Sunday, April 28, 2013

Critical Approaches and Emotional Health

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What motivates you? For some it might be the result. Focus on the final product or reward makes the pain of work worth it. For others it might be the act of 'doing' itself.  Motivation is driven by intrinsic rewards such as the feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction gained through performing work. There are also those who are motivated by others.  Whether it be through positive encouragement or the desire to impress. All of the above can be successful forms of motivation depending on the person/personality and situation.

However, I find fear to be one of the most effective motivators. The prospect of negative consequence, judgment, and punishment are all-justifiable reasons to fear.  While this fear might serve as a powerful motivator and gets the job done its presence is not without flaw. Living in an environment that aggravates fear leads to unnecessary stress and can be damaging to the individual.

Regardless of how friendly its environment might be, the workplace is usually associated with at least some feelings of stress. Add unwarranted fear caused by an excessive power structure and the working environment might become something more than just a negligible source of stress. Living under the constant stress that nothing is ever good enough and the fear that nearly every move you make is being watched by a critical eye can become a major source of anxiety.  In a perfect world this kinds of organizational structure would not exist; however, this is not a perfect world and this environment is far more common than most of us would like to admit.

This week’s assignment had me interview an employee at an organization of my choice.  I had the pleasure of meeting with a young lady and good friend (whose name will remain anonymous) to discuss her experiences with power dynamics within the organization at which she is employed. Let me start by stating that I was struck with feelings of disgust, sadness, and remorse as I listened to her recap several stories of her experiences at the workplace. As a waitress at a popular Corvallis restaurant, she is dealing with a constant rush, and the obvious stresses that are a consequence of working in the service industry. However, the sources of her stress and anxiety go far beyond dealing with the five o’clock dinner rush, dissatisfied customers, angry cooks, and being ‘stiffed’. She provided me with an assortment of examples, describing her far from ideal working environment. She detailed multiple times in which her manager made hurtful assumptions and wrongfully accused her of certain actions that had nothing to do with the situation. Fear of judgment is felt daily. She confided in me, the potent dissatisfaction she feels at this organization, because it seems that no matter how hard she works, it is never good enough. Fear of judgment is constant.  She has pretty much given up on requesting personal time, because when she does, she is almost guaranteed to work that shift regardless of the day. She is more likely to get the day off by chance. Coincidence? Ill let you decide.

The adverse effects, obtain through exposure to such an enviornment, are felt far beyond her time on the clock. After a long day at work, she is not only physically drained but also emotionally exhausted. She shared with me that it was not uncommon, for her to breakdown in tears after a discouraging day on the job. (As a close friend, I have witnessed this scenario many a time.) The hurt and unease can be seen in her face the moment the topic of work comes up. It is obvious that this environment has become a source of detriment to her emotional health and well-being.

As I try to console and encourage my friend, I can`t help but wonder “why?” Why does she continue to put up with this? Why won`t she confront her manager and express her feelings of hurt? Why won`t she stand up for herself by saying enough is enough? And if nothing else…Why not quit? Its not worth it.

While I still do not fully understand the passive approach, which she has taken to deal with such oppression, this week’s class discussion of Critical Approaches has helped to clarify some of the questions. Hegemony (a factor in the functions of ideology) is a term used to describe ones willingness to participate in their own oppression. This concept reinforces managerial control as an employee shamelessly accepts the legitimacy of an organization’s rules without question, and follows them. By not questioning the mistreatment and abuse of power practiced by her managers, my friend is participating in her own oppression.  By not standing up for herself and listening to the internal voice that is screaming at her to ‘do something!’ she is denying herself access to the potential happiness and satisfaction that can be discovered through accomplishment and work.

According to Phsychology Today, Motivation is literally the desire to do things. It's the difference between waking up before dawn to pound the pavement and lazing around the house all day. It's the crucial element in setting and attaining goals. While rules and consequences are essential to the success of an organizational structure, I believe that motivation (in the workplace) should be characterized by positive reinforcement not fear of punishment. Not many people enjoy living in fear and working with the constant burden of having to prove yourself. This often creates a hierarchical power structure in which managers hold the authority. Thus producing a negative working environment in which the damages have an incessant impact on the employees at the bottom.