You know, its almost like some employers want to be sued.  Or, they want strife of some sort.  I once had seven women come see me about their job.  As I listened to the ladies, I realized their claims were less about discrimination and more about horrible working conditions.  They worked in a small office.  The windows were adorned with wooden blinds.  The office manager, also the wife of the owner, would insist that the blinds be turned so they were pointing up.  At some point, after thinking about that, I asked the potential client which way is up?  How does one know whether a blind is pointed up or down?  The potential client did not know.  Coffee was curtailed for months.  Antique items on the desks had to stay in the same place everyday.  Visitors to the restroom were allotted three squares of TP per visit.  The office manager would draw a line on the TP to monitor. 

Another potential client once told me how she worked 20 years at the same place.  No one was allowed to go out to lunch with a co-worker.  Ever.  Not surprisingly, that place had little interaction at work.  The sales clerks were expected to work all day with no "water cooler gossip."  No birthday cakes ever graced the halls of that place of employment. 

Apart from more important job issues such as discrimination, opposition to discriminatory practices, etc.,  should we not be concerned about productive working environments?  Are workers doing their best when they are under this sort of stress?  After so many years in the Army, I think i can often tell the good places to work.  The good places are the ones where I, as a customer, can walk in and chat with whoever is at the counter.  if the counter clerk frowns, or grumbles unnecessarily, I know this is probably not a happy place.  This little test always worked for me when i would visit a new unit in the Army.  If the low man on the totem pole would not chat with me, i knew this was probably not a good place to be. 

The person with the least amount of prestige gets the bad stuff.  It all rolls down hill.  If that little guy feels empowered to talk with a stranger, then that is a worker who feels s/he is accomplishing things at work. S/he feels valued.  Such a worker will perform at his best even under stress.  Workers at the place where they are essentially not allowed to chat with each other will not.  Business will suffer.  

In the Army, our Super Bowl is war.  That’s how it is.  We train for years for the Big Dance.  When I was in Iraq, my little test held true.  if the low man on the ladder would chat with the occasional visitor, then that was a good unit and they would perform well in a time of high stress.  When we first arrived in Iraq, we replaced another Civl Affairs battalion.  That prior unit had very low morale.  They had endured a miserable 12 months in Iraq, replete with Congressional investigations, IG investigations and EEO complaints.

I remember when I first arrived with a group of other senior officers and Non-Commissioned officers from my unit, the 445th CA battalion, the commander of the messed-up unit, walked right past us, without a word.  One would have expected he and all of his outgoing battalion would have been thrilled to see us.  They could not leave Iraq until we arrived and transitioned to replace them.  But, there we were, some half dozen of us, fresh in country and he walks past us without a word of greeting.  Things got worse after that.  We had to live and work with those outgoing folks for two weeks.  Almost all of their people were very hard to work with . . . almost as if they hated their jobs and hated being there.  Their commander was not the low man on the ladder, but my little test still seemed to work.  It worked at the Big Dance and it works here at home, too.