We have so many shows and films about what it’s like at work.

From Office Space to The Office, and Severance to The Wolf of Wall Street, where we spend a vast majority of our waking hours and mental energy is the source for a lot of content.

At the same time, much of our time “off-the-clock” is spent thinking about and talking about what happens at work. We go over the many things we have to catch up on. We talk with our close friends and family about the recent drama unfolding between co-workers, or some “brilliant” decision made by corporate leadership.

Work is somewhat all-consuming, at times.

One part that I rarely hear talked about in general conversation or see depicted in our entertainment (for reasons that will become obvious in a moment) is the intersection of work politics and class consciousness.

Oh yeah, I’m gonna go there today.

Power at Work

Midjourney Prompt: The Absurdity of Modern Office Politics, Michelangelo

I’m going to make this point as succinctly as I can.

  • Your co-workers and peers are in the same struggle as you.
  • The people below you in the org chart often have it even worse than you.
  • Most of the managers you directly report to are actually in the same struggle as you.

If you do not own the company through significant shares of stock, or documentation of ownership, you have little individual power to influence the direction of the company. You can be laid off or fired at any time, in many states for any reason at all, often regardless of any protected status — due to an abundance of loop holes.

Please pay attention to this next point.

This is also true of every person you work with who does not fit the description of ownership above.

Yet, we — collectively— often fail to see this fact clearly and continue to fight with one another, instead of working collectively to formally address grievances. Office politics, especially silly infighting and drama, is an absurd game of jockeying for the favor of those at the top by stepping on the heads of those in the same struggle as you.

Friction at Work

Every office has them. The one who is always grumpy, the one who is always sleepy, and don’t forget that dopey one, and…wait, sorry, I got confused, I was listing the seven dwarfs.

Midjourney Prompt: the seven dwarfs of the modern day office, watercolor

The point I was going to make is that every office is a cornucopia of personalities. Some you will get along with and some you will not.

Disagreements at work are interesting because so often it is the result of the generally accepted competitive office environment that pits peers against one another in pursuit of advancement or recognition. This environment gives rise to ample opportunities for infighting.

While it can happen at any level of the org chart, the unspoken rules of engagement dictate that this infighting must be lateral or downward, as fighting with your boss always carries the threat of expulsion from the organization; this is a risky proposition since your job is what keeps you with (presumably) a roof over your head, (presumably) food on your table, and (presumably) healthcare.

What’s fascinating to me is how people locked in the same struggle for survival tend to fight one another instead of working together to improve the very conditions that often lead to overwork, underpay, frustration, burnout, anxiety, and more.

Harm at Work

The people you work with are not the ones dictating whether or not you continue to remain employed, not the ones to decide if you advance within the company, not the ones deciding whether or not your team is adequately staffed or resourced, and are not the ones who, by nature of running a business, generate personal wealth as a result of your labor.

So, why are you EVER fighting with them?

Midjourney Prompt: a basement modern office, with a dungeon entrance, 8k

Imagine for a moment that the result of your disagreement with any co-worker could leave them without their job and hence without the money to pay their rent, buy food, or access potentially life-saving medical care. Next, try to think of some potential reasons why they may not be performing.

  • Maybe they’re overworked
  • Maybe the assignment doesn’t fit their skill set
  • Maybe they have various struggles happening outside of work

There are infinite potential reasons.

Now, unpack your feelings of frustration and fear about your own safety and security at work as a result of someone else’s poor performance. You should realize all of the things you are worried about won’t be decided by those next to you or below you, but by those above you. Ironically enough, those directly above you are often in the same position, judging you for fear of those above them. It’s only when you get to the very top that those fears evaporate (except in the case of shareholders — who do exactly zero labor to produce value in the company).

Those who will harm you at work are not your coworkers. They, are just like you: vulnerable, overworked, underpaid, and tired. They are human beings.

Collaboration at Work

two human hands painting

The system is designed like this: the benefits of your work flow upward, while the liabilities and failures tend to flow downward. Cuts generally don’t start at the top, and if they do, it’s not at the very top.

These recent string of mass layoffs, should be a wake up call.

  • Stop getting caught up in stupid office politics with your coworkers.
  • Stop petty gossiping.
  • Stop jockeying to be the next enforcement arm of the owners against the people you need to labor with, day in and day out.

Slow down. Be kind. Talk to one another. See the bigger picture.

Ownership always benefits from a fragmented and divided labor force. When we atomize to individuals, owners are no longer outnumbered and hence they retain the power to cut your hours, cut your benefits, increase your workload, decrease your pay, and keep you fearful of losing everything.

So instead, collaborate and organize. It has always been the best way to improve your conditions.

It sure beats harming those who are in the same boat as you.

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