Mar 10, 2016

Why We're Stressed: The Cookie Crunch

Dear office worker,

I'll get right to the point. The workplace, as we know it today, is one of the most amazing and beautiful socioeconomic experiments ‎of the past two centuries. Why? Because there's no show like it anywhere else on Earth. I'm sure you would agree.

This is why the office just plain fascinates me, and ultimately made me want to leave it for good. I no longer wanted to participate in this great experiment, so I just quit cold turkey :)

But perhaps, just ‎like we can't pull our eyes away from a gory scene in a horror flick, I find myself being constantly drawn back to the reasons why I left. I can't help but think that there is something there to be learned and shared, especially for HR departments who are tasked with keeping employees motivated and in their seats.

‎You see, what makes the office so different and stressful is exactly what we take for granted in almost every other part of our life.

‎It's actually a very simple concept. ‎It starts with a cookie jar. And, it's a very basic lesson in economics.

When you were young and wanted a sweet snack, how were you supposed to get that cookie out of the jar‎? Well, if you were a good kid, you would ask your Mom or Dad politely, and if all went well, you would get your treat. All you had to do was ask.

Think about that for a moment. As a kid, you had a belief system that told you that you could have an endless supply of what you wanted (cookies) if you knew how to ask for them "the right way". This sets the stage for some very interesting behavior later on in life.

As you got a little older, you probably got craftier and more skillful at asking ‎for what you wanted, so in your mind, the supply of available cookies increased.

Of course, as adults we know that there is no such thing as an unlimited cookie jar, and eventually there will be no more cookies left to eat, no matter how craftily we ask for them. Our time at the office is a lot like this. We only have so many hours, minutes and seconds in the day to do the things we need to do, and to respond to the demands of our coworkers.

But, here's the rub. It's perfectly normal for our coworkers to treat us like that cookie jar. Because of this, they don't have an incentive to use our time efficiently, because they can always ask for more of it when they need it, if they learn how to push our buttons to get it. Do you see where I'm going with this?

‎In this story, there are no heroes and there are no villains. There are only incentives. And there are people. When these two things come together, you get a social experiment. This is why the office is the greatest show on Earth.

When a person has an unsustainable incentive to tap the unlimited resource of YOU, they are not "bad people" for trying to get as much of it as they possibly can. ‎You would do the same, wouldn't you?

This, I believe, is one of the fundamental sources of job stress at the office. We spend so much time and money treating the symptoms of this stress, but rarely do we look at the root causes. Well, I think ‎I just tapped one of those roots here.

What do you think? ‎I could carry on with some more of my own ideas, but I'm curious to hear your experiences on this subject. Have you ever made a successful transition out of the office, or are you planning one now?

Until then, keep your nose down and keep your eye on that cookie jar! Want to learn more? Click here to download my Free eBook right now: Being Assertive Sucks - why we have to do it, and why it feels so wrong.

All the best,

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