Coping with One’s Own Cynicism in the Workplace

I was recently asked about how one copes with being the consummate corporate cynic while functioning as a manager in a large corporation. How one keeps their personal sanity and avoids the professional pitfall of infecting one’s direct reports with “attitude”. I answered with one simple word – humor.

Although I am personally pretty adept at compartmentalizing my rage, disbelief and disgust with the things I see happening on a daily basis, it’s tough sometimes not to go off on a real tirade around coworkers and peers. Humor is definitely a great safety valve and there is far too little of it in today’s workplace. I have never seen such humorless lifeless zombies, ramrod stiff automatons, frenetic micromanagers and sanctimonious pompous asses in my life. Take your job seriously – not yourself!

Perhaps you see glimmers of humor (albeit slightly sarcastic and satirical) in my weekly posts. Writing is a great outlet for me. I’m even better in person. The staff and my peers can attest to that. I’ve had them rolling in the aisles during some really tough times. I believe that the laughter I can invoke really helps cut through the drudgery, tension and anxiety. At one point it was even suggested that I become a standup corporate comedian or talk show satirist. That’s enough of that!

Forget about those goofy books like Fish. Come on, that’s grammar school schmaltz. What an insult to intelligent people. We’re all adults. We’re all in this together and we all share a common environment. Believe me, there’s plenty of great material to poke fun at in the workplace. Everything and everyone is fair game – including oneself. Although some managers approach their functions and the company with near religious zealotry, there’s nothing THAT sacred in the workplace. It isn’t a place of worship. Skewering the foibles of the leadership and satirizing company polices is definitely not sacrilegious. Considering the hours that many of us put in, it’s our home away from home. Can’t we be as comfortable at work as we are there?

Groups of like minded managers can really elicit some fun and good laughs when they get together. When I think of some of the nicknames we’ve come up over the years for members of the top brass based upon their quirks and idiosyncrasies, it’s astounding. Some of the stories we’ve traded about the upper echelon are absolutely hilarious and the spoofs on goofy company programs and polices have been priceless. It’s never meant at all to be mean or even vindictive. It’s a real sharing of feelings and genuine camaraderie. I liken it to being on a battlefield or fighting a long drawn out war. Something other a few “metrics” and a “vision statement” is needed to bind us together. Am I saying that the corporate leadership is the common enemy that binds? Absolutely not! Soldiers fight the real enemy with zeal and STILL have fun at the expense of their superiors and the “system”. If you think that this does not go on within all levels of an organization (except the executive, of course), I think you’re sadly mistaken.

Don’t get me wrong here. As managers, we all have responsibilities and should never shirk them or attempt to foment mutiny. I dislike whiners and gripers as much as the next manager. I have little patience with complainers who have been given the tools and training to get a job done as well. As a manager, I’ll listen to a bitch session from time to time. People have different tolerance levels for stress and that needs to be recognized and respected. Experienced managers know when not to cross the line. But when it’s all said and done, I always try to end with a good laugh, even if the jokes on me. I believe that it’s all part of coaching, reducing tension and treating people like human beings instead of machines.

We live in a stressful world and the workplace certainly mirrors if not exacerbates the anxiety. If more managers and executives could take themselves a little less seriously and show some humanity through a little more humor, I think we’d all feel better. Maybe the Corporate Cynic would no longer have anything to write about. I doubt it.

In the meantime, as my old friend Joe P. would say many many times while we worked together at one crazy company, “You’d better laugh, because if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.”

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