I have always been intrigued by human behaviour, particularly within workplaces. By nature, I am drawn to studying it – I need to make sense of what I see.
An example I have studied for several years are the almost covert networks of employees seemingly intent upon actively sharing bad news stories about their workplace. In many cases I could see that the stories were either incorrect, illogical interpretations or pessimistic predictions. Further to this, the impact on the individuals involved appeared to be quite negative. Over time, my question became;
“Why do people do this, when it just seems to make them feel bad?”
What is driving this apparent ‘cognitive dissonance’?
In part, I believe this is a common theme:
But why connect and share the bad news?
Over the past 5 years I have studied internationally, with access to many recently published academics working in psychology, neuroscience and wellbeing. In an effort to answer that question, I have discussed my observations with many of them using a Toy Story analogy.
At some point it struck me;
the analogy was far more powerful than I had first thought ...
The story I use considers the ‘mutant toys’ who live under the bed of Sid Phillips, the sociopathic 11 year old neighbour. They are a group of damaged, disfigured, seemingly discarded toys who have banded together to hide in the shadows.
Increasingly, the parallels made sense:
This final point added much to my thinking ...
These networks also seek to recruit; either from other mistreated staff or new hires entering an organisation, testing their faith in the company, manager etc. They can be very persuasive; sharing stories of others mistreatment or hollow promises.
In psychological terms, these ‘toys under the bed’ are suffering – in some cases demonstrating clear symptoms of learned helplessness. Given the links between this, stress, illness and depression my attitude shifted from frustration to concern.
In many cases, these staff are seen as just too hard to fix and are left alone (the parallel continues). The price for this is very high.
At an individual level, these staff are likely to be:
Ignoring these staff is not an option. They once had ‘healthier’ beliefs that aligned with their desire to be in the organisation – hopefully, a part of what got them hired in the first place … Until their version of ‘Sid Phillips’ came along. Some people have the strength or resilience to deal with that, others choose to leave but there are those who feel they can do neither of those things.
These people need to be identified, understood and helped to regain trust that they matter and that they have something to contribute. It may be a very difficult process, perhaps in some cases futile.
I see this as duty of care.
Look after your toys.