Jane* is a discreet administrative assistant who has worked for the same group leader for more than ten years. She has an administrative secretarial background, knows all the ins and outs of CERN administration very well, and has built up a strong network within the Organization. As part of an expansion of the group’s activities, Carlos*, a new administrative assistant and recent business school graduate, has joined the team. He has many ideas about doing things differently, especially more efficiently.
Wednesday, 4 July: it’s summer, the days are long, it’s warm and sunny. Marc, Kevin, Miguel, Nicolas and Thomas1, five colleagues from CERN, decide to go to the Bains des Pâquis in Geneva to relax after work. They head into town on the tram, getting off at Cornavin and continuing their journey on foot. On the way, they encounter a few young women, on their own or in groups, and try their luck with a few compliments to break the ice. When they get to the Bains, they take a table and order the obligatory fondue, washed down with a local white wine.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that respectful behaviour has beneficial effects within organisations; in practice, however, it’s sometimes difficult to make it the norm. All members of the personnel, whatever their hierarchical level or status, expect to be treated with respect in all aspects of life, and particularly when it comes to their work. It’s no secret that employees who work in a respectful environment are more cheerful, loyal, successful, cooperative and creative than those who have to deal with rudeness or bullying all day.
“The best times are when Bjorn* is absent. Only then do we get a break from having to walk on eggshells all the time.”
Bjorn is what we call an abrasive manager. Whenever his predecessor Isabella* thought that her team wasn’t at the top of its game, she analysed the situation, tried to identify the causes of the problem and discussed her ideas with the team members so that they could find solutions together. But Bjorn makes threats, shouts, humiliates, mocks, makes a fuss over nothing and throws his weight around.
An ancient book in the CERN library captivated two scientists. It told of a place at the end of the world, where the sky touched the earth and they would find the answer to all their questions. They decided to take a sabbatical to go in search of it, swearing that they would not return until they had found it.
This stereotype is often trotted out to explain the lack of equality between men and women in the world of business, but recent research completely disproves it. The differences between the sexes are actually far better explained as the result of a set of practices and habits ingrained in business culture, rather than by the differences between men and women themselves. Simply put, people react differently according to the situations they’re placed in.
It’s the beginning of May and all CERN staff members have now received the results of their performance appraisals.
Martina1 comes to see me, rather put out: “My boss has landed me with a “fair2”. I’ve had it now!” Martina’s especially disappointed because she thought she’d done a good job over the year. Of course, she knows some of her colleagues do more than her, but isn’t that a personal choice?
“My supervisor is getting angry more and more often: he loses his temper with us, shouts at us and throws things across the room,” Dimitri*, a CERN fellow, tells me.
CERN is a demanding place to work, particularly during critical periods such as technical stops: all hands are on deck, the tension rises and the expectations are huge. In addition, long-term and large-scale projects often pose strategic challenges that are sources of uncertainty and stress.
Frans started his career at CERN as an engineer in 1992, after having worked for about 10 years in industry in his home country. He’s an ordinary chap who has progressed regularly in his career and has survived several reorganisations.