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Is Healthy Workplace Attitude the Key to Workplace Success?

March 25, 2014 by Dr. Jon Warner in Climate and Culture

Is Healthy Workplace Attitude the Key to Workplace Success?

When we think about employee performance in the workplace, we tend to talk a lot about experience, skills/competencies and even an individual’s goal-orientation. However, we spend far less time looking at a factor that may influence workplace success more than all of the others put together – attitude. This is partly because this is one of those factors that we think we can less easily spot or predict, especially when we are recruiting a new person to the team. However, we ignore this factor at our peril and in this article we will look at why.

According to the dictionary, attitude is “a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person’s behavior.” Its synonyms are a person’s outlook, perspective, standpoint, position, inclination, orientation, and approach. A person’s attitude is then manifest, sometimes openly and sometimes not, as some degree of favor or disfavor towards a given subject and even means that he or she might, at different times, express both positive and negative attitudes toward the same object. The overall attitudes held are neither “good” nor “bad” of course, as they are just a fact. It’s therefore only possible to assess when an attitude is at odds with another person’s, team’s or even whole organization’s values or culture, of which we shall have more to say later.

So, attitudes are complex and run pretty deep in people (and in some case are unconscious to the person who holds the view) and only change slowly over time. And naturally, people have attitudes about many things in life, not just work. This might include attitudes towards art, morality, politics, risk, the economy, religion, the value of education, marriage, sexuality and even certain types of people, just to name a few. Of course, even when they are not directly about the workplace, many of these general attitudes may spill over into the way a person behaves or relates to others. This is of little concern when attitudes are positive, healthy and broadly liberal (in a live and let live kind of way) but can become a big problem if they are negative, unhealthy or fixed and even intransigent in the individual concerned.

In the book “Hiring for Attitude”, written by author Mark Murphy, he suggests that a range of poor attitudes leads directly to poor performance. This includes:

  • Being generally negative
  • Blaming others
  • Feeling entitled
  • Not taking initiative
  • Procrastination
  • Being change resistant
  • Creating drama for the attention
  • Passive aggressiveness

If we look carefully at this list, it very much accords with behavior that is underpinned by what are likely to be a range of relatively fixed or inflexible views that do not help the person or the team in organizational life. It is therefore extremely important to avoid recruiting a person with one of more of these kinds of attitudes, whether it is an internal appointment or a person who is completely new to the organization.

To avoid what might be deemed to be poor general attitudes (such as those above) we need to look for them explicitly. This means that we have to ask questions of people about the views that they hold and not just focus on skills, experience and qualifications to do the job. Scenario-based questions are therefore helpful in this regard, such as “tell me about a time when you faced this or that situation” for example, or even questions such as “tell me what is most important to you when a project goes late, a person is having a hard time at work or when you are blamed for something that is not your fault?” etc.

Of course, questions about general attitude are not enough and we also need to get an idea about people’s more subtle viewpoints within the context of the team and organizations wider values and culture. This is more of a question of overall “fit” and a judgment can only be made once we have determined what’s most important in cultural terms. For example, an individual who likes to operate independently, is competitive and goal-orientated may fit well in an investment banking environment, where autonomy, drive and being profitable are important in the culture, but fit less well in an acute care hospital as a doctor or nurse, where teamwork, collaboration and service-centered care are important in the culture. The point here is that even relatively positive attitudes towards people and work can be a problem if they jar with the organization’s wider culture, and the differences will soon start to stand-out like a “sore thumb” as they say, and the person may become a “problem-child”.

In the final analysis there is no “recipe” for the “right” attitude and the key point from all that we have said above is that this factor should be taken very seriously. After all, many more people become a “problem employee” because of their poor or misaligned attitudes than because of their lack of skill or competence to do their job.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at OptimalJon@gmail.com

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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