Organizational Climate

Most of us intuitively understand that the climate of one’s workplace has an impact on how people feel and on how they perform. In using the term climate, we refer to the collective atmosphere of a workplace: the attitudes, perceptions and dynamics that affect how people perform on a daily basis.

Climate, like the weather, is not static and unchanging. Nevertheless, as with any locale, certain climate patterns are unique to each organization. More importantly, unlike the weather, we all are involved in creating our organizational climate on a daily basis.

A healthy organizational climate is proven to boost productivity. Elements include supportive management, contribution, self-expression, recognition, clarity and challenge.

For almost a century, researchers have explored the causes of work related injuries, a major cost to any organization and one of the earliest measures of organizational incoherence. At first, it was believed certain employees were more “accident prone” than others; but studies failed to support this contention as a definitive personality trait.

Research then shifted to uncovering the personality traits that differentiated workers who were hurt from those who avoided injury.

Looking into the psychology of safety became essential as organizations such as OSHA determined that 90% of all accidents are caused by unsafe acts, while only 10% are caused by unsafe working conditions.

The vast majority of workers today are employed in non-manufacturing jobs, where workplace safety concerns focus more around issues such as ergonomics, workload and mental and emotional processes, as opposed to the heavy labor of our forefathers. Yet workers’ compensation claims are soaring in many non-manufacturing sectors of the economy. Health, safety and environmental issues are growing in importance, especially in industries such as technology, petroleum and aviation, where disregard for these issues can be catastrophic.

According to Dr. Phil Smith, an organizational psychologist, a review of 61 studies of job burnout concludes that of the three facets of burnout — emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and diminished personal accomplishment — emotional exhaustion is most sensitive to factors which negatively influence workplace climate and is the strongest predictor of attachment to the organization.

Dr. Smith goes on to suggest that, “While a good emotional climate is not by itself sufficient to ensure success, a bad climate is certain to prevent success.”

An organization is much like an organism. It requires a wide variety of nutrients and resources to be healthy; it can get sick in response to external stressors or internal imbalance and, unless it learns to heal itself, eventually becomes sick and dies.

Typically, when an organization recognizes something is not right, the solutions are to focus on cost cutting, process re-engineering, product improvements or customer service. While these well-intentioned initiatives are usually necessary, they are not sufficient. They focus on the symptoms, not the cause. In many organizations, this classic band-aid approach actually creates more frustration, anger and anxiety; meanwhile the organization becomes even sicker.

Once people are drained emotionally, the creative energy needed to develop new innovations is sapped. Additional energy is then expended in inefficient ways that put added strain on people, and the downward spiral accelerates. Acrimony, mistrust, antagonism and blame are just a few of the emotional reactions that take up residence in the workplace. Finger pointing becomes the preferred exercise program, and left unchecked, the very creative source for the organization is drained.

Work environments characterized by excess stress, contention and anxiety breed insecurity and unproductivity and inhibit creativity. People do not want to come to work in these rigid environments. The negative attitudes compound the pressure on an already strained organization.

When people are valued, appreciated and cared for, they produce more, have greater loyalty to their employer and higher levels of creativity. Attitudes like appreciation, care and compassion are not just sweet, they are powerful medicine for an organizational virus.

In addition, employees must be given tools to manage their perceptions and emotional reactions so they become active creators of a healthier climate, not just victims of management whims.

Analyzing organizational incoherence, while giving employees practical tools for managing and leveraging their own emotional and intellectual processes, represents a powerful parallel approach to regaining organizational vitality.