Corporate Eye

A Nice Place to Work . . .

Last week Katherine Ratkiewicz, a Senior Research Analyst at the Human Capital Institute, published a thought-provoking post on one of the HCI blogs.  Ratkiewicz recaps recent events in the U.S. that have prompted a national discussion about civility, and suggests the discussion should extend to workplaces as well as political institutions.

Office politics can be just as intense as any election campaign, and there’s no doubt that once toxic talk gets started in an organization, it can easily spread.  As Ratkiewicz points out “nothing is worse for an organization’s productivity and effectiveness than toxicity”–yet all too often there is no plan in place for recognizing and reshaping problematic situations.

For example . . . what happens when a project is behind schedule, or a particular unit is underperforming?  If the response is blame-shifting, finger-pointing, and/or scapegoating, the result is likely to be harmful to morale, and not particularly productive.  When this is the norm within an organization, there will be a lot of unhappiness.

These days, social media can alert job-seekers—and desirable passive candidates—to toxicity in organizations.  If there is negativity in the company environment, HR may or may not be able to surface the problem, and may or may not be able to foster a solution.  But if your company has a positive environment . . . how can the Careers website communicate that?

Just proclaiming that you have a happy workplace may not carry much weight.  Even employee testimonials, video diaries, event snapshots, and similar online promotions won’t convince most visitors that your company is a little slice of Eden.  In fact, it’s important to avoid the impression of overselling the environment, lest it appear there is something to hide.

A better strategy is to ensure that everything on the Careers site maintains a pleasant, respectful tone.  And design also sends subtle signals—a frenetic look (too much color, needless motion, etc.) can suggest a nervous environment.

For more thought-provocation about workplace communications, check out a new book from experts Vincent Waldron and Jeffrey Kassing: Managing Risk in Communication Encounters: Strategies for the Workplace. Despite the somewhat daunting title, this brand-new text is practical and readable—and it covers territory that is often left out of happy-talk manuals.  The focus here is “risky interactions that threaten identities, relationships, and sometimes careers, including voicing dissent, repairing broken relationships, managing privacy, responding to harassment, offering criticism, and communicating emotion.”  Worth a browse!

(Thanks to the Yorck Project for this image of Giovanni di Paolo’s fifteenth-century painting Paradise.)

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Cynthia Giles has followed a serpentine career path from academia to publishing to marketing and design to information technology and corporate communications. There’s plenty of detail about this journey at, but briefly--the common theme has been ideas, and how to present them effectively. Along the way, she became an accidental expert on data warehousing and business intelligence, and for the past ten years she has combined corporate contracting with an independent consulting practice that focuses on marketing strategy for smaller businesses and non-profits. Having spent quite a bit of time looking for work, and anywhere from two weeks to two years inside a wide variety of American companies—she has given much thought to what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to creating a great employment fit.