How to make IT staff less angry – Part Two: Environment

This is part two of my series on making IT workers less angry by improving their job satisfaction. Part one (go and read it if you haven’t already) gave an overview of the three major factors in job satisfaction: environment, quality of work and pay/compensation. As I have not yet been silenced by the paid killers hired by the Cabal Of Disaffected and Exploited Information Technology (CODE-IT) workers, I will provide more detailed secret IT workers’ business in this post. Today’s topic is the work environment.

For IT workers, environment includes the physical space you work in, the facilities available, the people you work with and the “vibe” of the workplace. Physical space is one of the most important elements contributing to an IT worker’s productivity and at the same time one of the aspects most ignored by employers. Simply making sure there is enough desk space to spread out the required machines, screens, peripherals, manuals, folders, notebooks and “quirky” knick-knacks can work wonders. Saving a few square metres of floor space at the cost of pissing off CODE-IT workers is a dumb trade-off.

The worst example of screwing up the working environment that I have personally experienced happened, tragically enough, in one of the better workplaces I have enjoyed. This place had many of the components of nerd paradise: a huge converted warehouse for the office, big desks, open relaxation/reading areas festooned with bean bags, a gym, great kitchen facilities and an in-house cafeteria with good quality food. But one bad decision (really a series of smaller bad decisions compounded by lies) poisoned the whole environment.

Expansion of the workforce meant some new desks had to be built. This meant we would lose one of the open areas but we could see this was unavoidable. The plan was explained thusly: new desks would be built right next to the development team (subjecting us to weeks of noise and disruption), we would move into the newly constructed area temporarily while our area was also remodelled and then we would move back. A pain but we could live with it. Things started to come apart almost immediately.

The first time we saw actual plans it was obvious the new desks were way smaller than our existing ones. This would be bad but we could probably put up with it temporarily. Then construction started and the news got worse: these weren’t open desks, they were high-walled cubicles from Dilbert’s worst nightmare. Still, it was only going to be temporary, right? Yeah, right. We were told the new area would be occupied by the marketing group. Our existing area was near the windows, lots of natural light and good views. This was much more desirable than the new section, isolated in the middle of the warehouse. Can you guess where this is going?

I have never been lucky enough to work in a company where the CODE-IT brigade had more power than the marketing division. This place was no exception. Rumours started almost immediately that marketing was refusing to move to the new area and wanted our window seats. We were assured this wasn’t true. Right until the day after we moved to our “temporary” home. Then we were told it would be permanent. But hey, marketing would get the same cubicle environment right? Not so much. They ended up with much larger desks with less oppressive cubicle walls. And all through this process and even afterwards, the facilities manager refused to admit he had done anything wrong.

So we were forced into a smaller space that had a direct negative effect on productivity and performance because it simply made it harder for everyone to work efficiently. And we were lied to every step of the way. The facilities manager was never made to answer for his actions and the CODE-IT team were made to feel totally marginalised. This sort of behaviour sends a very clear message to staff. You. Are. Not. Valued. Even though the other environment aspects were good, the damage done by this misadventure was pretty severe. Within 4 months, 20% of the CODE-IT team had left, myself included. And this was a comparatively good workplace.

For contrast, here’s how my worst-ever workplace handled the working environment. When an opportunity to move to cheaper offices presented itself, they grabbed it with two hands. The actual desks weren’t too bad although they did cram more people into a smaller space. The new desks had some positives and some negatives but overall they weren’t terrible. Lower cubicle walls made the environment less oppressive but did make noise levels worse. And you can probably imagine how some cave-dwelling CODE-IT types reacted to having to interact with actual humans more often.

The real giveaway of what this place thought of staff was in the other facilities provided in the new environment. On a floor containing about 100 staff, the kitchen “facilities” consisted of a bench about 2 metres long adorned with a single microwave. That was pretty bad but what was worse was this was located right next to the toilets. And I mean you didn’t have to stretch out your arms very far to touch both the kitchen bench and toilet door. This has bad connotations relating to hygiene (I wasn’t alone in thinking this) but it got worse than this. The faint of heart and/or easily mortified may not want to read this next part.

Most male toilets have some sort of vestibule or at least a corner between the exterior door and the urinals. Not this one. A straight line view from the kitchen to the urinals. So the distance from you making coffee to someone standing at a urinal is about 5 metres with only a small wall next to the urinals obstructing your view if someone opens the toilet door while you’re at the kitchen bench. So all it took was for someone to step back before zipping up and, well, you learned more about your cow-orkers than you wanted to know. Penny pinching that leads to such an appalling environment is a ridiculous business decision. The money saved on rent will be blown in the cost of having to continually recruit new staff when existing staff resign because they can’t deal with the environment any more.

The people in the workplace are a significant factor when considering the quality of the environment. If you degrade the physical environment to the point where you can’t retain staff, you can never build up a positive “vibe” between the staff and in the workplace overall. It can be very hard for potential recruits to gauge this quality so if someone is already happy with the vibe of their workplace they are that much more likely to stay where they are. If your goal is to maintain a stable workforce (and if this doesn’t seem important to you – go the hell away) then investing in a quality work environment makes a lot of sense. It is usually far cheaper than endless recruiting.

It seems I have more to say on this topic than I realised when I started. So far I have only covered physical environment and badly implemented environment decisions at that. In the interests of keeping these posts manageable, I will continue evaluating environmental factors in another post. The next part in this series will highlight good environmental decisions that make CODE-IT workers love coming into work and staying at work for long hours. Even more important, make the right decisions and you can boost morale to the point where the majority of your CODE-IT legions will not even think of looking for another job. Including those all-important decisions regarding what software and hardware tools to provide.

READ PART THREE

READ PART FOUR

READ PART FIVE

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22 Comments

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22 responses to “How to make IT staff less angry – Part Two: Environment

  1. Cubicles are the worst. I’m used to spreading myself out, having a handfull of screens. When I worked in a cubicle and lost some space, I was pissed. This was when I was working at the government. Productivity did go down. The thing you notice is that the senior managers do work hard, those who have permanent jobs. Those who are on contract and not permanent jobs don’t really care that much, myself included, since we did not have job security.

    In the private sector, I’ve always been a contractual worker or worked case by case. This gave me the freedom to work from home. My setup at home isn’t ideal, but it is pretty cool. I have a huge desk, with 3 flatscreens, laptops and loads of stuff. I clean the desk every few months, chug out the things I no longer need.

  2. I’m pretty comfortable in a cube environment so long as I’m not interrupted. The equipment I’ve had has always been top notch everywhere I’ve worked, and the occasional nearby meeting room with lots of whiteboard space can really help with the brainstorming sessions and collaboration/design with others in the team.

    The relationship between others in the workplace must be reasonably balanced if you want motivated people though. Nobody wants to be at the end of the departmental chain-of-command forever. Marketing may have all the ideas, but when working together with IT they can really make things happen much more effectively and everyone feels better about having some say-so when it works out.

  3. I have a really nice roomy office on my job. Therefore, when people can’t find a place to put something, they DUMP IT in my office. I now have an extra desk that a couple of people feel is now THEIR space. Four guitars, stools and stands. Arts and crafts supplies, dog food, tool boxes……on and on. I think I’ll move into the closet – I’d have more room.

  4. Salamaat,
    your own office Sandra? Now that’s an unheard of luxury in the IT field.

    i have dwelt in cubicles for so long, i don’t know what i will do with myself if i ever had a real office!

    my crappiest assignment was with the government where *everyone* including the mail lady had a nice open cushy office; and they literally constructed a shabby cubicle right in the middle of the open space between the cushy offices. High walls and everything! how depressing is that?

  5. by the way, I was *the* IT support for the whole department…

    talk about valuing my services.

    *sniff*

  6. I’m glad these posts are touching on familiar topics to so many people. I was largely writing them to get them off my chest. Plus, nobody seemed to be tackling these online in the same way that I wanted to. Thanks for all the quality comments, I’ll probably be using some of your thoughts as I progress through this series.

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  8. Just read the comments from part one and part two and I can say that you guys are whiners. You say your productivity goes down because of cubicles? Imagine someone who has no permanent workstation (shared computer, table and chair). You complain the noise produced by the construction / reconstruction of new and existing facilities… imagine someone who needs to work in a computer room in a manufacturing company and just outside of it are noisy machines running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You complain of the toilet, urinals being close to eyesight from the outside…. Imagine a toilet with full of shit and mud all over the tiles because the ratio of workers to toilet is 50 workers to one? You are lucky you have a shared kitchen; my first job has only one drinking fountain outside of the company and it isn’t even filtered / purified.

    And yes, I experienced all of these things… I gave my best to that company and I’m grateful for the learning experience I gained. In return the company promoted me to supervisory level. Finally I decided that I have done my time, and I have to move on to another company… career wise.

    And no, I’m no looser that have no choice but to accept anything even if it is crap… I don’t want to sound condescending but I’m an engineer graduated top of our batch in a prestigious university. I just learn the value of tolerance, patience, loyalty, able to understand management constraints and all of those things that sounds shit to the ears of someone who was raised with a silver spoon in his mouth.

    “Love the things you do and Do the things you love”

    Your complaints are valid at some degree. I’m a programmer myself I can relate even if I’m an engineer. Tell your complaints to management, if they consider your request then good for you… if not, learn to accept it and do your job 101%. If you can’t do that then find another company. It’s a game… you are a player and they are the one who set the rules. If you don’t like the game, find another game you like or setup your own.

    “The real world is not meant for crybabies.” – Bill Gates lol

    P.S. I hope no one is offended. Peace :)

  9. What a hoot. Everyone responding is a whiner but then you whine ten times more? And finish up with the audacity to say you hope no-one is offended. I’m not offended because I ignore morons with no people skills.

    Check the heading bozo, you think you can hang shit on Mr Angry and continue on your merry way think again. You don’t sound condescending, you sound contradictory, ill-informed and self important. You want to put up with shit – good for you. Don’t expect me to think that makes you a big man, that makes me think you are a loser who let yourself be exploited.

    And I hope you are offended.

  10. If I complain too much do you think management will promote me to a supervisor? You’re missing the point.

    No people skills? What do you want me to do? Give you praise for a marvelous article that encourage negative work attitude? A person who knows how to take constructive criticism will not be offended.

    Exploited? So learning and gaining invaluable experience is exploitation. Being promoted and an increased in salary is exploitation. Then I guess I’m exploited. Learn to see the bigger picture and stop complaining about the small stuff.

    “Effective people are not problem-minded; they’re opportunity minded. They feed opportunities and starve problems” – Dr. Stephen Covey.

    How to make ANY staff less angry: Positive Work Attitude

    Everywhere you will go, in whatever company you will work, you will always find something to complain about if you have a negative work attitude. No matter how high your salary is, you will always complain that you’re not properly compensated because another company gives their employees higher salary. No matter how beautiful your work environment is you will always complain and compare it to another company who have better work environment.

    There are two major forces that work in our life, external and internal forces. We have little control of external forces like a change in work environment by the company. What matter is the internal force… our ATTITUDE. How do we respond to the change, over that we have total control. Will you let your performance go down just because you are pissed off? Or will you give your best because you know that excellent performance is the way to go if you want success in life?

    The choice is yours. I know you are logical, you’re an IT… I’m not being sarcastic… I mean that. Just don’t let your anger cloud your decision.

  11. Jouni Osmala

    Changing Attitude

    What we are talking about this is what management could do to change their workers working attitude. The attitude at work can be affected by small things. And for productivity to go down on noise, thats scientific FACT based on psychological studies, not just attitude question, there are individuals that are not affected by it and works where you doens’t need to concentrate as much as in programming.
    There are actually places where people say that they wouldn’t leave their work even if someone offered them double the salary. Their salary isn’t so bad that managers anywhere would be willing to double it. The company saves millions in recruiting costs because of how they treat their employees. And thats a fact.
    Personally I think more important for them is that the institutional knowledge is preserved due to low employee turn over.
    Whats even better is that people actually produce more when they are happy.

  12. Human Factors

    Jouni I agree with you. I am an industrial engineer and one of my tasks is to do system/process improvement like improving worker’s environment using ergonomics and human factors principles. It helps a lot in improving worker’s efficiency and morale. That is why I said that Mr. Angry’s complaints are valid at some degree. But after having their request turned down, is it right to deliberately let their performance go down? As I see it, it is not the change in the workplace that some people in their company resigned or had a decreased in performance. It’s because their ego was hurt because marketing staff were given favor and they feel swept away to the side.

    Working for about 6 years in process improvement, I have found people who complain a lot even after an improvement in their workplace was done. Even if their peers improve their performance, those complainers’ did not showed improvement. Why? Because they have a grudge with their boss. Why? Because their new boss is stricter. Why? Because their new boss does not allow them to play computer games even on break time. Why? It’s company policy. Now whose fault was it? Why did they have poor performance. The company policy? Their boss? Or the complainer? It all boils down in having a negative work attitude.

    Sure it will be nice if I will have a boss like Dale Carnegie but the fact of the matter is you can not choose who or what type of boss you will have. As employees we can not directly dictate how our boss will treat us, how the company will treat us. We can not expect management to give everything we WANT because there are constraints.

    What we can do is to have a positive work attitude and start doing excellent work… and guess what… your boss will notice your performance, he will treat you right, you will have a good evaluation, an increase in pay and maybe a promotion.

    “If you want to change the world, be the change in the world” – Gandhi

    “Do no ask what your country (company) can do for you, Ask what you can do for you country (company)” – American President (I forgot :) )

  13. Chazper: the reason I got so angry at you is twofold. First, you seem to have missed the point of the article altogether. It is not, essentially, a negative whine. The negative points were put in to identify real problems and for humourous effect.

    Second, you really pissed me off when you said you hoped you hadn’t offended. You were absolutely offensive. That statement is reminescent of people who start by saying “Some of my best friends are (insert minority group here), but…” then proceed to say something hideously racist.

    In short, my point of view is that it is ridiculous to expect workers to simply knuckle under to appalling conditions and work hard. It is counter productive and economic suicide for a company to do this to high value workers. Delude yourself all you want that it’s character building. It’s far more character building to work in a productive, positive atmosphere. And companies who give workers a positive environment will reap the rewards, they will leave the exploiters in their dust.

    I’m proposing solutions, not just whining! Read the article, it’s all about how to fix things! I have to say, you don’t sound like a worker subjected to bad management, you sound like a bad manager justifying bad practices. Or at least someone who can’t wait to be in that position.

  14. I agree with you Mr. Angry on some part. Companies that can give a good work environment and all the things an employee wants is sure to leave companies who are not able to. Good for those companies, they HAVE THE RESOURCES and maybe they have a system/process improvement guy like me that can influence managers that do not know a thing or two about human factors… lol

    I must say we must agree to disagree. Different people, different perception. You are talking about what companies must do… while I’m talking about how employees should respond if their companies can not afford their whims.

    Anyway, I like the humor especially about the urinals… :))

  15. OK agreeing that toilet humour is funny seems like a good place to leave it :)

  16. Chazper, the other point to note is that its meant to be a humourous sort of rant, if that. You don’t have to take things so seriously. Its great that you have the perseverance you do, and no I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I just think in the day and age and countries we live in, we can demand to be treated like people. I have a big problem with the way employers treat their employees, as a collective body. But I need to money so what am I gonna do? Shut up and do the work. Oh and btw, a lot of managers, don’t actually care thatyou have concerns. They don’t do anything about it, it just goes on your record as a negative.

    Mr Angry: You forgot Lighting.

    We need GOOD LIGHTING people. It sets the mood and how about we actually have some sort of temperature control? At my last job, I got a crick in myneck from the severe air conditioning. It would blas full bolt and then turn off… it kept doing this till I moved. But I kicked a fuss about it, thats when the CEO got involved. Another woman that worked there just kept massaging her neck, it affected her a lot worse than it affected me.

  17. Pingback: Success Story in the Making » How to love your job… How to be grateful.

  18. I’d say your first example has less to do with the office environment than with basic levels of trust. If you cannot trust a company not to take away your stuff to reward somebody else or even not to lie about it, no wonder 20% of staff leaves…

  19. @Maryam

    If by good lighting you mean quality lighting I could agree. The majority of my team actually prefers the lights off most of the time. A few well placed desk lamps does the trick for our preferred lighting setup.

    I can relate to the temp control too, but I have a great position on the floor I’m at so I tolerate it w/ a portable fan I use to help moderate it. :)

  20. Maryam: excellent point, that’s why I like comments so much – extra info

    Martin: I agree about the root cause, I was simply highlight bad environment al decisions

    Retro: good point, everyone has different preferences

  21. Yes, the main harmonizing feature of the work environment is … its people. The culture of your workplace. The customs, beliefs and rituals. So management must be really tuned in here. Or they’ll be counterproductive and bureaucratic.

    Geoff Dodd
    Perth W.A.

  22. what’s being researched right now is the connection between unhappy IT employees and the air quality, presence of cell phone radiation and cramped conditions.

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