Delusions of ‘Normality’ Suppress Our Feelings

Yesterday I wrote an article about my not-so-pleasant experience working at Apple. To say that it has gone viral is a wild understatement. However rather than go in to more details about the negativity I felt at Apple or the details, I wanted to write about what the last 24 hours has been like before finally moving on to writing my usual articles of a much more positive nature.

Since publishing the article I have been flooded with emails from people expressing their appreciation and thanks at me speaking up for what I believed in against a giant corporate bully. Personal and beautifully written emails from my readers told of similar horror stories of manipulation, bullying and emotional mind games at the various companies in which they worked. I always knew that Apple would not be the only company where elements of bullying prevail, but I have to say I did not expect the sheer volume of touching personal stories of people trying to do their best while being made to feel their worst in toxic companies all over the world.

However reading through each email, one word stood out… ‘Normal’. People have been telling me all day that my experience of harassment, intimidation, bullying and corporate emotional warfare was ‘normal’ – even that is should have been ‘expected’ – in ‘business’. I’ve been told that in large and small organisations (particularly in North America) this behaviour is simply “part of the world we live in”. Wow.

define_normal

In honesty, I’ve been quite depressed about this all afternoon. Don’t get me wrong… Reading through these stories there’s two clear themes in terms of the way that ‘normality’ is expressed and used… They are:

1. People saying how sad it is and how awful mine and their similar experience has been ‘‘..but unfortunately it’s normal”.

2. Others have told me I’m a pussy, I can’t hack it, get over it because “it’s normal” or “called a job” and created their own wonderful fictitious versions of my life in their mind for whatever enjoyment that my give them?

The latter I’m not too concerned about as arm-chair social media bullies love to attempt to masturbate their ‘intellectual’ egos through the cowardice anonymity of website forums, however what worries me is this idea that workplace mind-games are considered normal. In both expressions of normality both  the sensible and authentic people and armchair intellectual masturbators agree that it’s a terrible thing, but the common agreement is a notion of normality and terrible workplace stories don’t prompt shock or even proactive avoidance of such tactics.

My notion of normality is; that for something to be normal it generally must conform to three things:

1. It’s a common occurrence, it is found readily throughout society and can be reproduced.

2. It serves some purpose or function in life and not just some arbitrary objective (e.g. we pay money for goods so the economy ticks on etc).

3. It’s accepted an endorsed by society as a norm and behaving within the confines of ‘normality’ will not rub against the societal grain of values and beliefs or get you locked up.

Looking at these three elements above – how did workplace bullying, harassment and intimidation become ‘normal’, and since when was that a reason for us to accept crap from emotionally unintelligent managers?

Physical-and-Emotional-Impact-of-Schoolyard-Bullies

From their first day of school, we pack our kids lunches, dress them in their crisp new uniforms, take the family snaps of ‘the first day’ and send them off while we battle with our own subconscious fear and trepidation about bullies. We teach them about teasing and how being nasty to people is unacceptable. As they grow older – they learn themselves that bullying is not acceptable and devise their own means for defence (not always a polite conversation, but defence and retaliation become part of schoolyard life).  Then, as we become adults we watch the news in distaste, staring wide-eyed at stories of conflict, domestic violence, political and relationship breakups. We scrutinise the behaviour of our government officials ensuring we never cast our vote to a candidate who operates on intimidation.

if-you-are-always-trying-to-be-normal-1So, then why is it, when we get to the workplace this all goes out the window? All of a sudden our values and beliefs about unacceptable behaviour gets parked and suppressed as we revert to our early school-yard selves and accept this behaviour. Why? Is it to avoid punishment or as an attempt at personal gain, perhaps promotion or simply to ‘be liked’. Not only do we accept it and do nothing, but we deem it as ‘normal’. Maybe we should be adding ‘ resilience to workplace harassment’ as an endorsed skill on LinkedIn?

To me this is a very dangerous place to be. Acceptance and normalising of unacceptable behaviour is fuel for encouragement of these insecure workplace bullies.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting it’s as easy as walking away, quitting or telling your boss to “piss off”. Walking away from my job was not done in haste, was not easy and even writing this now I’m suppressing several different emotions of frustration, resentment, anxiety… to name a few. All I’m saying is let’s at least not say “it’s normal”. Let’s not normalise behaviour that puts other people down with the objective of inflating egos that certainly don’t need it.

Having no work/life balance, being bullied, harassed and intimidated in your workplace – a place where you spend the majority of your waking hours – and being fearful for your career is not normal nor is it acceptable.

Thank you sincerely to everyone today who emailed me your stories, your struggles, your thoughts and feelings – I will be replying to all of you. Just remember that deliberate intimidation is only normal as long as we allow it to be so.

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9 thoughts on “Delusions of ‘Normality’ Suppress Our Feelings

  1. The more people who say it’s normal or acceptable means the worse our workplaces become. It’s incredibly common, indeed, but not normal. And certainly not acceptable. I have experienced bullying in grade school and the high-tech workplace, and agree wholeheartedly about the similarities you note here. While we can deal with and process it differently, the pain and stress is just about the same. Thanks for writing this and your story about Apple.

  2. I believe if you look at the official policies of many of the companies in which this kind of thing is happening, they espouse something much more. A lot of hypocrisy and double standards, but also managers who should care not being aware of what’s going on.

    Another question is whether those companies can be sustainably competitive long-term.

  3. @Jen. There’s a difference between normal and acceptable.

    Society has aggrandized an image of success through ruthless ambition. Many leaders are rather ruthless in their ambitions, but are also brilliant leaders and communicators. Corporate culture has always been hard because of this, and the tech sector is particularly ugly because the focus is purely on gaining wealth and ascension to executive levels, and as fast as possible. It is a societal problem that goes far beyond where it actually occurs – people like this were like this before they got into Machiavellian corporations.

    I left that corporate culture some time ago, but I still work closely with technology executives in those environments. Its a much better place to be than on any rung of the Inferno.

  4. Thanks for the thought provoking articles, both yesterday’s and today’s.

    There’s no reason that that kind of behavior should be tolerated anywhere, not to mention at so-called respected businesses. My thought is that more people ought to air the dirty laundry of the giants of industry and tech, to get this foolishness out into the open, as only by being exposed can any of it even start to be eradicated.

    Is their behavior ‘normal’? Are you kidding me? These jokers who declare these behaviors as ‘normal’ or ‘okay’ need to be taken out back, and dealt with, in ways they understand. Now, would it be pretty? No. Would it be stooping down to the same level? Perhaps, but sometimes change isn’t pretty, but needs to happen. But, it isn’t going to, because the people in the companies where it is occurring consider it their sandbox, and because of that, they can control the playground. Sick, narcissistic people.

  5. I too have walked away from jobs and it isn’t easy. How do I explain at interviews why I left (I bullshit) It costs me a lot of money and emotional energy and self recrimination that I couldn’t overcome the bullying or charm people into behaving better
    . Several times I’ve had a break down. I work in heathcare where it is rampant. I personally don’t understand it and never bully anyone. I honestly think most industries don’t care how talented or hardworking you are. They just want someone to take their frustrations and temper out on. Knowing that people enjoy bullying is the most depressing thing of all.

  6. I have a lot of sympathy for those who are being bullied at work. My guess is that most employees in competitive environments are, to some extent. The only solution for an intolerable situation is to transfer department (sometimes the dynamics are different under another manager), try a different company or just bow out and learn to be their own boss. Having a young and bright distant relative of mine take her own life after depression from work problems, I can only wish that more mentors and parents are aware of the severity that can exist in corporations so that better support can be given to these well-meaning and talented corporate employees.

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