Few opening lines are as addictive as the one novelist Leo Tolstoy created in the late 1800s: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Strangely enough, it’s a sentiment that inverts when modern-day work environments are involved; it turns out that dysfunctional workplaces are so alike that consultants make enormous sums measuring them against standard “winning to woeful” markers.
Some might think the majority of vortex workers are those whose positions involve high levels of danger, literal life-or-death decision-making, or lots of time with the vulnerable or suffering. Surprise! Frustrated, confused, fearful, and stressed workers can be found in all types of organizations.
Assessing Whether You’re in the Vortex
Worried you may be in the vortex? See if Gallup’s findings on US employees’ health and productivity resonate with you:
- “The more hours per day adults believe they use their strengths, the more likely they are to report having ample energy, feeling well-rested, being happy, smiling or laughing a lot, learning something interesting, and being treated with respect.”
- “Being engaged in an activity at a deep, natural level can result in a lack of the sense of passing time, and indicate a level of engrossment that is consistent with strengths usage. So, apparently, time not only flies when we’re having fun, but also when we are using our strengths—both act to reduce a person’s chances of feeling stressed or worried about the present or future, and make life feel meaningful and productive.”
If those statements represent your current attitude about work, congratulations: you inspire both envy and hope in others. If you’re mystified by the research results, see if you identify with any of the below scenarios…and read on if the answer is “yes.”
- Truly senior leadership doesn’t exist, because all the high-level players come and go quickly—as do their initiatives.
- Departures are no longer mentioned in organizational missives, because the quantity is so high it “leads people still here to wonder why they’re such losers.”
- Workers are openly told “like it or leave,” but somehow the directive never shifts to “like it or leave with this 6-month severance package and paid-up health care benefits that will help you weather a dismal job market.”
- Colleagues are escorted out immediately upon axing, and managers don’t address the fact there and then with the remaining team. [Though a half-eaten scone may sit on the ousted one's desk all day to serve as a poignant reminder of life's randomness.]
Dressing for Days in the Vortex
Set your boundaries, be they wide or narrow. If variety energizes you, spend more time dressing for work and thinking up combinations that bring you delight and liven up the visual landscape. If less is more, though, there’s no shame in a low-key, grab-and-go “uniform” that works for your environment.
5. Whether drawn from real-life touchstones or escapist fantasies, incorporate items that have positive associations.
You may not be able to run free with 50 yards of silk like the powerful and dynamic Cyd Charisse, but hey: why not choose a scarf with movement, something worn on a day filled with happiness, or socks/underthings/clothing in your favorite athlete’s colors? It’s an easy way to keep in touch with the qualities you like in yourself or admire in others.
4. Soothe your senses by minimizing color combinations and maximizing the Pajama Alternative Factor.
From knit-on-knit action* to whisper-soft Ts, shirts, and scarves, comfort-food dressing can make long days more bearable. [Despite the examples below, there's no need to avoid color-color.]
3. Send subliminal signals by dressing for offense/defense.
The opposite of number 4 above, for days when you know it makes sense to show you’re as serious as a heart attack. There’s a reason for the clichés about power suits, ties, and colors. However despondent the game makes you, gird your loins and protect your hide.
2. No matter how low morale and how casual your workplace and/or your Fridays, beware of looking too relaxed, ratty, or whimsical.
Do you really want to be wearing a sweater dress with missed patches of cat hair, a Hello Kitty sweatshirt, or wrinkled clothes when the CEO drops by to announce more strategic “reworking”—especially in case it’s you being cut?
1. Stock your closet with whatever passes for interview wear in your region and industry.
Naturally your CV, accomplishments, and references are updated and ready to go….
* Déjà Pseu of Une Femme d’un certain age has a flair for this type of dressing…and as it turns out we have sibling grey/black knit-on-knit outfits