Executive Careers Blog

Is Misery Alive And Well in Your Office?

In a weekend editorial, the New York Timestalked about how the show Mad Men is helping today's disaffected viewers enjoy television by presenting them with a parade of characters who are even more unhappy than they are.

The article mentioned Columbia psychologist Stanley Schacter, who said "Misery doesn't love just any kind of company — it loves only miserable company."

That same kind of "miserable company" now works in your office: They're all suffering the same shocks of slumping household economies and plummeting company morale. Executives can view the miserable masses with disdain, or help them to exit that category.

One way of doing so is through education.

It's hard to feel sorry for oneself while the brain is engaged in mulling over new concepts.

A formal seminar or training class is great, but the prospect doesn't have to involve an expense account.

Why not establish a lunchtime learning program, where employees and managers can volunteer to speak on topics that touch on work-related issues? (Or even ones that don't.) By providing an excuse for employees to get together, your workers will feel less alone. (Alright, that's fairly obvious, but effective nonetheless.)

For workers, "less alone" translates to "part of a living, breathing enterprise," and then it's just a short jump to "I'd like to make my best effort and keep the (corporate) animal alive."

Our often-touted idea that "little perks can mean a lot" belongs in this category, but here's another suggestion: feedback.

Carol Bartz, chief executive at Yahoo.com and former leader of Autodesk, recently told an NYT interviewer that she thinks the concept of annual performance appraisals is "so antiquated." She said "I have the puppy theory. When the puppy pees on the carpet, you say something right then, you don't say six months later, 'Remember that day, January 12th when you peed on the carpet?' That doesn't make any sense. (Say) 'This is what's on my mind.' …I wouldn't do annual reviews if I felt that everybody would be more honest about positive and negative feedback along the way." Again, that criticism (any kind, though if warranted, positive is certainly better) speaks to the individual, and breaks him or her out of that 'defective herd' mentality.

You can either love your employees or hate them. But they still have to perform to make you look good; with just a little push from management, they can feel better and work better.

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Todd Obolsky has covered a wide range of industries for Vault’s print and online company profiles (including consumer products, government, non-profit, retail, advertising, internet, energy and publishing) and manages Vault’s Layoff Tracker. He has also written for Penguin Group’s Rough Guides and DK travel series. He holds a BS in Mathematics from Bucknell University and an MBA (with a market research concentration) from City University of New York’s Baruch College.

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