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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Fear in the Workplace


I have a very cliche work environment. Not universally cliche, but definitely a NYC cliche. The doctor's office that I "manage" has three Jewish doctors and a Dominican receptionist. Just as you would imagine it. There are children's crayon scribbles on the walls, Yiddish spilling through the hallways, and frequent visits to YBF.com (young, black and fabulous) by the receptionist. Its surreal.

That said, I really enjoy the people that I work with and have had the privilege to get to know them. Specifically, because of the proximity of our desks, the receptionist and I have learned a great deal about each other. She is a first generation American from the DR who has a great deal of pressure to be the first to go to college and get a good job, all while supporting her mother who lives in Brooklyn. I won't say much more of her story but one of the things that struck me was the immense amount of fear and anxiety she carries with her.

From the first day that I was hired she was telling me why she would eventually be fired. With each miss step or wrong keystroke she fears being "caught" and losing her much needed 45 hours of work. While much of it is cultural and the result of being told by her mother to "trust few", many workers are creating similar layoff narratives as fear becomes the currency of our workplaces.

The NYT (do I ever quote anything else?) has a fascinating discussion about the presence of fear in the workplace today. They discuss the impact of fear and anxiety on employees and specifically discuss Generation Green Ribbon as I will call us (the article says, "they were part of an overpraised generation raised when every child got a trophy for showing up"). Throughout the comments to the article you can read tragic stories of young New Yorkers struggling to find meaningful work and in some cases they not finding work at all.

This anxiety is present in my life as Taryn and I consider what is next for us. I do not write these things as a therapeutic mechanism, but to speak to the reality of professional anxiety that my friends and I are experiencing. While it is not irregular to be 25 and without a career map, I (and many others) have come to a place where I am ready for my potential to turn to potency. This desire is then held in tension with a nation wide fear of employers and a job market that does not appear ready to reward our hard work (or masters degrees).

As I write this my heart rate increases and all of the questions begin to rattle around in my little bald head. Then I stop, take a breath, and am reminded of the most used command throughout scripture, "do not be afraid". Easier said than done. But I will try.

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Kj said...

Right there with ya buddy.
Thanks for writing this.

Jarrod said...

More on the generation specific difficulties -


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