An employee takes off his shoes and socks, props his feet up on the desk while loudly popping his gum to the sound of ‘Disco Inferno’, which can be heard through the earphones, connected to his IPod. Is that behavior unbecoming a professional in a work setting or just organizational culture? A group of employees congregate, on a daily basis during their lunch break in a room off the main thoroughfare, to laugh, tell stories and exchange raunchy jabs at each other and anyone within listening range. Is that behavior unbecoming a group of professionals in a work setting or just organizational culture? The question is being asked because the line that once separated work from home has, in recent years, become increasingly blurred and the amount of time spent at work has increased in order to keep pace with quantum leap in productivity demands. Organizations have infused a number of resources to help manage the stress demands and fatigue issues that come with early-to-work-late-to-home-high-gas-price-commute-to-survive reality of the current work environment. Wellness Centers, broader lunch menus, on-site massage sessions, meditation rooms and other physical and mental outlets are aimed directly at alleviating the potential behavioral, physical and mental, incidents that can be disruptive to the work environment. While those resources are helpful in addressing the obvious behavioral disconnects, embedded in both the spirit and flow of organizational life are the not-subtle-but-quick-to-defend patterns of annoyance tucked neatly under the umbrella of organizational culture.

It is no secret that every organization has a ‘way-we-do-things-around-here’ approach to maintaining a sense of consistency and efficiency to the accomplishment of work. In the same vain, the longer an organization hangs around, the harder it works to preserve its history, values, traditions and artifacts as part of the ongoing documentation as to why it exists. Traditions and values have their place with connecting the past with the present and the present with the future. They are the key elements in understanding the culture of any organization. However, one of the sturdier branches that have grown on the organizational tree is the one that holds the remaining behaviors not easily resolved by Wellness Centers or on-site Massage Therapists.
When did the ongoing use of acid-tongued, raunchy epithets become part of the ‘way-we-do-things-around-here? When the comedic side of Hollywood film production moved from hitting someone on the head with a rubber hammer to a fascination with the release of bodily fluids, how did it move to becoming an acceptable standard of conduct for the work environment? When did ‘minimum standard’ for group performance translate into a behavioral dart in the back of a targeted high performer? Some would argue that these incidents, and many others, are the result of not having a clear line of demarcation between professional life and personal life. Others have gone so far as to suggest that it is no big deal as long as employees are happy and work is getting done. In that spirit, a disorderly house is acceptable as long as the goal of eating a meal everyday is met.

Blinded by this merger of time and space, what has emerged is the inability for organizations to discern behavior that is culture from behavior that is inappropriate and unprofessional. The simple truth of the matter is that most employees are uncomfortable with much of what is viewed as acceptable. Visitors to the house that Rude built rarely return for a second helping and, usually, take their business elsewhere. At a time when the competitive landscape has a number of players, all of whom may be equal in many areas (i.e. the cell phone industry), the decision to not do business with you, may have little to do with your using the word ‘loose’ when you meant ‘lose’, but the employee observed clipping his toenails outside of his cubicle as the client was walking by.

© 2013 Lee E. Meadows
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