Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Beware The Illusion Of Community At Work

Chapter 8: Build Your Community Part 5

Remember Sue from Chapter 6, the successful VP who was secretly throwing up every morning, crying and not wanting to go to work?  Of course it didn’t start that way.

“When I was more junior, [it] felt  like we were going somewhere.  There was financial success, bonuses, and I moved up quickly. I appreciated being recognized.  It was an absolute pleasure.  The team stuck together four years and we liked each other.  Many nights we’d go to the gym, come back and stay till 10.  We were willing to do that it was fun.”

In many ways, what Sue is describing is a community – people you like to be with who provide support and conquer obstacles together.  When I asked her if it felt like community, Sue agreed.   “I loved the company.  Marketing got along with development and sales, and it felt like you were a part of something.  The day in day out conversations were positive.  Everyone was working towards the same goal.  It was fun.”

When the company started having trouble maintaining the high growth rate, things got ugly.  “There was this one person,  I thought it was friendship but she didn’t hesitate to stab me in the back without a second thought.”  And that was not an isolated case.  Sales, marketing, and development, departments that had worked so well together were now caught in a cycle of very personal and destructive political attacks.  And then the layoffs began.

I think it was this sense of community that drove Sue to stick  with it, to try to “be the one to bring it back.”  And that effort made her very sick.

A company isn’t a real community, it just provides a community-like experience.  You can never be kicked out of a real community, but a company can and should get rid of anyone if business conditions warrant it.

In the next post, Sue searches community outside of the workplace.

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When Is “Changing the Market Landscape” Just An Illusion?

Chapter 5: The Pivotal Role Of Circumstance Part 2

I started the chapter with a story about craps, and ended by saying that craps and the workplace have a lot in common in that in both cases we are in less control than it seems.

Funny thing about craps, the game is random, but it can seem like you have control, especially after a few of those free drinks.  And in fact, studies by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer have shown that people act as if how they throw the dice has an impact on the outcome, making soft throws for low numbers and hard throws for high numbers.  This is an example of what Langer calls the illusion of control – “the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events that they demonstrably have no control over.

According to Langer, the illusion of control arises in recurring situations when routine behaviors in the mind become correlated with a particular outcome.  A person who’s routine includes one or more of the following is particulary susceptible to the Illusion of Control: [1]

  • Choice
  • Competition
  • Familiarity with the activity
  • Involvement in decisions

Now, lets look at what “Patrick” the vice president of development has to say about managing to the big picture.  (I should add that I think Patrick is a Wolf.  From talking to him and others he works with, he is definitely not a Fox.  See this post for an explanation.)

“It’s a best practice to say that [the work will have a large impact.]  But if people can’t see reality beyond the words, it can be counter productive.  To say we are changing the landscape of the market is a stretch when our competitor has 80% market share.  The reality is that we are going to try to get market share.  It’s less exciting, but it reflects reality better.”

Do any words stand out as you read this?  He never says illusion, but he sure says reality a lot!

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Myth of the Magic spoon

This photo reminds me of the Myth of the Cave by Plato.  In this allegory, people are living inside a cave, and what they see of the world are shadows on the wall, not realizing that there is a deeper reality casting the shadow.