Kathleen Paris, on how to create a healthy workplace - SmartBrief

All Articles Leadership Inspiration Kathleen Paris, on how to create a healthy workplace

Kathleen Paris, on how to create a healthy workplace

4 min read


Kathleen A. Paris is the author of “Staying Healthy in Sick Organizations: The Clover Practice.” Miri McDonald, an expert on organizational development, recently spoke with Kathleen about the principles behind the book. An edited transcript of their conversation follows. Read more of Miri’s interview with Kathleen on her blog.

What inspired you to write the book?

You can’t go into the grocery store, stand in line at the water park, or sit in a coffee shop without hearing people talking about work. I have been eavesdropping on these conversations for years, looking for patterns and unfortunately, they are all too similar. People of all ages across industries talk about poor or no communication, being treated disrespectfully, managers whose behavior defies rationality, and on and on. It finally hit me that we have a pervasive pattern of misery and disengagement at work. But I know from my own experience with clients and past employers that it doesn’t have to be that way.

I wrote “Staying Healthy in Sick Organizations” to capture those things that have always worked when I work with organizations on change management, strategic planning, and process improvement. My intention is to give people hope, encouragement, and some tools for doing their work with less stress.

Talk about the Clover Practice and how you determined the three factors for staying healthy at work.

The Clover Practice is based on three factors or “leaves” of the clover. The first leaf is to “Tell the truth, always, ” the second is “Speak for yourself” and the third leaf is “Declare your interdependence.”

  • Tell the truth, always. Authenticity and truthfulness are the only ways to create and maintain a trusting relationship within a workplace.
  • Speak for yourself. I learned that people can be asked to change their behavior, but it’s very hard to recover from being labeled unprofessional, careless, irresponsible or clueless. As such, when giving or receiving feedback, it’s essential to use concrete facts related to the situation instead of attacking the individual.
  • Declare your interdependence. This is a hard sell in a country that celebrates our independence every fourth of July, but the reality is that within an organization, we are very interdependent on others to get our work done. Communicate more, involve people in changes and decisions, and say thank you many more times and many more ways than we usually do.

In your experience, what are the key issues at play in sick organizations?

  • Patriarchy, hierarchy and control. A deeply entrenched thought-pattern from the Middle Ages that patriarchy, hierarchy, and control is the best model for getting good work done even though this model is irrelevant in a knowledge economy. (Frederick Taylor continues to cause harm.)
  • Inadequate managerial and leadership skills and motives. We give people management responsibilities with too little training, support, and coaching. Management is a very specialized and difficult role, not a class of people nor, as Peter Block puts it, a crown.
  • Willingness to maintain illusions. Healthy organizations don’t want and don’t support illusions or and magical thinking. The sicker an organization is, the more likely it will be to maintain illusions like, “We won’t tell people how bad things are financially so they won’t be worried, upset, and less productive.”

Aside from leaving, what is your advice for people working in sick or toxic organizations?

  • Take control. You can control what you say, how you say it, who you talk to, when you speak up.
  • Create an island of sanity. Make your desk a “No Gossip Zone”  and refuse to take part in mobbing or workplace bullying. You will create a field of safety and clarity that will draw people to you and help you avoid needless conflicts.
  • Clarify goals. Get really clear on what your goals are and what you want and need out of your job.
  • Consider a transfer to another department. Even in this economy, don’t desert yourself. If your job is making you ill, work on getting transferred to another part of your organization. Cultures can be worlds different in the same building.
  • Network. Get your personal network up and running by volunteering and getting active in professional associations.
  • Get Smart. Take courses or training so you will be ready when opportunities appear.

Image credit, ziggymaj, via iStock