Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

By Merrick Rosenberg

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Anyone with young children knows that not everyone plays well in the sandbox. We repeatedly tell them things like:

“Be nice to your brother or sister.”
“Share your toys with others.”
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

You would think that with all of the advice we’ve heard over the years, by the time that individuals enter the workforce, they would be a respectful communicator and first-rate team player. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

Employees constantly complain about their co-workers, sometimes behind their back and sometimes right in front of them in staff meetings. Competition for resources and career opportunities often places individuals and teams at odds with each other. Organizations list “respect” as one of their corporate values, yet everyone from entry-level employees to senior executives often do not exhibit respect.

It was just a generation ago when people worked in less than three companies in their entire career. Now, it is not uncommon for people to jump ship every three to five years. All of this means that if people are not treated well in their current organization, they will find a different company with a more positive and respectful work environment.

So why do companies allow negative behaviors to continue?

Anyone in Human Resources will tell you that it’s easier to hire someone than it is to fire them. Perhaps this is why inappropriate behaviors are tolerated. I have also observed that sometimes people use good performance as a cover for their bad behaviors. Firing disrespectful poor performers is a no-brainer, but how willing are companies to let go of disrespectful top performers? Not very. And therein lies the problem.

While many organizations take the time to clearly define their values, very few identify consequences for not exhibiting those values. If organizations want to retain their best people, they need to consciously and deliberately create the desired culture. And when people stray from the cultural values, they need to be held accountable for their actions to the same degree as if they did not meet their work-related goals and objectives.

Roy Disney once said, “It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” When people understand, embrace, and enforce their organization’s values, people will start living the values.

This idea is grounded in two of the most basic of psychological principles: People tend to exhibit behaviors they are rewarded to exhibit and people tend not to exhibit behaviors for which they are punished to exhibit.

I just work here

So who’s job is it to create a positive, supportive, and respectful work environment? If you started pointing fingers at your manager or maybe even senior management, you’re only partially right. Each person plays a part in creating the culture. While it is true that senior management creates the values and management must support and enforce them, every person in the company plays a part in making the desired culture a reality.

Whatever you tolerate persists. So if you tolerate disrespectful behavior, you will continue to experience more of the same. If you demonstrate that these negative behaviors are unacceptable, you are more likely to stop them.

People spend between one-quarter and one-third of their waking lives at work…it better be someplace they like going to. Confucius said, “If you enjoy your job, you don’t have to work a day in your life. If everyone “just got along,” work might just be a whole lot better.