It’s always difficult to measure mental health and emotional well-being. Sending out teams of grad students to ask pre-formulated questions to random victims distorts the picture.
You don’t really want to rely on self-reports of someone’s happiness quotient. Do you? In a culture that tells you that you must flourish, you would not dare tell an anonymous interviewer that you are not flourishing. You might not understand what it means to flourish but you know the right answer to the question.
More salient and more to the point, for those of us who wish to measure mental health, is how well people can function on the job. After all, the nation is awash in therapy. Anyone who is not in therapy is almost surely taking one or another psychoactive drug. American millennials are being outcompeted by just about all their peers around the world, but they and their older cohorts should be leading the world in flourishing.
To everyone’s shock and awe, such is not the case. Apparently, American workers are so emotionally overwrought by the recent election that they cannot focus on their jobs. They cannot concentrate. They cannot focus. They cannot function in the workplace. As soon as someone brings up politics their emotions begin to boil and they gird their loins, ready for arguments, fights and drama.
This tells us that therapy, such as it is, produces less mental health than ideological conformity. It’s not about your well-being. It’s about indoctrinating you in politically correct opinions.
It offers you membership in a cult of like-minded and like-feeling individuals. Any encounter with someone who thinks differently threatens your identity as a member of the cult. You joined the cult because you believed that all right-thinking people thought as you did. Discovering that you are not even in the majority makes you crazy. Rather than change your mind or balance your opinions, you go berserk. There, that will show them!
The Atlantic reports that the American psyche is disintegrating. It sees the evidence in the workplace. During the campaign things were not looking very promising, from a mental health perspective:
Months before the election, there were reports of greater political tension in offices than in previous election cycles. In one survey from the American Psychological Association, 10 percent of respondents said that political discussions at work led to stress, feeling cynical, difficulty finishing work, lower work quality, and diminished productivity.
Now that the election is over, things are getting worse:
Now, a new survey commissioned by BetterWorks—a software company that helps workers with setting and tracking goals—finds that post-election, politics is continuing to take a toll on workplace productivity. The online survey included 500 nationally representative, full-time American workers, and found that 87 percent of them read political social-media posts during the day, and nearly 50 percent reported seeing a political conversation turning into an argument in the workplace. Twenty-nine percent of respondents say they’ve been less productive since the election.
29% is not a trivial number. It is not a rounding error.
As it happened, things were not very good even before the political season dawned. McKinsey had already discovered that workplace incivility and general rudeness were on the rise. The reason, in our technologically advanced world people do not interact with other people… on a personal level. People telecommute. People text and email. It’s all abstract and dehumanizing. No one has a face.
You recall the reaction to Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban telecommuting at Yahoo! People rose up to denounce her for being a sexist misogynist and many other awful things. One cannot say that Mayer’s tenure has been a great success… for Yahoo! at least… but one must credit her for a good decision.
When she took over the company, the offices were a wasteland, empty and unused. Even if she could not turn the company around, she did make a good decision when she banned telecommuting. Now, if only companies could ban texting between people who are sitting next to each other.
The Atlantic explains the McKinsey study:
According to a study from McKinsey, workplace incivility was already on the rise. Researchers suspect the increasing rudeness at the office could result from a variety of factors: from the rise of remote work, to tension over changing workplace hierarchies, or the lack of face-to-face interaction in the age of email and Slack. For businesses, there are costs associated with less collegial workplaces including increased stress, employee turnover, and eroding the trust required for collaborative work. Duggan says that managers should help their employees focus on work, and that while support groups or other interventions sound good, it might be a further distraction. “The problem with that is you do a debrief about the election, then you have to do a debrief at the inauguration, then you have to do a debrief about the first week, the second week, and it doesn't stop.”
Funnily enough, offices have already discovered that they gain no advantage by having debriefing sessions—which resemble group therapy—about political matters. Why should that be so? Simply put, people see debriefing sessions as occasions to vent, to express their feelings, to let fly, not to hold back. Where do you think they got the idea that meetings were the place to do some group therapy, not to address a problem or to brainstorm a solution?
Today’s modern management consultants have contributed to this problem. They have produced a doctrine that is called “bringing your ‘whole self’ to work.” Think about it: companies pay consultants large sums to offer up recycled and repackaged psychobabble. I defy anyone to tell me what a “whole self” is? You can make like philosopher David Hume and rummage around in your mind searching for your whole self. If you do you will like Hume discover that there is no such thing. And besides, what does it mean to bring half a self to the office.
The idea of not bringing politics to work is not just old school, it also clashes with another increasingly popular doctrine of modern work—the idea of bringing your “whole self” to the workplace. Even HR professionals admit that making the office a politics-free zone would be pretty hard at this point.
Didn’t the management gurus figure out that you come to work in order to… work. There, that wasn’t very hard. And that many aspects of your whole self that you do well to leave out of the workplace. Your political opinions are high on the list. Your emotional problems with your spouse or your significant other are also on the list. Your feelings about your dog or about the neighborhood beggars should also be kept out of the workplace. And you do well to keep your lubricious longings to yourself when you are on the job.
The business of business is business. Your job is not an extension of your experience with therapy. You are not looking to flourish and you are not looking for deep meanings. You are there to do a job. Not because it's your heart's desire but because you have contracted to do so-- and you want to be good to your word.
True enough, you cannot completely banish politics from the office. After all, politics impacts business. And yet, which genius imagined that the options ranged between making the office a “politics-free zone” and discussing politics with everyone all the time.
Perhaps the problem is not so much the politics, which is, after all a function of the real world, but the emotion that people attach to it. And perhaps the problem is that there is not enough accurate information, not enough facts… but too much feeling, too much distortion and a news media that believes its job to be to cherry-pick the facts that are most likely to fire up everyone’s passions… regardless of the consequences.
It’s not so much the politics. It’s that people do not know what to do with the information. Their minds have been deformed by the school system and the media… so all they know how to do is to emote. They do not process information; they look for hidden meanings and conspiracies. They do not want to see how the game is being played. They do not care to examine all sides of the question.
They do what they were taught to do. They look for the narrative thread and the conspiracy that is afoot. Worse yet, they do not want to know what is going on. They want to know how they feel.
If it’s all politics and if you should devote all your time and energy to the war against Trump, one thing is certain, your workplace performance will suffer.
Now, tell me why is the stock market so optimistic about the future of American business?