Paul Butler | Workplace Culture

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile

Are you a thermometer or a thermostat at work? Let me rephrase: Do you only observe a workplace culture, or do you influence and adjust it? 

Certainly, just as a thermometer measures the temperature in a room, a thermostat actively changes it. A thermometer is affected by the room’s temperature, while a thermostat can adjust and regulate it based on its programming. 

This concept intrigues me when I think about people in the workplace. Like you, I’m sure, I’ve encountered both thermometers and thermostats among my colleagues.  

Negative individuals often have a very keen sense of a bad workplace culture – they can accurately gauge the temperature, so to speak. Typically, it feels cold to them yet they only manage to make it colder. These people often act like it’s someone else’s responsibility to raise the temperature, constantly pointing fingers and forgetting that when they do, one finger may point outward while the rest point back at themselves. Their criticism makes it even colder. 

This lack of personal responsibility and accountability is evident in various workplaces. For instance, I recently attended a business dinner where a politician spent most of his speech complaining and joking about those in power in his home state.   

One could say he’s an accurate thermometer, or one could conclude he’s been an out-of-order thermostat for far too long. Though elected to influence the temperature for his customers (constituents), he seems to have made little effort to do so. I found his record over the last 20 years as unimpressive as those individuals in real workplaces who complain without contributing positively.  Could he really not have achieved anything other than be comped at very expensive dinners, just pointing fingers while laughing at others?  

One of the best thermostats I ever worked with was Gordon. He was a breath of fresh air in our worldwide headquarters, where I collaborated with him in an international hotel company. Gordon was consistently positive, efficient in his work, and never complained about his workload, despite carrying a substantial amount on his shoulders. In meetings, he was punctual and had a reputation for following through on commitments made at the boardroom table, unlike some who wasted hours while someone else took minutes. 

Yes, Gordon was undoubtedly a thermostat – he illuminated the room, and we all felt better in his presence. Gordon adhered to high principles, never working on weekends, holding his family in the highest regard, investing in his exercise routine, and speaking fondly of his Sunday mornings at a sacred place in his village where bells had tolled for generations before him. When he brought this centeredness and calmness to us on Monday mornings, the thermostat within him warmed us all. 

What I find most disheartening is when certain individuals join a lukewarm culture. Not only are they merely thermometers, reading the low temperature in the room, but over time, they exacerbate the situation by bringing the temperature even lower. Their gossip, laziness, and lack of personal responsibility decrease energy levels by a few degrees. They may have thought they were building rapport by being as negative as others, but in reality, they lower customer satisfaction scores, increase expenses, and cause sales to decline.  

Thermometers that also act as coolants are always on the lookout for a new job, either due to layoffs or the risk thereof. 

So, consider this: Whether you’re an employee, an entrepreneur, a volunteer, a friend, a family member, or even a politician – are you a thermometer or a thermostat? I am certain that our world needs many more thermostats. I believe our workplaces, in particular, will always benefit from individual thermostats like Gordon. 

One of the wonderful attributes of humans is that our future doesn’t have to be the same as our past. We have freedom of choice to change the present. Yes, it’s useful to know how to read the temperature, but today would be a great day to warm up others. It gets really cold sometimes in this world, especially at work.  

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]. 

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