Companies spend an extraordinary amount of time and money trying to keep employees happy. They send out engagement surveys. They haul in new office furniture. They bake cakes to celebrate work anniversaries. And they are completely puzzled when employees still leave the company.
If you are HR leader or team manager you may be reading this and thinking, “Yes! But what can I do?” And we’re sorry, but this article for your employees. The ones who take the surveys, sit on the new office chairs and eat the cake – but are still completely miserable.
We get it. We escaped our jobs after working for more than 20 years in our fair share of dysfunctional workplaces. And now that we’ve put a little time and distance between us and our former careers, we can attribute our misery to one destructive, globally pervasive problem: workplace B.S.
This B.S. is everywhere. It winds you up and grinds you down. And left untreated, it can make great employees – like you – leave otherwise good companies.
So, think of this as a public service announcement: four specific types of misery-inducing workplace B.S. explained. How to spot them. How to avoid them. And how to be truly happier in your job every day (not just when you get free cake). You deserve it.
The manager doesn’t trust employees to do the simplest tasks and considers any side-conversation or work break to be a mortal sin against the corporation.
What it looks like: You have to record your whereabouts on a cubicle whiteboard. Your manager insists you cc: her on every email. The office has short (or no) cube walls, so the boss can easily eyeball anyone who might not be nose-to-the-grindstone from dawn ’til dusk.
How to deal: Play by each and every rule, or you’ll be branded a troublemaker. Use a restroom on a different floor – because your manager *will* check under the stall door for your shoes and not be shy about holding meetings with you while you’re indisposed. And get that resume updated.
2. Warring Kingdoms
Teamwork, goals and reporting relationships are undermined by a complex game of shifting allegiances, brutal backstabbing and office empire-building that makes Game of Thrones look like a kids’ show.
What it looks like: You’re encouraged to leave certain teams or leaders “out of the loop.” You’re reprimanded for having even innocuous conversations with the “wrong” people. The boss assigns you increasingly shady tasks like covertly keeping track of other leaders’ activities or voting against other teams’ perfectly good ideas.
How to deal: This is a dangerous game, my friend. The swirl of office politics can be exhausting and unproductive – sucking up much more energy than it’s worth and harming your reputation and job prospects in the process.
Steer clear of the battles. Don’t fraternize with those the kings deem as the enemy. And work in the cafeteria with your headphones on, so you can’t hear the screams of the villagers caught in the fray.
3. The Emperor’s Clothing Store
A new leader arrives with impressive credentials and heroic tales of previous workplace successes – then quickly proves himself incapable of managing the basics.
What it looks like: The new boss throws around terms like innovation, “step change” and “journey management.” He eliminates activities he doesn’t understand, and gives you vague direction on his directionally vague vision. He flip-flops on important issues, chalking it up to “managerial agility.”
How to deal: Be a good corporate soldier – emperors don’t appreciate candor, unless you’re telling them how awesomely awesome they are.
Gently steer them toward work that will be successful, knowing full well they’ll take the credit. Then kick your network into gear: Schedule coffee chats with people who work in departments or companies that have leaders you can respect.
4. Forced Fun
The leadership team intends to make you happy – whether you like it or not.
What it looks like: Eye-rolling icebreaker exercises kick off every meeting (e.g, “If you were sea mammal, what sea mammal would you be?”). Attendance is tracked at “optional” happy hours. Mandatory fun activities, like 2-minute afternoon dance parties, are rammed down your throat.
How to deal: Smile and fly under the radar. Grin through the icebreakers, make brief appearances at the unhappy hours, and schedule meetings during the dance-a-thon. Then find your real work friends and schedule an off-the-radar happy hour where you can vent.