Workplace relations ... stuck in another era?

Workplace relations ... stuck in another era? Photo: Andrew Quilty

Incompetence, arrogance, ruthlessness and selfishness. These are just a few of the particularly vile attributes that are rife in Australian workplaces, if Fairfax readers are on the money.

Yesterday we published a story titled the seven deadly career sins (adding spinelessness, laggardness and drunkenness to the above) that detailed attributes we believe would and should stifle career progression in any progressive workplace in this country.

The story was popular throughout the day, clearly striking a chord with Executive Style readers – albeit not one we expected.

Via the comments channel we received a scathing response, with the vast majority offering first-hand tales of how these exact attributes are not only present in their workplace but, in the words of many, were the only way to climb the corporate ladder.

“I don't know in which universe the above attributes are a career problem, but I'd like to live there. My experience in the corporate world suggests to me that this article is merely wishful thinking,” wrote FjordBlue.

Added Morris Davidson: “In my thirty plus years in the corporate world I have seen countless examples where selfishness, blame diversion, taking credit for others achievements, bullying, ruthlessness and sucking up to boss have been great career moves.”

Fat Cat: “As an ex-CEO and Board Chair I can assure you that the upper echelons of the corporate world is riddled with people displaying those character traits. In fact I would say it is almost a pre-requisite.”

Gnomic: “Every one of the qualities identified in this article I have found rewarded in my last workplace, in addition to sycophancy, stealing other people's work, bullying, deceit and generally being a toad.”

And on and on it went. Even human resources departments – the supposed buffer zone between management and shop-floor employees – came in for scathing commentary.

“Don't ever think Human Resources are there for anyone else but the boss and to help the company run 'smoothly',” wrote Exit. “You will be a naive employee that thinks HR will ever go in to bat for you or really support you, but they will smile politely as they discuss your career options and help to show you the door.”

Comment threads are far from scientific in terms of being a representative sampling of the broader cross section of the community, typically acting as a lightning rod for those with an axe to grind.

But you'd have to agree that it makes for fairly depressing reading, and hardly the stuff to enthuse a new generation of secondary and university graduates as they contemplate the jump into the working world.

The general tone of the Fairfax commentariat was a far, far cry from the inclusive, supportive and nurturing outward face that many large corporations like to champion.

So what's going wrong in our workplaces? Is it really true that deceit, arrogance and self-interest trump skill and experience when it comes to career advancement? Are companies walking the talk when it comes to implementing inclusive and nurturing workplace cultures, or is the rhetoric worth little more than the paper it's written on?

Tell us about your workplace culture in the comments below. Please do not name companies or identify individuals.