A column in today's Chicago Tribune points out something I've been thinking for years but didn't want to say out loud lest I ruin our collective sense of workplace zen by practicing random acts of cynicism and senseless sarcasm. As columnist Rex Huppke writes:
To distill this down to my own lowbrow level of thinking: Keep it real. Don't see that I made a mistake and then tell me that mistake was brilliantly executed. Don't address my conflict with a co-worker as a chance to come together and embrace. Tell me who's right or wrong and tell us both to knock it off!Amen, brother.
If I do something well, tell me. If the team's doing great, tell us.
But take down that ridiculous poster with the soaring eagle — before I actualize my inner demons and do it for you.
Trending toward positivity at work is always more desirable than sliding into outright negativity, of course, but the power of positive thinking can go too far when the boss becomes a walking, talking repository of empty self-help passages, hangs up too many sappy posters, and tells you to read Chapter 7 of the latest trite business book because life isn't a dress rehearsal, or something like that. Instead of pondering whether or not it's possible to teach a kid to ride a bike at a seminar, you're standing there thinking, you don't seem to realize that my life, for the most part, is good!
The most detrimental aspect of too much rah-rah in the workplace, however, is that it can make employees loathe to bring up the broken coffee pot, much less the flaws in a new product currently undergoing beta testing. Saying something even remotely non-positive could ruin the relentlessly upbeat mood and unravel management's finely-spun cocoon wrapped around the company's "whether you think you can or can't, you're right" mindset. Employees might feel like they're going a little bit mad amid the business's never-ending bliss, but to quote the philosopher Seal, we're never gonna survive unless we go a little bit crazy.
Employees might also begin to notice the wide gulf between the company's words and actions. Workplace artwork is a booming business these days. But what if the wall posters and the mission statement are unflinchingly Kumbaya when all the bluster and jockeying for position seem more Kid Rock with each passing day? The dissonance can become a quiet joke among employees for whom life has no limitations, except the ones they make.
Americans, and U.S. employers, spend millions each year on self-help motivational babble that critics contend is completely wrong or largely unsubstantiated. But if you dream it you can be it, right? All you need is positivity!
Put me on the record as believing change comes from within, not from a wall poster boasting pithy quotes about attitude and teamwork beckoning you from the clearance rack at Kohl's or Target. The writing is on the wall, but maybe it doesn't need to be there? Trying hanging a pretty watercolor instead, or some modern artwork that looks like it was finger painted by a five-year-old. After all, you become what you think about, and today is the tomorrow you put off until yesterday, so work like you don't need the money, dance like nobody's watching, love like you've never been hurt, and sing like nobody's listening.
Actually, DO NOT sing at work. Ever. Now go put some sweat equity into it, because 80% of success is showing up.