Without any particular effort on my part, I seem to have achieved mythological status at my last place of employment. Apparently in a fit, I stood up on a table in the middle of a team meeting and announced how full of crap everyone was and resigned on the spot. I never actually did do that, but apparently I sent out clearly discernible signals that I had reached my threshold of bullshit. Reminded of this recently, I have been reminiscing (not in a fond way), about what exactly my threshold for dealing with insanity, inanity, and general incompetence actually is? What is the breaking point at which I would actually stand on a table and tell everyone how I felt about their lunacy?
Evidently, Kofi Annan just went through that same process. As Forbes online magazine noted if “former United Nations General Secretary and Nobel Prize winner Kofi Annan can’t resolve differences, what hope is there for the rest of us dealing with our own office politics?” Kofi Annan recently threw up his hands and said, “I can’t do anything with these people”. In trying to negotiate a settlement, he determined that there was nothing he could do to manage the craziness, and any further efforts amounted to wasted breath. I feel for you, Kofi.
I have visited over 100 community based organizations in my line of work and when I have conducted organizational assessments inevitably I meet with at least one disgruntled or near-the-breaking-point employee. In fact, many people seem to be on the perpetual verge of a complete meltdown in the Western world of work. Do we drive people too hard? Are we too invested in our jobs? Are 99% of the people we deal with everyday just plain crazy, illogical, irrational, or incapable of interacting normally with other human beings?
When does one know they’ve reached that “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore” moment? At what point do challenges become insurmountable and in which way do you flame out? In psychological research there is a phenomena described as of “job burnout”.
Psychologists Maslach and Leiter postulated that burnout occurs when there is a disconnect between the organization and the individual with regard to what they called the six areas of work life: workload, control, reward, community, fairness, and values. Obviously, if the work piles up and no real rewards come with it, the situation becomes unbalanced. But what I have found is that the situation is truly tenuous when fairness and values are transgressed. There is nothing worse than feeling morally disgusted. One can handle overwhelming workloads, but not the bile that accumulates from being involved in what one would otherwise consider reprehensible behavior, but is part and parcel of running the modern organization. That’s the breaking point. (if you can’t handle the workload–well, this blog is not for you). In this day and age, when there is an economic recession, organizations may chase funding for the sake of funding instead of what really furthers the cause and mission. It is okay to change missions as warranted by the community you serve, but to change just because of funding or personal interests is foolhardy. Further, in this time of social media frenzy, if the work becomes all about, marketing and “name recognition” you may have to ask yourself what purpose this hypothetical “recognition” serves.
Mr. Annan seems to have figured out that there was no current resolution to the Syrian problems, and that those very people that put him in to fix it were the same ones getting in the way of addressing the problem; that there were no real resources dedicated to addressing the problem and no one wanted to be seen as the heavy and take meaningful action. The appearance of taking action was more important than actually resolving the situation, political smoke and mirrors are the order of the day. Seeing through purposeful obfuscation is a much needed skill set, but only when it is also accompanied by a real act of bravery instead of complacency. If you have the requisite skill sets to know when to walk away, give a big shout out to all the screwed up places you have worked, as it’s truly hard to know where you will draw the line, until you’ve actually been pushed to it.