If we were having coffee, I would take out our chocolaty brown retro coffee set, bought at a second-hand store years ago. I would set the dining room table, and brew the last of the smooth 100 % Hawaii peaberry Kona coffee that I still have stored away in the cupboard. Only for special occasions, just like this one, a calm and confidential moment for me to pour my heart out to you.
I need to talk about troubled atmospheres in the work place, tantamount to toxicity. I always pictured my ideal working environment as a community of experts, pursuing the same, shared goals. Openness, transparency, fairness, equality and validation and appreciation of everybody’s work effort were values that I used to take for granted. Helping a colleague in need, collaborating constructively, sorting out problems as a team, collegiality and solidarity were its driving forces. All for one, and one for all, for the good of everybody in the community. In such an environment, improving what doesn’t seem to work comes naturally, and everybody is involved in and committed to making things better together. In such an environment, everybody thrives and has the chance to become their best selves. Sadly, I now feel I’m stuck in a time warp of a past paradise with these pie-in-the-sky dreams. Wake up and smell the coffee (pun intended)!
I’m a representative of the older generation of employees. My values and beliefs probably seem stuffy, dated and almost obsolete to the new generation, who rush into working life with their different sets of expectations. They seem to have a notion of entitlement, an urge for instant gratification, and a greed for constant praise for their tiniest efforts and achievements. While somebody of my generation would quietly and conscientiously do their work well, and even put in extra hours for no reward when needed, the new generation counts every minute and initiative as something deserving an extra merit bonus. They also tend to keep loudly blowing their own horn, especially when any superior is in the room, and quite conspicuously flatter vain leaders for personal gain. All right, don’t get me wrong. I do understand that people, customs and practices need to keep evolving and developing. The status quo is not a state to be maintained at any price. I actually enjoy change and challenge myself. I understand that the younger generation has grown up in the world of social media where self-promotion, and creating a marketable product of yourself are the norms. I honestly admire young people’s energy and enthusiasm, their fresh, new approaches and chirpy, cheerful disposition. But what gets to me is the utterly selfish, looking after number one attitude, which makes people callously disregard anyone else who might get crushed in the process. And mind you, I don’t claim that things are black and white – with the older and wiser being the modest goodies, while the young and inexperienced are the pushy baddies. Stereotypes and generalisations aside, I’m just describing certain tendencies that I have observed in my rather limited circumstances.
Of course, all work places are made of different personalities who, regardless of age, may clash. It’s only human. Now this leads me to the crux of many crises at work – poor leadership. Surely, it’s the responsibility of a leader to secure the well-being of each and every employee. A good leader wouldn’t condone any attempts of employees seeking promotion and benefits by elbowing others out of the way by questionable means. In recent years, a lot has been written about the lack of good leaders in Finland. In a recent blog post, a marketing expert in a Finnish IT company listed the characteristics of a poor leader:
- giving unclear instructions, and then blaming employees when they do something “wrong”
- micromanaging (getting stuck with trivial details)
- having no clear vision for the future
- being too lax
- unprofessional, even improper behaviour (shouting, sulking, lying, drinking problems)
- trying to please everybody, and not having the courage to tackle problems when needed
- unwillingness to share responsibilities
- partiality, having favourites among their employees
- inability to change their behaviour and actions
What can be done, if a leader qualifies for most of the shortcomings on the list above? Employees witness the situation going from bad to worse, day by day, week by week. Cliques form, a lot of whispering and gossip goes on in every corner, secrecy and defensiveness flourish. Anguish and anxiety spread like wildfire, especially among the older employees. When this goes on long enough, the obvious option for any sensible person would be to get out, as changing the leader is usually out of the question. Sadly, the reality for us older employees is that in the present economic situation, and with raging agism in our society, it’s practically impossible to find new employment.
So there, in a nutshell, a dead end situation, being caught between a rock and a hard place, a glimpse into the reality of toxic office politics. In the case of a friend of mine, it went so far that an irreparable personal tragedy ensued. I feel hopeless, helpless and drained out of energy. I’m sorry for burdening you with my problems, but this venting has helped me get if off my shoulders a little bit.
On a lighter note, hope you enjoyed the special Hawaiian brew! What’s been happening with you lately?