Drama at Work


at , USALast week, I spoke at the Maine HR Conference but missed one of the other keynote  speakers — Cy Wakeman. I heard  she was great. She talked about drama at work and how Human Resources actually causes much of the drama in an office environment.

Shocking, I know. We are a homogeneous group of professionals — 80% are women at the manager-level and below — enmeshed in compliance, risk mitigation and administrative processes. If we’re not driving the drama of an organization, who would do it?!

In my very limited experience, an organization with a more paternalistic leadership style feels like it has infinitely more drama than a cold, stodgy professional environment. Call me crazy, but when  you tell me that my coworkers are like family, I tend to treat them more like family.

  • I judge them for their faults.
  • I wish they could just read my mind.
  • I emote instead of explain.

Alberto-Culver, which was actually run by a family and had many long-term employees, felt like a professional business because it had very rigorous processes and procedures in place to deal with every employee scenario in the book. Pfizer had a very family-like mentality. You were either in or you were out. And that caused a bevy of problems.

Family bonds are strong, meaningful and complex. For many people, the word family means love. But it may also mean contempt, shame or exhaustion to others. And I’ve never seen more complex drama than in a big and loving family. That’s how it tends to work.

In my life, family gives me a space to be less rigid. I don’t want to give my family any feedback in any sort of respectful, formal process because that’s what I do with strangers. With my family members, I just want to speak plainly and candidly.

Get a job. Stop spending money. You do not work as hard as you think you work. Maybe your kids would behave better if you set some boundaries and acted like a parent instead of trying to be a friend. I can’t see you until you sober up. Don’t be a jerk. Stop with the victim mentality. If you can’t have a conversation with me where you don’t bring up your tortured childhood, I am not talking to you.

Yeah. That kind of stuff. That’s not just my kin, right?

The beauty of work — for me — is that it’s not my family. There are SOPs and rules of engagement in place. Those mechanisms can help to avoid drama. When someone gets out of line in my family, there is chaos. When someone bothers me at work, there are performance improvement plans and formal disciplinary procedures to whip that person into shape.

I don’t have any science or data to back me up on this but I think drama at work can be abated if we treat one another a little less like brothers and sisters and a little more like colleagues and peers.

That’s how HR can help the future of work.

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