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Dear Workforce Should We Ban Use of the Term ‘Staff’

Dear Splitting Hairs:

The real issue for you is one of perception. You have a problem if people are offended at how the word is used. The actual definition of “staff” may not be insulting, but if people perceive it as such, you need to tell people not to use it–and more important, why they should not use it.

Many of the best-run companies, while eschewing a command-and-control environment, nevertheless establish some form of hierarchy for decision-making and individual accountability. The extent to which they do this often is a matter of degrees and based on what works best in running the business.

Seldom is it an all-or nothing proposition. As with all organizational change, promoting a culture of inclusiveness and teamwork may take some time to establish. Your people may simply be using the word “staff” to describe a situation in which some employees currently play subordinate roles.

The only way to know whether you have a serious problem is to evaluate yourcorporate culture. Putting aside concerns about the word “staff,” consider whether your people are acting and working as a team. Here are some key questions to ask:

  • Is there an “us vs. them” mentality at play?
  • How does work get done?
  • Are people buying into the concept of teamwork?
  • Do they understand the business reasons behind the organization’s emphasis on teams?
  • Do they understand how to reorganize their work so that becomes a team effort?
  • Do people of influence in the organization embody the team spirit?

How a company assesses this depends on the size of the organization. The evaluation may involve talking to and observing people at work. It may also involve focus groups and employee surveys.

In sum, resistance to using a particular word may be symptomatic of a bigger issue … or it may not. Unless the word is being used in a destructive fashion, don’t jump to conclusions. Instead, take your time to investigate, learn, change and communicate your vision for a team-based organization.

SOURCE: Traci McCready, Capital H Group, Houston, August 3, 2005.

LEARN MORE: Measure the efficiency of your workplace teams.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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