8 Workplace Practices That Scare Me

In the past, I have shared a list of things that have scared the devil out of me. In that same spirit, I offer the following list of practices that still persist in the workplace, even though employees find them cringe-worthy and their effects downright gruesome.

  1. The performance review process. Some large companies have announced lately that they are doing away with the annual performance appraisal process. While I commend them, I also suggest looking more closely, as some may only be tweaking a failed process. The identification of behaviors that need improvement should be for the purpose of helping the performer to do better. This will only work when coaches (i.e., leaders or managers) position themselves as a positive reinforcer, whereby their primary role is to help performers improve their performance. 
  2. Measurement for measurement sake. Computer software allows businesses to measure almost everything. But just because you can measure something doesn’t mean you should. Measurement that does not lead to positive reinforcement for the one being measured is a waste of time.
  3. Labeling or categorizing employees or employee groups. While I’m not a millennial, I sure understand how they feel. Too many people think that old (category, label) people can’t function as well as young (label) people. While it is difficult to talk or think without labeling in the workplace, in truth it is inefficient and ineffective. Stick to pinpointing the behaviors and results you need from an employee and helping them to achieve results.
  4. Companywide bans on remote workers. Best Buy, Yahoo and others have made headlines for banning employees from working from home.Across-the-board decisions rarely solve the problems they intend to fix. And managers who know a thing or two about behavior know that positive reinforcement is what is needed for improved performance, no matter where employees do their work. 
  5. Results-only environments. Companies and organizations typically run into trouble when they push results but don’t consider the behaviors that get them those results. If unreasonably high levels of performance are demanded, you can bet some people will lie, cheat and steal, especially if the alternative is getting fired. Bottom line: Pinpoint and reinforce behaviors and celebrate successes.
  6. Money and performance. It drives me crazy that there are execs who still think money is a reinforcer for everyone and that salary increases equal better performance (i.e., Gravity Payments’ CEO announcing a minimum salary for everyone in the company of $70,000).
  7. Execs that miss the mark on human behavior. As the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos is certainly a smart man who gets many things right. But the science of behavior doesn’t seem to be one of them. There is plenty of public information that indicates the company is managed by a heavy dose of negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement will only get you so much, and to experience continued growth, innovation and productivity, companies need a culture with positive reinforcement at its core. When a company has a negative reinforcement culture, employees will not deliver above and beyond performance, and they certainly won’t tell the boss when there are morale problems.
  8. People who accept the latest “scientific finding” when it has not been replicated or proven. In today’s fast-changing world, people respond uncritically to the latest finding, particularly in the area of human behavior or when it frequently uses the word scientific or neuro- anything. Few people look critically at the research methods and conclusions made by the authors. Recent references to papers — such as “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”by John P. A. Ioannidis and “Making It All Up”by Andrew Ferguson — show that a very large number of experiments published in journals cannot be replicated. Before adopting the latest, greatest finding or accepting it as fact, make sure it is real so that you have a chance of getting the results the research claims you will get.