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I have the RIGHT… or do you have a RESPONSIBILITY???

Posted on Apr 17, 2024 in Workplace Behaviours . 0 Comments.

Last week I was deep in a mediation when the whole WFH issue presented as a contested topic. This is something that all manner of organisations continue to grapple with. In this case Sam was claiming “I have a right to this! It’s what I need to meet my carer responsibilities”.

At the same time Sam’s manager, Jane, was complaining how “selfish” Sam was being, how Sam “has a responsibility to the rest of the team”. You can just imagine how well this was received!?!?! Sam was demanding a right they believed was enshrined in law and morality – WFH. Jane had expectations that Sam would act in a manner that demonstrated their responsibility to the team and the organisation.

It soon became apparent that this was not just a conversation about WFH (this was a symptom), it was a conversation about their differing world views, even their individual identities (this was the cause).

Put simply, a clash between what is more important: individual rights or collective responsibilities???

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Zandy and I are seeing a lot more workplace conflict in relation to this issue – individual rights v collective responsibilities (as well as WFH). They are very different world views. A responsibility based view is that your primary concern is the fulfillment of serving the collective group. As society has moved away from strong mutual obligation (self-sacrifice for the greater good) to become more individualistic and ‘person centred’, we have observed that workplace conflict is more commonly being powered by people asserting their individual right, irrespective of the broader impact and consequence. We wonder if society has hit an inflection point, a tipping point, where most people view their induvial rights as primary over their responsibilities to their work and society. Of course, in AUS we have workplace rights that have been hard fought and won and serve to protect individuals (and groups) from exploitation. This is crucial! However, this is not the source of workplace conflict we see. We are seeing increasing conflict over WFH and other issues such as being loud and proud about your social or political views. This right to talk about these issues, often leads to clash with the responsibility to maintain a positive and productive work environment for all. We are presently dealing with a number of cases (the middle east being but one example) where team cohesion is being undermined and damaged, yet it is not about the actual workplace.
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These workplace conflict issues are really about the larger view of ‘rights v responsibilities’. We have found that speaking to people about these contrasting narratives helps them gain perspective and assists in bringing a more cooperative approach to the conversation. It also assists with self-reflection, which is the no1 best seller when it comes to workplace conflict resolution.

As an aside, regarding WFH, it was only a couple of months ago that Atlassian published some detailed findings on the topic that are very interesting, especially as it relates to productivity. Have a deep dive here and here.

Need some support working through the rights v responsibility equilibrium? Please get in touch.

If this topic has interested you then check our earlier blogs:

Managing Employee Activism
They are all Lying! A Workplace Investigation Case Study