Picking up the workplace litter

We all want to work in better workplaces. Even people who have checked out, who have no connection to their work beyond their paycheck, could come up with ways their work environment could improve, or could get worse.

We all want it, but not all of us believe it can happen, and many of us don’t feel it’s our responsibility. And so it reminds me of how people approach the environment. As we head into spring here in New England, my mind shifts to the outdoors, and I can’t help but map the behaviors I see outdoors to the behaviors in the workplace.

One of my hobbies is fishing, and you can’t fish without occasionally bumping into other fishermen (even though solitude is one of the reasons I fish). Some anglers are careful; everything they bring out comes back with them.  Some go a step further; they collect the litter they see around the shoreline when they fish. And then there are the ones who give us all a bad name. They leave a six-pack’s worth of empty beer cans near the discarded fishing line they couldn’t be bothered to shove in their pockets as they left.

That last group of people has a clear negative effect on the environment. They make the world worse for others, not as an unfortunate but necessary side effect of their own existence, but strictly to fuel their laziness. I’ve tried for years to understand the mindset of these people, and while I still can’t be sure, I think it boils down to one of two things. They either feel like the world is so ugly that it doesn’t matter if they make it uglier, or they’re actually blind to the impact of their actions.

So let’s take it back to the workplace. There are certainly those who leave a wake of suffering and toxic culture behind them, who are either blind to the damage they do or who feel like everything sucks and there’s no reason to care. But most people are happy to have no impact on the culture, to quietly either suffer in silence or enjoy the results without making much a difference the other way. And there are those who head into the office each morning wondering what steps they can take to make it better, who go out of their way to recognize the effort put in by employees whose direct management doesn’t seem to believe in recognition, for example.

Not everyone is an environmentalist, when it comes to the “real world” or the office. Not everyone cares enough to evangelize, to sacrifice their own convenience, to really work hard to improve something which may not ever improve, regardless of their efforts. But even if it’s not your passion, your immediate surroundings should always be your concern. Taking it back to the environment, there’s no excuse for littering, even if you aren’t going to pick up other people’s trash.  And, to be fair, if nobody was littering, we’d be starting on the hard problems from a much better place. Let’s at least try to improve our workplace culture in the same way.