Nancy in accounting has a degree in Losing Paperwork.
She doesn't really intend to misplace every expense report you turn in. There's just this sense that, instead of expecting a reimbursement check in about 30 days as it states on the form, it will probably arrive in two months. Or never. Or after the holiday break.
What's the right reaction here?
For most office workers, you step up to the podium, spin a dial, press a big button, and say "ding ding ding" and play the blame game. Nancy is not doing her job. You are not getting reimbursed for that trip to Toledo. The world is an eternal abyss of sadness and despair.
Well, not really.
The blame game at work is a fruitless effort. It creates an environment of stress and anxiety, both for you and the object of your scorn. Worse, it causes problems in productivity because you are spending so much energy blaming people instead of coming up with solutions.
When I wrote about stress being a bad way to control work situations, I never imagined the response would be so intense (and specific). It's odd when people don't just write in to say they can relate to a topic and instead spill their guts about whatever is eating away at their mental state. I believe the blame game is equally troubling to people. There's something about blame that makes us all feel miserable. It leads to pride and arrogance -- everyone else is a schmuck! -- and creates hostility within a team. No one can ever measure up to your high standards.
Have you been the victim in the blame game? It's stressful because you never know who is going to start pointing fingers and suggesting, in a not-so-subtle way, that you are the reason the company profits are plummeting or everyone is so ticked off constantly. We seem to have two primary reactions when a glitch occurs at work: We get stressed and we blame. It's a process that always involves finding a victim.
Do you know anyone who doesn't play the blame game? I bet that person tends to be all about action. That's because blame is a redirection. Instead of solving a problem, you just condemn. But those who don't have any desire to blame others just figure out how to make things work. They don't redirect anything. They jump in and find a resolution.
I'm going to get personal here. I'm guilty of blaming. The Internet is not working, so someone must be hogging the bandwidth. I want to find that person and tell them to get off of Netflix. Instead of just firing up a hotspot on my phone and finishing my work, I hunt around trying to find the offender...and then offend them. "You do know I'm trying to get work done, right? You know I have a job to do?" I say this an accusatory tone. It doesn't help me win any friends. It also doesn't help me get anything done.
What if everyone just decided to stop playing the game and just came up with workarounds? Yes, there are times when the solution is to fire Nancy. In my experience, when you feel the urge to blame someone at work, it's probably better to just fix the issue. Did Ted in marketing cause that paper jam in the copier? Does he always do that? OK, but the goal is not to make Ted feel miserable-it's to make a few copies. Or, is the coffee burnt again? Mary did that, right? But maybe you now have a great reason to take a trip to Caribou. Most of the people who play the blame game are just taking out their frustrations on other people. Most of the time, it's a trivial problem. The people who don't play this game are getting work done, they have friends at work, and they are happy.
Let's break the cycle. When the urge to blame arises, choose to live without a finger-pointing attitude. Take the responsibility. Then, let me know if creates a better work environment.