“Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion, or erode them.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
September 26th is HR Professionals Day! I am a proud HR professional, and want to share some quick thoughts – Jack Handey style!
This week I read the amazing Kyra Matkovich’s HR Shenanigans Blog post, HR Chose Me. Kyra is a prolific writer. Her style and prose are powerful and demanding of our full attention. This paragraph in particular struck me:
It isn’t a weakness to choose to leave when you know your environment is toxic (abusive). You demonstrate a strength of character when you know your self worth and capabilities, and know when you are limited in your ability to apply those capabilities because of something outside of your control. I’m not suggesting to shift blame. (It’s important to own your part and what you’re contributing – positive and negative.) What I’m saying is if you know you can’t thrive in your current work situation, maybe it’s time to consider another opportunity where you’re able to flourish.
I identify with this logic because it’s relatable. How many of us get up every day for the “drudgery” of work? “They call work ‘work’ for a reason” is the saying, right? I ask, why?! Why does work HAVE to suck? Why can’t work be a fun place? Why can’t we have fun at work? Why can’t we, GASP, enjoy ourselves?
What’s the disconnect?
Well, a lot of things. Bad bosses, unaccountable managers, lazy coworkers, all breed toxicity. It’s toxic because it affects others, not just the host. Remember Captain Planet, and his incredibly amazing 90s theme song? (He’s our hero.) Whenever he had toxic pollution touch him, all his powers left him and he became weak and powerless. Similarly, this is how toxic workplaces affect those who come into contact with its sliming ooze and gunk. I imagine Captain Planet was a walking workers comp nightmare, but I digress.
But does negativity always have to affect us? The Dalai Lama (not llama) once said “Don’t let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.” He’s right. We cannot control what other people do. We cannot make someone act with kindness and integrity. We cannot control how someone responds to a situation. The only thing we can control is our own reaction and perceptions, so we shouldn’t let others’ behaviors affect how we see ourselves and how we behave towards ourselves and others.
Therein is the key, however difficult it is to achieve. Control our perceptions and act according to what is right.
As HR professionals we are uniquely situated within our organizations to behave in a way that is positive, life giving, empathetic, and powerful. Uniquely situated because HR affects every single employee in the organization in some way. Not every department can say that (except maybe finance). We can be the example. By controlling our own perceptions, we can mindfully choose how to behave in any situation by doing the right thing. We can thrive in the face of toxic garbage.
How? Where a disconnect exists, create a connection.
If an office curmudgeon doesn’t say hi to anyone, say hi to the office curmudgeon!
If the manager is ignoring the staff, go up to the manager and strike up a conversation!
If a supervisor and a subordinate just aren’t clicking, talk to them each and see if you can build a bridge with them.
If there seems to be a lack of appreciation for a coworker, do something that showcases your gratitude!
These things seem little, and they are, to a point, because the acts themselves are small, but the physical act and conscience effort to do them take a lot of bravery and fortitude! That’s the point. A lot of little things eventually become big things over time – especially because they’re built on a foundation of bravery. Will doing the little things erase all the toxic negativity? If done by yourself, likely no, but by controlling yourself and your own actions you can create an internal atmosphere that can be more resistant to toxicity. Remember, others cannot force you to feel anything. Feelings come from within, and every person can control them. Stoics called this “the inner citadel.”
Don’t let the behaviors and attitudes of other people deteriorate your own self-worth or influence you in a negative way. The only time two negatives make a positive is in math, and I hate math!
However, even the most relentlessly positive person must admit, this is challenging and difficult. But like Kyra said, HR is a difficult field, not for the weak willed. Sometimes, citadels can become cracked from the pressure. Babylon, Jericho, Rome, Constantinople, Baghdad – they’ve all fallen at some point in history due to pressures that became insurmountable. If over time, the toxic culture begins to wear on you to the point that the negativity breaks you, even a little, then absolutely exercise your control to begin job searching! Your job isn’t a life sentence!
I say all this as a quick “top of the head” type writing session. HR professionals are more powerful than we sometimes realize. Use that power for good – always good. Give back to our employees. Give back to our peers. Give back to our profession. Represent HR in such a manner that in the future another up and coming Rockstar will say, “HR chose me” because of how kind they were treated by his or her contemporaries.
Happy HR Professionals Day to all the dedicated, positive, kind HR pros out there! Because of you, I am proud to be in this profession! I hope you all feel the same!