THE PECKING ORDER - Edinburgh Evening News, Recruitment Section
IT’S not surprising that the overall nature of relationships in the workplace is often described in terms of a pecking order. Watching chickens has helped experts to understand human
motivations and interactions. That’s doubtless why so many words and phrases in
common parlance are redolent of the hen yard: “pecking order,” “cockiness,”
“ruffling someone’s feathers,” “taking somebody under your wing,” “getting in a
flap,” coming home to roost,” just to mention some.
While there is rarely an official pecking order within a work team of peers, when someone gets promoted, the whole dynamic can change. Once good relationships may be disrupted and overall levels of productivity can contract alarmingly as a result. High staff morale
levels may be dangerously reduced.
Every situation is unique. If the newly promoted person is moved to a different department, the outcomes are more easily managed. If he or she suddenly becomes team leader rather than peer within the same group, it’s more difficult.
Ashlie Turner is Director of Edinburgh-based Magenta HR and is a highly experienced personnel manager who advises companies on HR strategy and a range of associated issues, including guidance on people management in the workforce.
She believes the newly promoted individual may be inclined to over-assert their authority: “Especially in a short-term situation, such as maternity cover, there’s a likelihood that those
who are over-focused on their own self-reward, on winning all the praise, are
most likely to have a problem.
“I find it very interesting that the psychology of those who are most successful are those who are not looking for that but are looking at the team spirit. If the team is successful and is
rewarded for that, then of course that reflects on the success of the team leader as a manager. That allows you to maintain those relationships without losing the respect of your team members.
“For those who want to own all the ideas and take the praise themselves, the situation will be much more tense. Your former colleagues probably won’t respect you in your new role and may well resent your input into critical areas like performance reports.”
A lot of tension can come from a highly competitive environment where several people in the same team have applied for the promotion and just one is successful. The net result may well
be that the successful individual feels forced to leave the company or in a larger organisation, seeks a transfer.
According to Edinburgh-based relationship counsellor, Barbara Matheson, the best way to avoid this kind of conflict is to be empathetic: “Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. How would you feel? A lot of the issue lies around fear of change. People are afraid that you’re
going to change in the new job. My advice is to have a conversation with each person on the team explaining that you’re still the same person but in a new role with new responsibilities.
“You need to explain what that new position means and establish it with each person – what do you expect from them and what they can expect from you. People will respect you for that
transparency. It’s a kind of ‘contracting,’ so that the ground rules are clear on both sides.”
The risks, Matheson believes, come with newly promoted personnel who fail to address the change with colleagues: “A lot of the coaching I do is around relationships with people in the
workplace and the resentments, often unspoken, that can build up and fester. You need to pre-empt, to take the initiative. Don’t allow people to sit around worrying about how things will change. Explain it from the start.”
It is important not to be put off seeking promotion out of nervousness over colleagues’ reaction, says Ashlie Turner: “I think it’s about thinking long-term. Things will work out and you will establish yourself in your new role. You may not be there that long and be in a transition stage but if you don’t go for it, you may have missed an important opportunity. Go with the flow in the meantime.”
Interestingly, this seems to be a aspect of working life that women find more difficult than men to deal with. Perhaps because, speaking generally, men don’t tend to have as intense personal relationships with work colleagues as women do.
“If you’re accustomed to going off for lunch with your colleagues every Friday and suddenly you’re excluded because you’re now the boss, then that can be very difficult. Men seem to take that more in their stride as an inevitable part of working life where we women are more inclined to take it personally. While the girls bank up resentment, the guys seem to be more likely to try and tackle the problem.”
MAGGIE STANFIELD Pub. 13 October 2011