Opinion | Only You Can Prevent Workplace Cubicle Fires

By: | October 19, 2020

Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

As risk professionals we are familiar with the essential elements of organizational fire preparedness. They include emergency procedures in case of a fire and a fire prevention plan, which describes how to prevent fires.

But as risk professionals, are we equally as familiar with risk management plans for the fires that may get started by your own employees? Do your plans consider workplace fire-starters?

Who is a fire-starter? You likely already know the type. It is the person who deliberately spreads misinformation, gossip and heated rumors. They actively inject poisonous discontentment into the bloodline of the organization, aiming to harm reputations only to advance their own.

Employees become edgy and suspicious of each other, creating disarray, and can derail the organization from achieving its goals. The more the fire-starter’s efforts lead to chaos and disruption, the fire-starter knows the better their future firefighting efforts will look to their superiors.

Bottom line, these workplace arsonists seek to demoralize and create drama just to bring attention to themselves. Fire-starters seek not only attention, but also sympathy and respect for their coping tactics. They want to be recognized as a real “hero” who came to the rescue by resolving the very problem they ignited.

Why do fire-starters do this? Some fire-starters stir things out of jealousy or rivalry of coworkers. Some feel overlooked, never getting recognition, advancement, or rewards for work they felt were due to them. Some try to cover their own failures.

If we think to our own experiences, many of us, I am sure, could recall a number of fire-starter ruses. A classic fire-starter maneuver involves a promotion-hungry manager who warns employees of a looming organizational restructuring and warns them of their possible redundancy.

Here, the fire-starter promises to use their insider knowledge and skills to fight upper management to protect them. After suffering much stress and unease, the employees are later told by their heroic fire-starter manager their jobs were saved — though their jobs were never in true danger.

Is your organization at risk to such fires? Is your organization a prime breeding environment for fire-starters? Can you easily spot those who poured the gasoline and lit the match on the fire they stomp out?

One key is to know the ground conditions that can make your organization flammable. A fire risk assessment may be something to consider.

We could start by asking if management consistently walks-the-talk and demonstrate organizational core values? Are opinions and beliefs of employees respected? Does information shared between employees and management have credibility? Is management trusted and easily accessible to employees? Is your workplace exciting and employees engaged? Are employees’ efforts being fairly recognized and praised by supervisors? Are employees being rewarded for fixing problems or for preventing them?

Let’s not forget — you get what you reward. And if you incentivize and reward firefighting, you will most likely get lots of fires. A healthy performance management system should allow employees to update management on the status of their achievements towards their goals and objectives. This makes it easy for management to identify and reward wins for employees.

With trust, management credibility and transparency, it becomes difficult for workers to covertly create problems in order to claim credit for extinguishing them. A fire-resistant workplace ensures a recognition structure that actively rewards engaged employees. Engaged employees have little interest in, have limited time for and won’t foment baseless rumors. &

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