Any large workplace will have policy documents that cover everything from who cleans the kitchen to what you're allowed to look at online. However, surviving (let alone thriving) in the job requires knowledge of the rules that aren't written down.
Picture by goincase
Cultural theorist and conference presenter Steve Simpson developed the concept of unwritten ground rules, or UGRs, to cover the undocumented rules that tend to develop in workplaces. Simpson (who was a guest presenter at this week's Gartner Security Summit in Sydney) suggests that these UGRs can usually be expressed in the form of sentences beginning with the phrase "Around here". Typical examples include:
- "Around here, no-one leaves the office until the boss does."
- "Around here, it isn't worth complaining at our meetings because nothing will get done anywhere."
- "Around here, the only time anyone gets spoken to by the boss is when something goes wrong."
- "Around here, customers are a pain in the rear."
While many of the attitudes expressed in UGRs might seem undesirable, identifying them is a useful strategy. If you want to change them, you need to know what they are. If you're not in a position to change them, at least you can work around them.
But how do you go about identifying the UGRs when you take on a new job? Simpson offers some useful suggestions. Non-work settings such as visits to the pub can help reveal details, but your colleagues may be wary of sharing those ideas initially, especially since UGRs often run contrary to "good" corporate behaviour. Conversely, they may not realise which UGRs are actually in place.
Observing behaviour on the job is useful, Simpson said. "Meetings are a really good litmus test. Is the meeting one way information dissemination, or do people actually contribute? And what is said immediately after the meeting?"
Time-keeping is another area where UGRs can readily be identified. "See if a 10am meeting starts on time," Simpson said. "And note the reactions: If you arrive at 10am, does that demonstrate you're not busy enough? In the same way, if it's officially a 5pm finish but everyone is still there at 630, is the first person to leave at 20 to 7 frowned upon?"
What UGRs are in place at your workplace, and how do you deal with them? Offer them your insights in the comments.