Playgrounds over Prisons

Careers can be prisons or playgrounds. Mine was both, only not the best way around.

The first half was a playground. I worked in two parts of the business that were small, entrepreneurial units that worked in new technology. They were innovative, creative, dynamic environments where you were encouraged to contribute ideas, try things out, solve problems in new ways. 

No-one knew what they were doing because we were working in new areas. I wasn’t following the manual, I was helping write it. It was a supportive environment where you were encouraged to find out where your talents lay and make them shine.

I thrived in this environment. I reached what I call ‘Peak Colin’.

And then we got re-organised and squished into a bigger division of the business. This second half of my career was a prison.

Although it was still in a new technology area, the culture was very different. A very hierarchical, command-and-control organisation driven by fear, it was run as a personal fiefdom by the man at the top. The focus was very much on ‘doing the numbers’. Your personal needs weren’t just secondary, they were irrelevant.

It wasn’t that bullying was rife, it was the preferred management style. You would be mostly ignored until, on a whim or because something went wrong, attention turned onto you. Your life would be made hell for anything from a couple of days to a couple of weeks as you were subjected to the most intense scrutiny.

All sorts of data and forecasts would be demanded from you, you would be asked to justify all your decisions and actions in minute detail. You would be hounded and run absolutely ragged until, just as suddenly, the spotlight would be shifted to some other poor sod. Quite often, all the work you had done would be dropped and forgotten and you’d go back to anonymity.

Conformity was demanded, otherwise you were deemed to have ‘gone offside’ and would be punished. Querying decisions or voicing a different point of view was considered a CLA (Career Limiting Act).

This created a stifling environment where every action could bring about some sudden retribution. The stress levels were through the roof, the creativity levels through the floor.

I did not thrive in this environment. I hit the bottom.

It normally goes the other way around. People start off working in a prison and then they escape and either find a playground or build their own one.

Or they never escape the prison. That happens far too often.

What I learnt from this was that workplaces should be playgrounds, not prisons. Playgrounds are better for the people, better for the business and better for society.

However, we seem to have gone in the other direction. Workplaces have become more like prisons. It’s essential we reverse that trend. For people, for society but also for businesses.

That’s why I started Decrapify Work. We need to make more playgrounds.

And we have the power to make that happen, if we have the courage to act.

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