Friday, August 27, 2010

All in favour...

I have been temping for over 2 years now so I've been immersed in a number of different workplaces.  And what I have really come to notice is how much peer pressure plays a part in everyday adult life.  How fitting in is just as important as it was in high school.  How difficult it seems for a lot of people to just let people be.  As far as I am concerned, all my workmates and workplace have the right to expect of me is that I am a hard worker, team player, polite and pleasant.  I also happen to be very obliging, friendly and have an excellent sense of humor.  But as it turns out that is often not enough.  There are numerous morning teas that I am expected to contribute towards (financially, because I sure as fuck am not about to start baking).  I even had to take a half-day off to avoid the baby shower that all the women in the office were invited to but unfairly none of the men.  Every year, there is St Patrick's Day regardless of how many people actually are Irish or are of Irish descent.  (Of course, there are no celebrations of special calendar dates in any other cultures.)  There is general enforced socialising and hilarity in the guise of staff drinks and team building, often not even paid for by work.

What's the big deal, some of you may ask.  Granted, for a lot of people this not only sounds fine but desirable.  And if you are a social person who enjoys socialising with the people you work with, then I can understand that.  And the argument could be made that if you don't fit in then maybe you should find somewhere that you do.  Except if you love/like/don't mind your job, why should you have to, just so people can stop bugging you?

I'm perhaps (definitely) more sensitive to railroading than most.  I have great difficulty just rolling over, even when no-one else knows there is an issue for me to lose face over.  And almost no issue is too small if someone is trying to force my hand.  It's something that seems to be in the very fibre of my being & it is actually a huge nuisance.  I do really like being me but sometimes wistfully long to somehow just be less discerning, less complicated.  My other major obstacle is that I am allergic to small talk.  And I hate conversations about the weather, cooking and rugby rivalry.  Without headphones, I would have gone postal years ago.

Variety is not only the spice of life but actually a major asset in the workplace if it is allowed to be.  People have different strengths and weaknesses and any good manager knows to not treat everyone the same.  How social someone is is not a workplace issue unless it affects how you work with them.  And if someone is not inclined a certain way then backing them in a corner is hardly going to have the desired outcome.  Unless what is actually wanted is conformity not cohesion or harmony.  Not everyone wants to have a drink at the end of the week, at least not with co-workers.  Not everyone wants to play stupid games at monthly meetings.  Not everyone wants to pose for crazy photos at team building.  And there is no positive correlation between people who want to do those things and a strong work ethic.  I myself am quite suspicious of people who seem to delight in any activity at work that isn't actually work.  I have a couple of suspicions actually & one of them is that these people need to get out more.  Or at least, get out of my face.

We will have all learned from school the relationship between peer pressure and bullying.  But what I have learned since then is the relationship between peer pressure and majority rules AKA democracy.  I've also learned the relationship between democracy and apathy.  But the revelation all my own that came to me recently was that workplace conformity could be a major contributor to our general apathy as adults.  Those of us in full-time employment spend more time at work than any one place, at least conscious.  And I would posit that a large number of us assent thru silence quite a lot of the time.  Letting that comment slide.  Putting our headphones on.  Smiling thru our teeth.  Picking our battles.  Letting the so-called majority decide what we think is acceptable, funny, fun.  Longing to get back to our "real" lives.

But that's just it.  Can you just switch on being an individual responsible for your own decisions, your own happiness, the world you live in, when you walk out that door at the end of the day?  Is that when you suddenly find your voice?

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