"Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru." -- Charlotte Joko Beck

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Are you Scrooge or Fezziwig?

The way the boss treats people in the workplace has a direct impact on productivity, innovation and service, not to mention morale.  

No time of year provides us a better example as the Christmas holiday season when we are reminded of the classic tale by Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol.”

Ebenezer Scrooge, miser, misanthrope, and mean-spirited taskmaster, makes the workplace an unbearable drudgery for his sole employee, Bob Cratchit. You know the story. Scrooge denies his employee coal to keep the office warm enough to function. Keeping Cratchit cold and uncomfortable, and thus completely reliant upon his employer for the most basic of needs, is Scrooge’s way of proving he is in charge. In Scrooge’s mind, Cratchit should be appreciative that he has a job at all and thankful to his employer. By constantly threatening to fire him, Scrooge expects Cratchit will work hard to stay on his boss’s good side.

The result is not as Scrooge expects. As a matter of fact, Cratchit is not exactly a top-notch employee. He does the bare minimum he needs to in order to get by, he is eager to leave at the end of day, and is late to work – even after having been reminded to “be here all the early the next day.” 

One thing Cratchit does have that Scrooge cannot understand is work-life balance. At home, Cratchit is the ultimate family man. He thoroughly enjoys the time he spends with family and takes joy in the simple things in life despite not being able to afford common comforts.

Scrooge gets to experience this during his visit from the Ghost of Christmas Present when they stop by the Cratchit family household. Scrooge is surprised that there can be so much joy, love and laughter among such a poor family.

Yet, the concept of enjoying life is not alien to Scrooge. When he is taken back in time by the Ghost of Christmas Past, Scrooge fondly recalls Old Fezziwig, his first employer.
Fezziwig treated people well – apprentices and veterans, customers and crew. Everyone was made to feel important and special. Fezziwig’s employees were happy, energetic, and willing to put forth extra effort. Although plenty of work got done, they took time out for parties and celebrations. They had fun and laughed.

Scrooge realizes, "He has the power to render us happy or unhappy, to make our service light or burdensome, a pleasure or a toil. … The happiness he gives us is quite as great as if it cost a fortune." Remembering this is what begins Scrooge on his journey of rediscovery and redemption.

Of course, this is what the story is really about – enlightenment on the important things in life. It is about the realization that to shut ourselves off from our fellow man, to deny our responsibility to community, condemns us to inflicting misery and pain on others and on our own selves.  It is about transformation and redemption. It is about the worthlessness of wealth. It is about benevolence, charity, and the common welfare that is all of our business.

There are many wonderful life and leadership lessons to be learned from Dickens’ Christmas tale. For the purposes of this blog post, I’ll limit the discussion to these points:
  • You don’t have to be stuffy to be successful.
  • You don’t have to be mean to be in charge.
  • You don’t have to instill fear to be respected.
  • Work does not have to be a drudgery.
  • Having fun at work doesn't mean you aren't working.
We spend a great deal of our lives in the workplace, trying to earn a living so we can afford the basic creature comforts and perhaps a few luxuries. Many of us work to try to help make a difference somewhere, somehow or for someone, or to make a meaningful contribution to the community or the world. No matter what the reasons for working, there is no reason why we should be miserable doing it.

I have had the unfortunate experience in the past of working with people who had Scrooge-like tendencies. Thankfully, not to the Scrooge extreme and not from the desperate position of a Bob Cratchit, but still it was uncomfortable and terribly demoralizing. The staff was overcome with negativity, apathy and despondency. Jobs were completed within the bare minimum of standards, and only in a quantity that would keep people out of trouble. A great deal of the workday was spent in complaining and there was frequent turn-over.

Conversely, I have been fortunate enough to also work with Fezziwig types. People who made employees feel important and appreciated, and made the workplace fun. Those environments were much more productive and happy. You would be amazed at how enthusiastic and innovative the employees were.  

So, what do you want your organizational climate to be like?

Scrooge’s or Fezziwig’s?

I can definitely relate to Fezziwig having played the character for several years in a musical production of "A Christmas Carol" in a Baltimore community theater. I am afraid to admit, the mutton chops were real. I grew them for the show, and when I wasn't on stage. I am sure you can imagine the funny looks I got.