Posted by: xeper | May 13, 2008

In Search of the Mythical “Psychologically-Correct Office”

Honorable Rekhyet recently posted her thoughts about trying to live a perfect life in an imperfect environment, especially at work. Having comparable thoughts and issues myself, I remembered a particular phone call I made to one of those radio talk shows, where they were hosting a psychologist as a guest speaker. It went more or less along the following lines:

“Good evening, doctor. I have an important issue I’d like to ask about, but I am not sure whether this is relevant to the topic,” and he invited me to go on “If it’s not relevant I will tell you, let’s see.”

“Well, doctor, you see, I have been working for 7 years and I have had 7 full time jobs so far. I have recently left another job with another resignation. My work revolves around projects of fixed duration, so frequent job changes are expected, but I found I had to resign prematurely in a couple of occasions. I did it very professionally and have never left a project in a critical stage, but the observation remains that I resigned twice earlier than initially planned. I am wondering and I wish to know whether this might be due to a psychological problem I have.”

“Do you have friends?” he asked. My confused hesitation was too obvious for a psychologist to miss, so he volunteered the clarification I needed: “I mean, do you have close friends? How long have you known your friends?”. Still, bewildered, I replied. I had more than a few good friends, and I’ve known a couple of them for over 10 years. I told him so.

He then asked me why do I leave so often. I told him they were asking me to do things I deemed incorrect. And as he asked for any possible examples, and since I was not divulging specific info, I told him the last position I was in asked me to give a “gift” to a colleague from the budget “for his wedding”. Needless to say, I did not have a budget line remotely corresponding to “Weddings of office staff”. The other occasion was in a job where my supposed seniors were being paid less than I was, which was very unfair and put stress on me because of this, not to mention that it painting a clear picture of my and almost everybody’s future in the company: in a few years, I will be supervising juniors who are paid more than I am because the company will forget to give me even my lawful annual inflation raise, while it won’t forget to give the new recruits their current market price to be able to attract them. Quite strategic and self-serving, this analysis was not pressing, since I was the higher-paid young recruit; but the pressing issue was living in such an environment.

He seemed to agree with me compassionately like a friend would, “it’s good you left such working environments”. As he seemed to prepare to hang up before I get my answer, I repeated: “Do I have a problem? Isn’t it unlikely that I do not have a problem and all those establishments are wrong? What can I do about it?”

He said “no, you have long friendships, you are capable of having long term relationships, you do not have a problem in that. But you have a problem in your finances. And stability. How long are you planning to remain shifting jobs like this?” I told him regarding finances that, “Rabbena beysahhel” (“our Lord makes these things easy”), and that I don’t mind the frequent shifts. I am only concerned about my sanity. He wished me good luck as he repeated “you don’t have a problem.”

So I was the eternal seeker. And a smart-ass client or manager of mine once looked to me in horror informing me very seriously that you cannot be an eternal anything because you are not eternal (more on dirty power tactics in the office in later posts God willing). I bet that to her own ear this wise(crack) remark made her sound smart, though she didn’t mind calling some employees freelancers and others full-timers, as if the company was employing medieval cavalry lancers, or as if those came free to do as they pleased or free of charge (pun intended), or as if any of our full-timers really worked 24 hours a day. But thank God, I got rid of her, just like I got rid of other psychotic managers and mentally ill clients before her, by being an eternal seeker.. of a sane place.

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Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

    A lot of people feel that shifting jobs can be trying on our mental state, but I do not see why it should necessarily be a cause of psychological stress. Moving jobs is a logical part of our lives and selves developing and progressing and is not necessarily a negative thing, especially when your employer is decidedly lacking in either sanity, ethics or (more commonly) both. Whilst the move itself can be a cause of stress, we shouldn’t forget the large benefit progression brings.

    I’d like to understand just what it is, though, that makes people who outside of work be quite pleasant, good people become so hostile and over aggressive in the workplace. Perhaps it is a manifestation of the old idea that hell really is being locked forever in a room with your friends?

    At the end of the day, being in the office is hardly a voluntary activity we willingly engage in. That being so, perhaps it is expecting too much for the office to be where humankind expresses it’s higher ideals.

  2. I think changing jobs is a natural process in essence. Not because of the unnatural symptoms we meet there, but because jobs are structures that, like our clothes, we outgrow as we progress in the journey of our lives.

    It always striked me as an oxymoron that someone has 20+ years of experience in a simple job. Did they learn anything about the job int he last 5 years for instance? the 5 before?

    If we do not change jobs I think we have not really worked and learned.

    Experience is by definition change.

  3. About people who act inside work very differently from out of it, I think it is because those people suffer so much from the unnaturalness of their work environment and conditions, for it is unnatural to live in a box called office, especially for such a long time, continuously, etc. (to see what is natural, imagine you do not need the money nor the recognition etc, would you accept the same conditions?).

    So what they do is they consider themselves only alive in their private lives. Once they’re in the office or on the battle field they act differently.

    In its clearest form, it is symbolized as people who sold their souls to a heathen god called Office. He will give money and power and company but you give him half your waking life.

    Most people make the deal.


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