Resist Toxic Culture
The Nap Ministry | Enmeshment | Can Toxic Workplaces Be Fixed?
Quote of the Moment: The Nap Ministry
Grind culture has normalized pushing our bodies to the brink of destruction. We proudly proclaim showing up to work or an event despite an injury, sickness, or mental break. We are praised and rewarded for ignoring our body’s need for rest, care, and repair. The cycle of grinding like a machine continues and becomes internalized.
| Tricia Hersey, Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto
I read about Tricia Hersey’s experiences that led to her creating The Ministry of Nap, where she was exhausted and nearly burned out from the grueling stress of graduate school work. One day she simply allowed herself to nap, and blam:
The epiphany happened nearly a decade ago, and in the intervening years she has turned her personal transformation into a movement.
Hersey, now 48, began inviting people to nap collectively while she offered soothing sermons about the sheer power of sleep and dreaming. She shared the notion that “rest is resistance” with a growing and enthusiastic group of followers, both in person and online, who were also weary of the grind.
Thus the Nap Ministry was born, and Hersey anointed herself its Nap Bishop. She urges followers to use time they might otherwise devote to extra work to sleeping instead, the stretches they’d spend staring at a screen to staring into space. Tense moments given over to worry about disappointing others would be better spent reflecting on our own needs and comforts, Hersey said. It’s about collectively refusing to run ourselves into the ground.
I read Not here to make friends, by Sara Wachter-Boettcher and came away disagreeing with most of her arguments about the benefits of work friendships, particularly as an antidote to burnout. My theory is that we should solve burnout at its core (see Burnout or Betrayal?) and not adopt palliatives. However, I am grateful that she introduced me to the term enmeshment:
If you’re not familiar with the term, enmeshment is a psychological concept usually used to describe family systems where boundaries between people are unclear or nonexistent — such as a parent who is so involved in their child’s life, the child struggles to form an independent identity, or is even punished for doing so. Applied to work, enmeshment might mean adopting a company’s goals as your own, prioritizing work above all else, and identifying so strongly with your career that you’re not even sure who you are without it.
In other words, it’s what a lot of professional work culture touted as totally normal before the pandemic.
Instead, we should work to end the whole deceit of ‘work as family’ as Joshua A. Luna makes clear:
If you’re promoting a family culture, does that make the employer the parents and the employees the children? Not everyone has a good relationship with their parents or siblings and emotions from family dynamics can easily bleed into professional relationships, if allowed.
These dynamics can also leave employees feeling unempowered (the parents usually decide, and the children follow orders) to stand up for themselves and take on work that falls outside of their comfort zone. This allows personalities and pre-determined dynamics to take precedent over what is expected to do their job well.
Another problem arises when it comes down to letting someone go or sharing constructive feedback. In a “family” culture, it almost always will feel personal. You don’t fire a family member, nor do you put them through performance improvement plans. Relationships between employees and employers are temporary in nature, and at some point, have to come to an end. So to liken the relationship to a family creates an allusion that the bond will last indefinitely.
You’ll also risk masking illicit behavior among close-knit coworkers, because how often do you tattle on your family? Studies show that employees who operate within a “familial culture” often fail to report any wrongdoing when they feel closer ties to the perpetrator. Feelings of fear the damage might cause to the perpetrator keep fellow employees quiet and complicit.
This is one form of toxic culture, not an aspirin to cure a burnout headache.
Can Toxic Workplaces be Fixed?
North American CEOs rate healthy company culture as one of the top three among all factors impacting results, and 90% believe improving culture would boost financial performance. However, as with so many other critically important issues, more than 80% say their organization’s culture is not as healthy as it should be, according to Donald Sull and Charles Sull.
In a meta-meta analysis of research into toxic culture (yes, a meta-analysis of earlier meta-analyses) the researchers come away with some great insights and solid recommendations.
One important takeaway: Leadership consistently emerged as the best predictor of toxic culture.
The researchers noted a remarkable level of consistency across the thousands of studies in their meta-meta-analysis of what leads to toxic behavior in the workplace, and as usual, fish stink from the head down.
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