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Tackling the toxic workplace

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger

It’s the new head of HR’s first day and it’s not going well. The chief executive calls her into her office to look at a video captured by the newly installed security system. The video shows two members of staff having sex in the photo coping room. I need you to deal with this says the chief executive, no problem says the new head of HR ,” I’m good at changing the culture in an organisation”. To which the chief executive responds ,”There is nothing wrong with the culture. Look around you , I installed glass fronted offices surrounding an open plan workspace. I can see everything that goes on “.

Can it be as simple as that? Can you change a toxic work environment where harassment, bulling and aggressive behaviour are not just tolerated but the norm by increased visibility? I would expect most HR professionals to be sceptical. However academics at Cardiff University have come up with research that appears to support the idea. The University undertook a major survey of chiefs at top class restaurants in the UK, Europe, Asia and North America .

The industry is notorious  for tolerating bullying, harassment, aggressive behaviour and swearing towards kitchen staff. The research concluded that windowless kitchens hidden from public view, coupled with long hours in a stressful situation resulted in a culture of aggression even violence. However kitchens that were open to public view did not have this culture. They concluded that it was the hidden nature of many kitchens that allowed this unrestrained abusive behaviour to flourish.

Not surprisingly the researchers found that chiefs, who set the tone, moderated their language and behaviour when in full view of the paying customer. To reinforce the point the study sites a restaurant that has a basement kitchen and a kitchen in full view of the public. In the basement kitchen staff behaviour badly, isolated and unscrutinised they feel there are little or no consequences for bad behaviour and they can get away with it. Upstairs in the open kitchen everyone is on view and on their best behaviour.

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