Your workplace is life. Life is your workplace.

As I’m currently transitioning to new clients in my career, I’ve been thinking about what makes a healthy workplace and my past experiences with companies and teams. Coincidentally, I was watching an episode of The Office and the executive manager decided to resolve a power struggle between two employees who wanted to be manager by saying, “I’m sure you two can sort this out among yourselves.” and left them to resolve the issue. It reminded me of how the department I worked at previously was being run and how we need a social structure to excel.

Where I worked, every so often, the manager would get a visit from one of the team members, complaining to her about what another team member was doing. She would listen, and then do nothing. There was no discussion. As a consequence, there was little talking on the team, socially, or in terms of hashing out problems. People felt the need to go to her and didn’t feel comfortable enough with their team mates to express themselves.

A vacuum of leadership

I remember when I started there, I was not welcomed by the manager. I did my consulting projects with minimal training on their work process. There were no team building exercises or outings. There was no feeling of community.

The team completed their work, but is that enough?

Stuff got done, but with the minimum of service and occasional added cost to the company. And it was done in a sterile space. It’s clear that this is because there was no communication. This hurts performance in terms of the company’s interests, but my point here is the impact on the people, which is the most important asset of the company anyway.

It’s sad when we spend most of our lives at work, more than 8 hours a day, day after day, and we often don’t connect with our co-workers. Maybe because the workplace is too rigid, but it could be because there is no framework of managing the people.

We need a social structure with a leader

Alain de Botton has observed this as well. He tells us that the same guidance in religious communities is necessary in the secular population. People need a social structure with a leader, a place to connect and share. The congregation should extend beyond church walls to many places, most of which being the workplace.

So as I review my past and future work experience, I ask, if our workplace is not a congregation of friends who can synergize for the company and socialize for our own quality of life, then it might be time to reconsider where we want to spend the rest of our lives.

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TED Talk Tuesday: David Brooks says we are social animals



Want to know…
Why men drown at twice the rate as women?
Why babies imprint strongly with their parents?
Why groups are smarter than individuals? (I know, right?!)
Why 90% of communication is nonverbal?

Brooks tells us how we try to define people without considering that they’re more than animals. They’re emotional creatures with dynamic needs:

“We sent economists in the Soviet Union with privatization plans when it broke up, and what they really lacked was social trust. We invaded Iraq with a military oblivious to the cultural and psychological realities. We had a financial regulatory regime based on the assumptions that traders were rational creatures who wouldn’t do anything stupid.”

Yes, we’re complicated. Does that mean we should stop trying to make the perfect government? One that gives us what we want, but only when we need it? No. But what we must realize is that the whole reason we are striving, for the higher paying job, the better car, the nice clothes, and the attractive body, is because we want to connect with our fellow human beings. We want to be liked.

When we retreat into the safety of a house with a big lawn and try to create blocks of time to socialize, we are losing out. Our whole lives should be that time of connection, our every day should be the emotional experience of life.

The reasonable job we take, the stability we seek, the government program we expect will fix the financial system, they don’t truly work. Life isn’t stable, and institutions will never make us happy, unless we’re happy with ourselves.

Brooks reminds us that politics has a long way to go before we can assume it will connect to your community like you can. That it can help the community like one person should help another: Face to face, asking “Are you ok?”. Brooks says we have problem with this:

“We’re really good at talking about material things, but we’re really bad at talking about emotions. We’re really good at talking about skills and safety and health; we’re really bad at talking about character.”

When there is recognition that all that you do is based on emotion and your general desires are in other people too, you will begin to see that they are no different than you. And then, only then, will we truly value our community and change it for the better.

Our hunger is unstoppable. The trick is learning how to feed it.

I walked into the grocery and picked up some food for the week. In the self-checkout, the bill rang about $13. I walked out to my 12 year old car. It started up without hesitation. I pulled onto the road and got home in 5 minutes. I made dinner and then settled in to read one of eight books I had borrowed from the public library, one of three branches that are within 5 miles of me. I thought, “I have a lot to be thankful for.” At the end of the evening, after a relaxing time reading, I realized I hadn’t finished my writing for the day and I felt bad.

Recognizing what we have is vital. Gratitude is the foundation of happiness. But what’s just as important is recognizing what we want. Our wants come from the hedonic drive to have more. Not just to have more stuff, but to have more accomplishment. It may be that the accomplishment value lasts longer than the material value, but the cycle of wanting and getting and wanting again continues either way.

The fact is, we’re here for more than a comfortable life, because we will acclimate to whatever standard of living exists in our present day society. What we’re here to do is create something valuable and connect with others who value our creation. Determining what’s valuable is up to each of us. It will lead to our purpose, and then taking action on it. Whether it’s a form of art, or being the best damn office manager ever, we will be happy as we master something.

So realize that our hunger is unstoppable. The trick is, learning how to feed it as our appetite shifts.

When are you at your happiest?

TED Talk Tuesday: Social networking isn’t so social

Sherry Turkle hits a little too close to home:

“Across the generations, I see that people can’t get enough of each other, if and only if they can have each other at a distance, in amounts they can control. I call it the Goldilocks effect: not too close, not too far, just right.”

I don’t even have a smart phone and I’m getting sucked in. The instant companion, the reassuring presence of people in my texts. They’re there, but not too close. Technology is good at providing what we want. But not what we need. Sherry describes it well:

“…I believe it’s because technology appeals to us most where we are most vulnerable. And we are vulnerable. We’re lonely, but we’re afraid of intimacy.”

Isnt it true? The prickly pear. The conversation with someone that seems like you’re peeling an artichoke to get to the goodness inside? Well, that’s ok. TV and movies has us thinking we need to have the perfect response and the right gestures, but that’s not life:

“Human relationships are rich and they’re messy and they’re demanding. And we clean them up with technology. And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We short-change ourselves. And over time, we seem to forget this, or we seem to stop caring.”

It’s time we recognize that using our smart phone isn’t so smart sometimes. It’s time we unplug. If the cell phone is making you happy, by all means, keep it up. But if it’s not…? If it’s just calling you back to the instant connection to everyone and no one, the intimacy that feels good, but doesn’t satisfy, then it’s time to listen to Sherry:

“Technology is making a bid to redefine human connection — how we care for each other, how we care for ourselves — but it’s also giving us the opportunity to affirm our values and our direction. I’m optimistic. We have everything we need to start. We have each other. And we have the greatest chance of success if we recognize our vulnerability.”