Happy New Year all, time to dust off last year’s incomplete resolutions, and re-jig them for optimal use with the wisdom you gained from another year on the planet. Maybe you want to make enough money to rival Bill Gates, or be more conscience of cultivating healthier relationships with your family, friends, pets, plants or work family. Yes I said work family. Think about it, we spend a third of our lives sleeping and rejuvenating, a third of our time with family, and a third at work. Sometimes our work environment has enough emotions that the intimacy is family in nature. And, as we know, some of our families are politically dysfunctional so it is only natural that our employment interactions can be the same.
Office politics, we deal with it every day, is the basic human interactions involving power and authority in the workplace. A well-oiled operation is heavily reliant on healthy functional interactions and relationships. In her article, What I Learned About Office Politics That Changed My Career Forbes magazine, ForbesWoman, Bonnie Marcus interviewed a lot of women and asked them to describe office politics. The consensus of what office politics was, “dirty, manipulative, and evil.” They expressed their, “anger, frustration, and betrayal when ‘political animals,’ people who spent more time schmoozing than working, would rise through the ranks faster than they did.”
A toxic workplace has many ugly faces that present themselves through variations of harassment, political, intellectual, and spiritual divisions. Some pit people in the workplace against each other, and all work appears to get done through chaos production. Sometimes some people can take a high road, but as they say there’s always an astoundingly negative person in every circle. Gary Chapman, Paul White, and Harold Myra, share a story in their book, Rising above a toxic workplace: taking care of yourself in an unhealthy environment, about a friend, a teacher whose life drastically changed when a new authority figure appeared at work.
“After teaching math in the public schools for eighteen years. He [the teacher] had a stellar record of taking underachieving children and bringing them up to above average standards. He invested hours providing free tutoring to children after school. His fellow teachers admired him. All was fine until a new principal arrived and began to find fault with this teacher. His room appeared disorganized, his desk cluttered with papers. The principal gave him twenty-four hours to get his room and desk in order. He said that he had received complaints from parents about his teaching. Though when the teacher asked, “What complaints and what parents?” there was silence. Day after day the principal harassed the teacher by walking into his classroom, looking around, turning and walking out. He told the teacher on more than one occasion, ‘You do not have a future in this school.’ This teacher sat in my office expressing extreme frustration that the principal was intruding into his efforts to help the children. ‘All I ever wanted todo,’ he said, ‘is to help the children succeed in life. I have poured my life into these children and now this principal is making my life miserable.’ This emotional harassment went on for three years until the principal was transferred to another school and life for the teacher returned to normal. Fellow teachers affirmed their colleague and said, “We are so glad that you stuck it out. The children need you so desperately.“
One of the hard lessons we must journey through and learn like the teacher is that there are people who will mess with you and your place in life due to shear jealousy. They will plan and act out ways to trip a person up, stop someone from succeeding. Basically, plotting against a person and premeditating to undermine that person on different levels of hateful actions. It’s sad to believe that people will go out of their way to make other people feel as crappy as they do. This is our glass ceiling, ‘residential school syndrome,’ Junebug a work mate at that time, said to me. The glass ceiling, or syndrome creates the biggest mistakes in our work force like the principal in the story. The toxic dysfunctional work behaviour of the principal is irony, allowing ego and jealousy to invariably affect the children he was empowered to ensure were getting a good education. The uselessness of a toxic work place.
Junebug and I worked together early in my administrative career. It was a time of confusion and disarray and learning about my own grandmother and her brother and other extended family members attending residential school. The work place was very family ‘like’ and also very sensitive like, family, and it seemed that all our production was achieved through chaos production. There was a lot of superficial animosity and picking at silly details while performing our duties, but I shrugged it off not wanting to be confrontational. So I did the smartest thing I knew at that time, I stuffed it down deep into the bowels of my memories. Looking back now, if office politics is deemed bad now, then it was equal to the medieval times of dysfunctional office politics and only a decade removed from Clarence Thomas.
Essentially, I experienced something similar to the teacher with the exception that on this one particular day a fellow (soon to be former work mate) told me why she was behaving that way. We approached Junebug a respected professional on the IRS portfolio, and the work mate intrigued Junebug and I with more office gossip- that turned out to be true. Before all was done, Junebug organized a talking circle for the office and the Elder spoke about Indian Residential School syndrome and fear based living and interacting due to the traumas of IRS. Simply, it was similar to post traumatic stress syndrome, living and thinking within the confines of the fears created by these types of syndromes. Something bad must be going on. Something bad is always going to happen. Sometimes bad is happening and people trust and then get burnt. So trust is lost, then it creates a ‘too good to be true’ mentality that erroneously feeds the first fear. This is the vicious circle of a fearful life.
The Aboriginal Healing Foundation Research Series, Reclaiming Connections: Understanding Residential School Trauma Among Aboriginal People reports that abuse endured by survivors and inter-generational survivors was and is nothing short of miraculous. The reports states, “Indigenous (Aboriginal) therapists and frontline workers describe the abuse that occurred at residential schools as ritual and … defines ritualize abuse as repeated, systematic, sadistic and humiliating trauma to the physical, sexual, spiritual and/or emotional health of a person that may utilize techniques, including but not limited to, conditioning, mind control and torture.”
The Elder spoke about how these negative work conditions must end and that we are aware so we must be the ones who change this dysfunctional cycle. Everyone apologized we all hugged-smiled and went on our way with a good heart. I never did see my work place nemesis, with the hankering to be honest, again after that day of the talking circle. As a matter of fact, it was not long after that day the ED resigned, something to do with company ink and a pen.
All joking aside, these behaviours are direct causes of severe mental health issues for the employee, speaking with compassion, and major financial and litigious liabilities to the corporation. It is especially a major liability when we’re all attempting to put our best efforts towards making our communities healthier.
If you consider yourself as a person of awareness, then another person’s discomfort would be noticeable. So, it is my opinion that it is the obligation of the aware to have openness toward internal and external feelings and the unseeing divine understanding of why discomfort exists. Ultimately, acknowledging, understanding and rectifying the toxic behaviour and purging the negativity from the work environment. It will inspire passionate corporate culture where people feel and know their valued purpose, which is then an increased enthusiasm that transfers to the clients and creating mutually beneficial bottom line.