Last week I was reading about a newly promoted manager who was commenting that their experience with workmates had suddenly changed – from being normally flee flowing interactions to becoming a ‘struggle’.
It took me back to my first workplace promotion when a colleague told me that being a mid-manager was like having a brush stuck up your backside while being slapped across the face! Quite why that vivid image has stuck with me for many years I am unsure. Well……..maybe I am not; it had such a ring of truth in everyday experience how could I forget it?
It set me off thinking about the phrase ‘struggle and strife’ which, as the more streetwise will know, is cockney rhyming slang for ‘the wife’. It is one of these phrases that seems to have travelled well across the UK.
I then realised I was unsure of the actual distinction between ‘struggle’ and ‘strife’ so it was back to the dictionary. Side note - isn’t it amazing how much we still use a dictionary – albeit I guess for most it is now an online one. So, to save you the trouble - strife is conflict, sometimes violent, usually brief or limited in scope while struggle is contention, great effort.
I would certainly not suggest that the life of most leaders is filled with struggle and strife, but it does happen – and yet I have never seen a job description where it is listed as part of the duties. The danger is that by not acknowledging it we are somehow communicating to managers that if they experience it that might be their fault.
And if we think it through, one of the reasons that we have supervisors / foremen / managers / is to ensure what needs done is done properly – even if there are times when employees need encouragement / support / direction / instruction.
When I look back at some of my early workplace experiences some seem to resemble a scene from the dark ages. Now, admittedly, my ‘formative’ employment years were the 1970s – possibly the very worst period of industrial relations in the UK. Even that term seems outdated! Some appalling management and trade union practices seemed to be colluding in a MAD (mutually assured destruction) pact.
It is certainly not all sweetness and light now but are we getting better?
Workplaces are built on trust, but they also need expertise and commitment, purpose, and values. Of course, there is the daily slog and sometimes it is just about bringing home the bacon.
But it can’t only be that.
Who knows what the great twenty-first century pandemic will do to our ideas and understanding of work? But our society needs us working to ensure our health, welfare, and comfort. Work may be in the very process of being reinvented right in front of our eyes, but it will still exist.
And, guess what? Struggle and strife will still be part of it.
Work is nature's physician and is essential to human happiness.
Galen 210 AD
Stay safe. Lead well