The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Smiling As A Weapon …

So after yesterday’s post about releasing your inner Adele, I have another post about the workplace.

Or should I say, the toxic workplace.

The reason for this is that I’ve spoken to a lot of people recently who – whether it’s because of COVID, or people’s slow return to the workplace or just people getting hired again after a year of being pretty much shut down – have all experienced a similar situation.

Which leads to this message to all managers …

Whether someone has a different view … a less favourable view … or just questions about your view … IT IS NOT A PERSONAL ATTACK.

It doesn’t mean they’re trying to undermine you or piss on your parade.

If anything, it means they care enough about you to want you to be even better though expanding your perspective.

But what is worse is I’m hearing more and more people dealing with it, through toxic positivity.

You will remember from this post, toxic positivity is the belief that “no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. It’s a “good vibes only” approach to life.”

While being intimidating towards people who have different perspectives is equally as bad, at least you know where you stand. Toxic Positivity does it’s damage because it not only immediately undermines you, it makes you feel your opinion literally doesn’t matter.

I can tell you, people who always look on the bright side are far more damaging than those who keep asking questions.

Of course, how you ask – like everything in life – is important, but it’s worth remembering you don’t get to great without debate. And you don’t get to debate without an environment where people are free to be honest with you and themselves.

So if you’re getting this treatment from your manager and you’re starting to question your value and worth … go to yesterday’s post and follow Adele’s excellent advice.

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Channel Your Inner Adele …

I know I’ve done a lot about Rick Rubin of late, but this time I’m using Adele.

I love her.

I think she’s an insanely talented musician, singer, and songwriter.

But this is about none of those things.

Nor is it – as were my Rick Rubin musings – about creativity.

No … this is about work.

Specifically about knowing who you should and shouldn’t invest your time and passion with.

I’ve generally had amazing bosses.

Brilliant, creative, supportive individuals, bursting with integrity and belief.

And even when I would be getting a bollocking for something daft I’d done – and I’ve done a lot – I never once doubted they cared and wanted me to succeed.

But I’ve also had some bosses who were less amazing.

Who didn’t like questions.

Didn’t like independent thought.

Actively demanded you follow their words rather than your own curiosity.

Where success was judged by the level of your complicity rather than creativity.

And that’s why at 50, I now realise there’s two sorts of manager in the world.

Those who want you to be better than you imagined and those who use you to feel better about themselves.

If you have the former, hold on to them with both hands.

If you have the latter, follow Adele’s advice.

And if you feel you can’t do that – for whatever reason – visit TheyTriedToKillMeButI.Live … because that’s where you’ll see you’re not alone, you’re not to blame and together, you’re more valuable and powerful than you think.

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It’s Not Cool To Say, But Nothing Comes Without Graft* …

As you know, I love the band Queen.

Yes, spare me the insults, I’ve heard them all before.

Anyway, I was recently reading an interview with Roger Taylor about his 50 years in the band and there was a response to one question that caught my eye. It was this:

The bit that specifically stood out was when he says:

“But when you’re young, you’d better be arrogant and have big dreams, because it’s not going to happen by accident”.

I found that sentence interesting for a number of reasons.

One is that Queen were always criticised by the music press as being ‘too ambitious’.

As if they had a a masterplan for World domination that they were executing bit by bit.

Now they definitely wanted to be huge – Roger says that in the interview – but apart from the fact, pretty much every band wants to be successful to a degree, these accusations neatly side step some key things.

First is, there isn’t a masterplan.

A guarantee of success.

Yes, there’s some elements that increase the odds of it, but nothing certain.

Second, if you were aiming for World domination, writing songs like Bohemian Rhapsody would literally not be part of the plan.

Of course, ironically this helped them get there, but even their record company didn’t want to release that song because it was so against the approach the music industry tended to follow.

If you want to talk about a band that was designed for World domination, you can throw that far more at melodic mainstream masters, Abba, more than Queen.

But even if Queen did have some fictional blueprint to guarantee the future success, all the barbs thrown at them ignore some of the critical elements they would have needed to stand any chance of achieving it.

Talent.
Songs.
Luck.

Whether you like Queen or not, you’d be hard pressed to say they didn’t have that.

You might not like the songs. You may not like their musicianship. You might not like their performances.

But you have to admit they had that.

Which leads to the point of this post.

Underpinning those critical attributes the band hand …
Underpinning the ambition to be a hugely successful rock band …
Underpinning the “when you’d better have big dreams” attitude.

… is something we don’t seem to want to talk about any more.

Graft.

Putting in the effort. The commitment. Trying and learning.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting people should put themselves in a position where their mental health is impacted.

And I absolutely accept companies have exploited people’s ambition to serve their own purposes.

But treating ‘graft’ as if it is the enemy is wrong.

A quick look at Corporate Gaslighting tells you that where mental health is concerned, it’s not simply about the volume of work you are expected to do, but what the work is and how the people around you, treat you and it.

Yet that contextual part is rarely talked about …

Many companies talk about mental health through the singular lens of volume … and while a more cynical person could suggest that is so they can remove all other elements of the job – like training etc – to ensure every second available is spent on paid work, I would never suggest such a thing.

Which is why I’m bothered the word ‘graft’ has been seemingly removed from our lexicon.

Tainted when the reality is, it’s important.

Because graft is about learning, exploring, growing.

It’s personal. An act designed to help you improve rather than just make you do more.

That’s very different to the term agencies and companies seem perfectly OK with …

Hustle.

Hustle is far more damaging in my mind.

Hustle is about speed. Additional workloads. Never stopping.

Hustle is the opposite of graft.

An activity designed to fulfil the needs of others [read: managers], not yours.

I think in our quest to deal with mental health, companies have got everything the wrong way around.

Mental health is not about relinquishing ambition.

Mental health is not about abdicating hunger.

Mental health is about feeling you are growing, encouraged, supported and heard rather than just continually giving your energy, taking orders, listening to demands, being offered zero flexibility and being expected to do whatever is asked in increasingly shorter timeframes.

I passionately believe people don’t mind grafting.

I passionately believe people don’t mind working hard for something they care about.

I passionately believe people don’t even mind if their graft doesn’t always result in the perfect outcome. Disappointment maybe but not devastation … at least not if it’s something they still found fulfilling.

What they are sick of is having their progress defined by how much they hustle.
What they are sick of is having their career measured in energy rather than value.
What they are sick of is having their development dictated by workload not training.
What they are sick of is having their needs ignored in favour endless client demands.

If we want our industry to offers dynamic careers rather than repetitive jobs, we better understand people need to feel they can progress and grow through other means than mindless mental, physical and emotional exhaustion.

Roger Taylor is right things don’t happen by accident.

You rarely get to great without pushing yourself.

Athletes don’t just wake up and can run personal bests.

Chefs don’t just wake up and can cook the finest cuisine.

Drummers don’t just wake up and write a number one song.

But by the same token …

Athletes don’t run personal bests writing endless presentations no one reads. Chefs don’t cook the finest cuisine just because they work 12 hour shifts everyday and weekend. And drummers don’t just wake up and write a number one songs because they wait for hours on end for their boss to come out the office ‘just in case’ they need them to do something before they go home.

Yes, progress takes hard fucking work, but when you’re doing it in ways – and with people – who share your goal, rather than just want to exploit it, it has a very different impact on you and your wellbeing.

I believe this is possible to do in this industry. I believe we have people who want to work fucking hard to grow and develop. I even believe progress does not have to come with the devastating cost it has in the past.

Some sacrifices, maybe. But not mental destruction.

However, as long as we continue signing contracts that allow our people to be at the whim of clients regardless of what they need … and then promote people based on volume of work rather than quality of it, then all we’re doing is fucking everybody over.

[There’s going to be a post in a few weeks about career plans and how companies make a big deal of them but few actually live up to them. In other words, they sell the illusion of structure but it’s generally made of sand. And then they wonder why employees are disillusioned]

So while I believe one thing we should do is place mental health protection guideline in all contracts – as clients rightfully do with diversity demands – I think another major step is having adland kill the hustle and start valuing the graft.

_________________________________________________________________________

* Unless you’re from a rich family and can have whatever you want without effort.

Or you’re white …

Where you still have to work but you have a bunch of immediate advantages.

And if you’re a white male, you have hit the jackpot in terms of getting a leg-up.



You’re Not Fooling Us …


Just before Christmas, I was asked to help a company understand what they were doing to stop attracting talent.

While I must admit I found this request a bit bizarre – especially as they have a huge HR division – I knew it would be fun.

The good news for them is they do a lot of things right.

However there were a few things that were fucking them up and one of the biggest was their inability to understand why any employee may be cynical to their actions and claims.

As I said to them, their surprise indicates either naivety, arrogance or utter privilege.

Probably a bit of all three.

Of course this situation is not unique to them, I wrote about it here … however there was one point that really shocked them and it was their unlimited vacation days policy.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know when they instigated this a few years ago, it was for all the right reasons.

As a company, their original vacation policy was not the best and this was an attempt to put things right.

However, like many good intentions, the implications of that were either not considered or disregarded.

Because unlimited vacation is not an act of corporate generosity.

They may say it is.

They may have wanted it to be.

But right now, in most places offering it, it’s anything but.

Unlimited vacations benefit companies far more than employees.

There, I’ve said it.

There’s many reasons for this.

First is no one actually means ‘unlimited time off’.

If they did, you could take a year off and still get paid.

We all know that wouldn’t happen, just like we know if a company thinks we are taking too much time off – they’ll question if the role is still needed.

So the first issue is there’s no such thing as unlimited days … it just sounds good, especially when accompanied with some contrived public statement claiming to ‘our staff are our our greatest asset’.

Then there’s the fact that too many companies still think vacation days are a gift not a right.

So it doesn’t matter how many days you can take off in theory … if they don’t want you to have them, you’re buggered.

But what is the really devious thing about unlimited leave is employees end up being their own worst enemy.

You see when you’re told you can have any amount of days off, the value of taking them gets diluted. Of course you still want them, but you become more open with when you take them.

The urgency just isn’t there so we end up being more focused on ‘what is coming up’ versus ‘when will I go’ … and before you know it, we have taken even less vacation days than the times we had a limited number of fixed days.

Now you could argue this is our own fault – and it is – but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest this is a common, negative occurrence of unlimited leave … and yet even armed with this information, many companies stick with it.

And this is why so many employees don’t trust the companies they work for.

Because unlimited leave has a number of great commercial benefits for the company.

The first, as I just wrote, is the amount of people who take LESS time off rather than more.

The second is vacation times no longer have a commercial value attached to them.

If there is no limit to the number of days you take, there is no need to carry an value of them on your balance sheet.

No value on the balance sheet means no payout when you leave the company.

No value on the balance sheet means no payout if you are made redundant.

No value on the balance sheet boosts the value of the balance sheet – helping companies achieve greater profit without having to lift a finger, while being able to smile at their employees and claim ‘your wellbeing is our priority’.

And if you need more proof of this, then you just have to look at how many companies messed with their employees vacation days over COVID, trying to force them to use them up … even though they couldn’t go anywhere. While the good organisations were doing it for mental health reasons, a bunch were doing it because they didn’t want to carry that amount of ‘value’ into next years liabilities and then still had the nerve to dictate when – and how long – it could be used for.

Look I get it, money matters – especially in a pandemic – but it doesn’t feel right when you are bullied into doing something on someone else’s terms rather than your own … especially when it revolves around something that is your right to decide.

Now I am not suggesting this is why unlimited days were created.

Nor am I saying all companies who offer it, do it for bad reasons.

But what was originally claimed as empowering employees to have more time out of work has resulted in the absolute opposite.

There are alternatives.

Maybe the best is a minimum leave policy … where you HAVE TO take a certain amount of time off each year.

But even this has issues, given there are people who rely on the ‘value’ of their vacation days as a way to save [and if a company is paying you so little you need to use your holidays as savings, then there are bigger issues with that company] … but what is clear is companies can’t do something for good reasons and then stick their head in the sand when problems reveal themselves.

I know that’s the way many companies operate these days – exemplified by Boris Johnson and his inept government – but it is hardly surprising there is so much skepticism from employees when they see policies change without consultation and then enforced in a way where all the rhetoric of it being ‘a better way’ proves not to be.

Now of course companies don’t want to piss off their employees. Many try really hard to make them feel valued and secure. And I genuinely don’t believe any company sets out to be bad.

But distrust occurs when decisions are made – often without warning – that feel more for corporate PR than employee value.

Unlimited vacation days is a perfect example of this because whatever way you look at it, it’s simply not true.

If you want to build trust, practice honesty.

No hype. No populism. No contrived rhetoric. Honesty.

Listen to your people.
Communicate with your people.
Consult your ideas with your people.
And finally, do things with transparency, openness and a willingness to change if it doesn’t turn out as you hoped.

It’s not hard – especially that’s how you build all relationships – but it is seemingly rare.



A Dictatorship Is Not A Community …

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had 2 very unpleasant interactions with LinkedIn.

The first was when I discovered my personal account had been blocked by them.

No warning.
No reason.
Just blocked.

I had to look on Google to find out how I could get in contact with them, and after discovering that I had to submit proof of my ID – they got back to me to say that someone had found a post I’d written offensive due to it’s adult content … and as they felt it contravened some LinkedIn policy I’d never heard of, they needed me to apologise to them before they would reinstate me.

Now I appreciate the image I chose was provocative, however it was not just for shock value … it was part of a presentation/post I was giving about the terrible, sexist, bullying behaviour men subject women to in the work place every single day – so I found it remarkable they ignored the context – which was clear – and just banned me and demanded an apology.

I told them I refused to apologise because it’s a genuine presentation about a genuine issue … however, as they appeared to be OK with that sort of behaviour, I would report them to the workplace commission for equal rights as well as the #MeToo organisation.

Unsuprisingly they reinstated my account saying ‘they appreciate I wasn’t trying to be offensive’, despite having previously said they agreed with whoever complained about my post and – contrary to most legal protocols – regarded me guilty, even though they had not sought any information or context about the post from the person being accused.

But pathetic and annoying but that was nothing compared to what was yet to come.

So a week later – which seems a very strange coincidence – the Corporate Gaslighting LinkedIn account was banned.

Again no warning. No explanation. Just banned.

So I went through the same thing and then they got back to me with this …

Yep, the issue is simply the account is under Corporate Gaslighting’s name rather than my own – despite all contact details are.

But here’s where it gets even more annoying.

“Due to the nature of this account, we won’t be able to remove the restriction and/or merge this account with another one.”

That’s right.

It’s blocked. Forever.

Not because they couldn’t link it to my account but because they didn’t want to. Because of the ‘nature’ of the account.

And this is where I’m confused because surely the nature of the account is perfect for LinkedIn?

In fact, when I read the LinkedIn ‘purpose’, which states:

‘Connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful’

… then I can’t think of a more perfect partner for LinkedIn.

But no. They don’t want it.

It’s fine to have shady recruiters taking money from their clients to spam anyone they can get to. It’s fine to have men use their site to hit on women. It’s fine to pretend you’re a z-grade shrink with a guaranteed answer to everything you could ever wish for. It’s fine to allow ‘members’ to spout blatant lies about their achievements or sales tools. It’s fine to have people use the platform to talk about the conformity of professional appearance … but it’s not OK to have someone who is dedicated to helping professionals being systematically undermined by bad leaders, because the way I filled in their form is a violation of the LinkedIn User Agreement and Professional Community Policies.

I’ll tell you what’s a violation – LinkedIn’s claims they are a community. That they want to help people succeed. That they want to connect people together.

LinkedIn wants everyone to follow their orders. What they have decided is right. What works in their best interests. And if for some reason that doesn’t happen, then they let their god complex run riot – before hiding behind anonymous people and policies that don’t allow for context or conversation … just a brazen and contrived ‘computer says no’ guilty verdict, with all the humanity and consideration of an ATM machine.

Dear LinkedIn. You are in danger of becoming the absolute opposite of what you claim to be about, because if you were, you’d have created your own version of Corporate Gaslighting, but no, you’d rather just ban it. But then, when you’re paying your CEO almost $14,000,000 per year, I appreciate the last thing you’d ever want to do is to take any sort of stand against any sort of professional misconduct, for fear of alienating the companies who allow your CEO to be paid such an obscene amount.

Linkedin has incredible potential to be a real force for good.

Not just for corporations, but employees too.

It could influence real, positive change.
It could drive shifts in values, attitudes and rewards.
It could challenge the rules of what ‘professionalism’ supposedly means and looks like in the modern age.
It could help shape the future of work in ways that benefit all.

And while some could say they are doing this in their own way, the past few weeks have suggested to me their focus is on keeping the C-Suite happy rather than helping people create a new version of the C-Suite.

It’s a shame, because the whole industry is begging for some sort of major change but instead, they not only prefer to keep things exactly the same … they are using their power to ensure it does.

If you – or someone you know – are having your confidence systematically undermined, by colleagues … you are not alone. There is help out there. Not at Linkedin.com but at TheyTriedToKillMeButI.Live