FLASHPOINT: Wounded At Work?

PUT two or more people in one place, give each of them a part of one big job and then divide them into cubicles. What do you get? Normally, a battlefield!

Bob Rosner, author of “Working Wounded,” asks, “Ever feel like you were pummeled into submission by an unfair boss? Or like you were poked till it hurt by cantankerous co-workers? Or like you were being squeezed by a system that wasn’t giving you adequate recognition? If so, welcome to the working wounded – you’ve taken your share of workplace flak.

While the office may be one place where people get a chance to exhibit greatness, unfortunately, it is also a place where they get a change to flaunt their worst. So while people in the office don’t go around with live ammunition or drawn knives, they get to crush each other’s self-esteem with intrigue, gossip, foul play and dirty tricks.

Forum

This is why Bob Rosner, the only other author aside from Scott Adams, author of the Dilbert books, that pokes fun at workplace problems, created “Working Wounded,” a syndicated business advice column that has since become a book and an award-winning web site in just a few years. He says that he wants to provide “a public forum in which people could come together to laugh and learn about their jobs.

While Adams dwells more on workplace satire and gives advice for the work-weary “cubicle dweller” in doublespeak, Rosner is able to give practical advice with a lighthearted twist that according to his subtitle “adds insight to injury.” Instead of telling the reader what to do like most advice columns, Rosner asks a lot of questions that help analyze the situation. He also consults highly paid experts who would normally charge hefty fees for their advice but which readers get for free.

A look at his chapter titles will show you his style. He asks the reader, “What bugs you at work?” If it’s everything, the reader is advices to look at Chapter 1, “Shot Full of Holes.” If co-workers are your beef, you can read Chapter 2, “Poked from All Sides.” If it’s your boss, Chapter 3, “Pummeled from Above” has the answers. This graphical humor continues up to Chapter 12 where you can learn “Dodging the Bullets: How to Find Safety and Meaning at Work.

Add-Ons

Rosner’s book includes the hilarious but apt cartoons of “The New Yorker” cartoonist Robert Mankoff depicting workplace vagaries. Other add-ons are interesting e-mail from Rosner’s readers, quotations that form part of “The Working Wounded Quotebook,” statistics on workplace issues called “The Working Wounded List,” survey results from “The Working Wounded Poll,” workplace tips in the “Working Wounded Toolbox,” and a “Working Wounded Quiz.

Apparently, Working Wounded has been well received in many countries. An overview of the concerns addressed in the book reveal that problems people encounter in the workplace in many parts of the world are similar and that solutions to these problems can be relevant even across cultures. An explanation to this phenomenon is the fact that globalization and the information highway have “standardized” problems, issues and concerns confronting the worker in many countries.

Concerns

Rosner addresses all types of concerns – from succeeding at work (career development) to succeeding outside of work (entrepreneurship), and from creativity to technology. He does this objectively and comprehensively, throwing in a pinch of humor that puts everything in perspective. He advises bosses who get stabbed at the back by their staff. He counsels employees that get “murdered” by overbearing managers or cranky co-employees. In doing so, Rosner doesn’t come off as taking sides such as being “pro-labor” or “pro-management,” which is to his benefit because he avoids the land mines of traditional labor-management relations. Workers will love him because he can go straight to the jugular of the problem, which can be a boss who thinks he is Darth Vader or a company system that feels like quicksand. Management will love him because he tells disgruntled employees to quit “whining over their wounds” and instead rise above their woes.

Rosner looks at the situation being presented, checks his resources and research, checks his resources and research, and dishes out the reader’s options in plain, simple terms. For example, in a piece on “How to control anger at work,” he begins by citing his own experience with anger thereby establishing empathy with the reader, and then refers to Hendrie Weisinger’s book, “Anger at Work.” He leaves the reader with an intriguing choice of “testosterone or a paycheck” and a quote, “Don’t wrestle with pigs; you get dirty and the pigs enjoy it.

Psychology

On a psychological level, Rosner’s book may do wonders for countless and nameless working wounded in the workplace who, because of their wounds, become fiercer in the process. Thomas Riskas, management consultant and author of the book, “Working Beneath the Surface,” writes, “To live is to be wounded, and we are all wounded in various ways.” Riskas says that there are five existential wounds of the soul, which are deprivation, deprecation, isolation, stultification and rejection. He points out that these wounds are “the internal demons” that cause people to wound others in return. From this viewpoint, one can see that conflict in the workplace is a never-ending cycle that, depending on the corporate culture, becomes a skirmish or a full-scale battle where many spiritual “dead bodies” wind up on the office carpet. In this situation, one can choose one’s weapons – the searing acid of scathing words, the might of the venomous pen, or Rosner’s preferred weapons, logic and laughter.

Despite all the drama (and comedy) in his book, Rosner has his heart and mind in the right place. Putting workplace problems in its true perspective, he quotes Bruce Springsteen on his first page, “When I walk on stage, I’ve got to feel like its the most important thing in the world. Also I got to feel like, well, it’s only rock and roll.” In other words, work like a star but know that the essential you is not defined solely by work.

Author: Regina Galang Reyes. First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer November 8, 2000.

Photo credit: www.sxc.hu

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