The Stranger In The Workplace

“When we return to normal…”

With gentle pressure on the old handle, I push and the door swings open. It’s silent in here and a little eerie. The tables and chairs look like any other office. The window blinds are a little bit crooked. That kind of thing used to really bother me but it doesn’t today. The desks are tidy, the in-trays are empty, the printer switched off and then I see it, a ghostly shadow on the wall. A stranger standing just out of sight. As the door closes it surprises them a little. Wearing a distant look of quiet menace across his face, enhanced by the piercing threat in his eyes and look of dangerous certainty etched across his forehead, he steps into the half light.

I look at him before his eyes adjust to the clawing darkness and know that I don’t fear him. I know that whatever happens next, I am in control, I have the upper hand and there is nothing he can do about it. I was at the top of my game and it felt good.

I used to live in fear. I feared losing everything. I feared for my existence and I feared what could happen to me. I feared the subtle threats. I feared being unfairly called out. But my world has changed and that fear has gone. No matter what, he can’t hurt me any longer.

Before this virus took hold and before everything changed, I used to work for someone I feared in a job that I didn’t want to lose. I did exactly as I was told, I hated it, I hated him, I hated me. He had control over everything. He had control over what I thought, what I did and how it used to make me feel. He knew it and he used it.

Over the past weeks and months, I have seen that it doesn’t need to be that way. I’d lived through it all. I’d survived. My family has spent time together. We’ve had time to reassess our values. We know what is important and what isn’t. We knew that time was precious and stuff wasn’t. We knew that relationships mattered and working all hours didn’t. We knew that it was the small things that we cared about. We’ve enjoyed being family and spending time together. We feel free.

“ok, the party’s over, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do. We need to hit the ground running from day one and we need to work over and above to make up the ground we have lost. Don’t just stand there looking lost, get the lights while I fire everything back up. There are fewer of us now and it’s going to be tougher. We will have to do what we need to in order to……..”

“In a minute,” I heard myself interrupting him, “I just want to spend a little time settling myself back in and get my head around being here again. I want to see how it feels”

He looked at me differently. He looked a little lost. He knew things had changed. The power had shifted. He no longer held a gun to my head. I was here because I chose to be. If I’m not here tomorrow it’s because I choose to be somewhere else.

If you are the boss and your people are returning back to work, know that you are the stranger in the workplace if you think things will get back to how it was. Everything has changed. Everyone has changed. Be ready to create a workspace where people want to be and choose to be. Look at your values. Look at whether your aims are aims that people can buy into. Look at becoming more flexible and treat your employees like customers…see what will attract them to you and keep them with you. Don’t be that stranger anymore.

And remember, it’s always the best and most talented people that leave first…because they can.

Photo by Mitchell Griest on Unsplash