After a talk I gave last week, a workshop attendee hurried up to me and asked, “So what about those office ‘Eeyores?’”
“You know, the ones who are miserable and rude all the time and just bring the whole group down…what are we supposed to do with them?”
Of course, at first I laughed hard at her reference to the perpetually-depressed stuffed donkey from Winnie the Pooh. But as I started to ask a clarifying question, the other employees I was working with that day crowded around me as if I was about to impart some magical, “Eeyore”-curing advice.
For those of you who don’t know, Eeyore was the pessimistic, self-deprecating donkey famous for his gloomy one-liners; and now, apparently, a metaphor for a miserable office-mate.
“Don’t worry about me,” Eeyore once said, “Go and enjoy yourself. I’ll stay here and be miserable.”
As the other workshop participants started gathering around they rallied around this desperate cause of “…dealing with the ‘Eeyores.’” It was a very strange conversation.
“Yeah!” they asked collectively, “How do we deal with them? How can we change them?”
After a bit of thinking, I threw out there, “Well, for starters, it might be a good idea to refer to them as human beings.”
The laughing and questioning died down a bit. They seemed confused.
The workshop attendees seemed to spend the next few minutes in self-reflection. “Maybe we do need to be nicer,” I heard one say as they, and the conversation, shifted to concern about the person and not the position or “Eeyore.”
“Eeyores” are humans
After the interaction, I started thinking about their language – words like “them,” “those,” “the ones,” “dealing with.”
How often do we dehumanize people who don’t show up like we do in our organizations? How does this act itself make us responsible for the office “Eeyore?”
Now, we all have those people in our organizations – and chances are you’ve already thought of that person for you while you were reading this post. You know who I am talking about – the people who seem miserable, who seem to like to hijack meetings, who seem to make work all about how they are feeling, and who seem to hate their jobs.
But, what if, we really, honestly started seeing these “Eeyores” as the people they actually are? And, what if you took responsibility for serving them? Yes, serving them. I believe our organizations, and more importantly, the people who may be struggling at work will be better for it.
People are complex
The idea of reminding yourself that the unhappy person in your organization is indeed a human may sound ridiculously simple, but this small reminder can change how we see the very co-worker giving us this grief (and everyone else we work with).
What does it mean to consistently remind ourselves that all of the difficult people we work with are humans?
It means we have to acknowledge them as people who have friends, siblings, parents, kids, and pets who love them. To another person – they are everything.
It means we have to acknowledge and make space for their goals, ambitions, dreams, struggles, illnesses, sadness, happiness, and hobbies. For they, too, are doing this whole “life” thing and they are likely spending over 35% of theirs’ at work – with YOU.
Do you talk more about these people to others than you talk with them?
Do you spend more time avoiding them than including them?
When I asked the workshop attendee who asked me the initial question how she treats the difficult people, she told me that “…she tries to stay away.”
Why do we give people who are already struggling to belong and find happiness at work exactly the opposite of what they need? Exclusion.
Maybe we should be asking them: What do you need? How can I help you be happier?
The answers may surprise you.
There are reasons for Eeyores
In general, people don’t wake up and decide, “Hey, I’m going to go to work and be miserable today” or “I’m going to make sure my co-workers don’t like me.”
There are always reasons why people behave, act, and present themselves the way they do, and most likely those reasons exist right in your organization.
In fact, a system is only as good as its weakest part, so focusing in on that part may be the key to the whole’s success.
How often do we take the time to ask the people who aren’t enjoying their work why? Or ask them how work could be better?
Or, what if managers and leaders took responsibility for their employees’ happiness AND unhappiness?
With over 70% of US workers feeling disengaged in their jobs, maybe we are all “Eeyores” and a little extra attention and care could go a long way.
Or, as Eeyore himself once said, “A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.”