I’ve just caught up with A Handmaid’s Tale, I’m late to the party but I’ve been binge watching because it’s so bloody compelling I can’t move my eyes away from it for long. It has been a great teacher for me.
Not just because I see the signs that certain places are already heading potentially in the wrong direction, towards a Gilead type state (although that’s not what this is about) but because it reminded me of the day to day repressions we already experience – at our OWN HANDS.
There are two types of workplace repression that I have been thinking about. The ones we impose upon ourselves because we fear what will happen if we step out of line, because let’s face it the majority of us have a lot to lose by not continuing the repressive state (even though actually your employer would LOVE it if you were less repressed and more of a misfit), and the ones that are imposed upon us by the workplace ‘code of conduct’ (which of course doesn’t actually exist, we all just comply with its unspoken rules), because your employer values profits over people.
The repression we impose upon ourselves is the tendency to hold back on our suggestions, our genuine questions (that may appear stupid or too controversial) our ideas or our passionate rhetoric that could make millions if anyone ever took notice of it. We worry about what people will think, we stop ourselves from true expression.
We wear the same type of clothes as everyone else in the company, we speak the same way, we start using language that fits in with the culture even if it would make us sound like a wanker in any other context. We become a repressed version of ourselves in order to ensure our financial safety.
But there is a cost to this, one that for the most part probably costs a lot more than you earn. The price we pay is disillusionment, Depression, mental health, physical health, the Sunday night blues, the late night working for no extra pay, the life we miss out on with people we love and want to be around, in order to work.
We pay this price because it is totally normal to do so, because to not do so makes you a lazy arse in the eyes of society, it makes you a slacker, a dreamer, a misfit etc. We choose repression over living because it’s pretty hard work to do otherwise and we like an easy life.
But there are companies waking up to a different way of doing things, who are recognising that repression is killing their business in more ways than one. We’ll explore them and what they do that is startlingly different and profitable in a future instalment of this series.
For now, let’s stay with what the vast majority of the employed population experience.
We walk out of our houses in the morning, perhaps having been up all night with a sick child, or rebooting our connection with our social life having been at a concert, or just enjoying a night of passion, whatever.
We start our weary commute to the office (where our working pattern can be observed and monitored, even though mostly we don’t actually need to be at the office and would be less distracted with pointless meetings and endless clock watching if we were working from a place we actually enjoy being in).
We walk through the door to our place of work and suddenly we are no longer us, we are ‘work’ us. A small slither of the whole of who we are, that we have to act within the tight boundaries of for eight or more hours straight.
Sometimes, admittedly, it is a blessed relief to be able to be the ‘work’ us. Especially if we hold status and influence or respect at work that we don’t feel we have in other areas of our lives. However, for those who have no need for work to fulfil those aspects of ourselves or who feel that they don’t have any status or respect or influence, this role can be restrictive as hell.
Often we act like a completely different person at work…We hold our tongue in meetings over our superiors ideas or behaviour and then go home and slag them off, we allow our bosses and our employers and our clients to hold us to ransom over our behaviour even though we dare not hold them to ransom over theirs. Sit here, do this, speak in this way to clients, speak in that way to your colleagues, don’t be too happy, too sad, don’t speak out on behalf of someone else, don’t be too nice, but be REALLY nice to clients, don’t be too aggressive, but be aggressive enough to close the sale, or get the discount or hammer our competition into oblivion etc.
This wasn’t the case when we were younger, where schools have advanced, the workplace, for the most part, has not.
In schools now (perhaps not your experience when you were at school), children are encouraged to give their opinions (even though they are still challenged on their opinions and asked to consider other viewpoints), to share their lives and achievements outside of school life, to have a collective voice (or at least the illusion of it) through School Council etc. They have School Counsellors, support for learning difficulties, a clear progression and programmes that support their emotional wellbeing and physical wellbeing.
Then they go into the workplace and find that most of this disappears. Yet we often pigeonhole Millennials as whiny or work shy or overly virtuous, whereas the truth is that they have been raised within a school system that has a totally different set of values and expectations – mainly ones that we can learn from.
There is no longer any support if you are having difficulties at home, if you are struggling emotionally or mentally, if you are Dyslexic or your health is not good – these people are filtered out as much as possible from the job pool as if they have nothing to offer. There is no encouragement for your outside activities, for your interests and passions.
There is no physical exercise that you are given time to take, there is no lunch period when you get to go outside and see your mates for a while.
There is no understanding that you need to keep your relationship alive by actually seeing your partner or being awake enough in the evenings to spend quality time with them, or that your children might need you more than the job role needs that ‘extra hour’.
Seems that we only offer these vital things to children (the ones we don’t have much time with). By the time you become an adult that’s all just in the past. No one cares about that anymore, you are paid to do a job and that’s all anyone is interested in you doing.
Trouble is, and many companies are now realising this, is that by taking away all the aspects that make you human and interesting and energetic and healthy enough to work (both mentally and physically) they are effectively shooting themselves in the foot. They are not making the most of their most valuable assets, seeing them instead as replaceable commodities.
For the most part, in my experience, this is not the case with those who are truly at the top, generally, they are the people who truly understand how important this is. It is usually the Middle Managers and management teams who are not business owners, entrepreneurs or visionaries, they are the bigger earners (compared to their subordinates) who delight in their status and have got a bit ‘power hungry’.
Lots, of course, are not like this at all, but when you find the problematic ‘tier’ within a company, it’s generally this tier that is the most difficult and opposed to change. They have the most to lose in terms of finances and power.
Not that regulating your behaviour is a bad thing, it’s not. But let’s face it, most of us have spent our whole lives regulating our behaviour so there are very few people (dangerous though they are) who are going to turn into an uncontrolled nightmare the moment they are given back the right to control their own working patterns or to have some time to do the things they love or see their families.
But having your behaviour regulated by fear of what may happen if you act outside of the accepted boundaries of behaviour – even when it comes to things like asking a completely valid question, is not helpful for anyone.