Organizations understand group dynamics and the grapevine. It is natural that there is someone in a group who is popular and the ‘go-to person’ when someone is stressed, unsettled or disturbed. Such Agony aunts or uncles are there in every organization. You see them in action when salary hike letters are given, big bosses visit an office, annual events happen, team meetings take place, business reviews are held and so on. I have noticed, many HR teams do not have clear norms to deal with such dynamic situations at their workplace.
Who is the Agony Aunt or Agony Uncle?
As I think about such characters at various workplaces, I see a few common factors in them. They are often good listeners; take interest in the others and tend to go out of their way to help people especially when the other person is in an emotional trough and goes through a dilemma. Also, I find that they tend to apply coats of their own perception on the person’s mind in liberal quantities. They fancy themselves as counsellors and mediators. It is often that they play roles involving multiple stakeholders.
Agony Aunt influences the workplace culture
Nobody can wish away the dynamic behaviours of people in a group. Grapevine and small talks are part and parcel of organizational life. People who tend to take interest in the others, listen well and love socializing are likely to have an influence over the thoughts and action of the others. Hence, popular belief can be shaped by these influencers. When most of these people fan a similar kind of idea within the firm, it turns into a widely held belief and hence, the culture. For example, an organization growing fast could have leaders on the top who push for higher levels of performance, set ambitious targets, demonstrate stretch in everything that they do. In such a case, many employees, especially in junior levels might not relate to the overall purpose and the speed; hence, could feel the stress each day. Agony uncles and aunts listen to these signals; they drive an opinion amongst the distressed. If they see the larger picture and relate to it, the people think that organization is going through growth pangs and start relating to the larger purpose. Else, a message goes around that the leaders are inhuman, irrational, slave-drivers, away from reality sitting in some ivory tower. Wide-ranging possibilities!
The leaders need to find ways of establishing a positive culture.
Ignore her at your own peril!
It is important that leaders communicate often to the organization and encourage two-way interaction. With the advent of multiple methods of communication, multi-way dialoguing is easy. In the absence of this, pent-up emotions, unclarities and questions stay in the minds of people. And subsequently, these get vented to the Agony aunt or uncle who the leaders in the company cannot manage directly. The role of an Agony aunt is a reality; and, it is not easy to control the informal channels of communication. So, proactive communication from the leaders is a must.
Secondly, the managers at different levels in the organization need to demonstrate adequate leadership skills in their day-to-day interactions with their team members, other people within the organization as well as external stakeholders. Their behaviours speak a lot about how the organization lives its life – deals with its own employees, customers, vendors, partners, media and government. The purpose and mission of the firm comes to light through its behaviours – the way they work transparently, ethically and fairly; the way they balance interests of multiple stakeholders. So, it’s a lot about the consistency with which leadership behaviours are demonstrated.
Agony aunt or uncle is a reality in every group. The leaders hold the key with them to limit its potential negatives and leverage its potential positives!