlaceJobs, a job search engine designed to help employees find jobs in companies with respectful work environments. GreatPlaceJobs, which currently lists over 1300 companies, is the world’s first exclusive “great workplace” job site, helping people discover award-winning employers and filter out hostile workplaces.
Adelman believes that many employees will make the same choice that he did when he experienced disrespect at work. They will leave and find another job. He has a message for employers: employees want to be respected and treated like adults. They come to work motivated, wanting to do a great job, to succeed and make a meaningful contribution to the company. Far too often a new employee’s motivation level plummets because of the way companies are managed and operated.
Adelman believes, as I do, that power based, command and control leadership practices are responsible for many of the problems businesses are currently facing. Adelman wants to promote democratic workplaces, based on a collaborative leadership model. His latest project, The Workplace Democracy Association, is a non-profit organization whose goal is to raise awareness about that issue and promote change within the employer community.
Collaborative leadership, leadership where everyone’s input is solicited, considered and valued, is by definition respectful leadership. A democratic workplace, one where employees are empowered, is by definition a respectful workplace. And given a choice, wouldn’t most of us prefer to work in such workplaces?
You know the old saying knowledge is power. Awareness about workplace bullying and disrespectful behaviour is growing, and resources are emerging to spread knowledge about respectful workplaces to prospective job seekers. Employees are gaining power. Job seekers will use this knowledge to bypass toxic workplaces and choose those that model respect and democracy.
Will your company appear when a potential employee visits GreatPlaceJobs? How might your current or former staff rank you, or other members of your leadership team on eBossWatch? Not knowing the answer to that question could affect your bottom line profitability. Is that a risk you are willing to take?