Are you the light or the dark in your workplace?

choose your attitude

Today I sat in a coffee shop in Central London opposite a good looking man in his early 40s, smartly dressed even down to his matching bumble bee tie, socks and accompanying silk hanky in his breast pocket. But instead of having a sense of energy and eagerness to take the world on, he had instead a demeanour of defeat. He looked as though he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. He looked miserable and I felt sorry for him.

But watching him prompted what I want to talk about today.

Thinking about this man, whatever is going on with him personally, as he walked through his office door after his coffee, did he take light or gloom into the workplace? If he took gloom in, some might say he’s not to blame if he was worrying about something.

But let’s think about that for a minute. Energy creates more energy. Gloom creates more gloom. And it’s hard to be an energetic optimistic person when you are alongside someone who is really gloomy, or negative. It’s also hard to stay in an organisation when each day the dominant atmosphere is one of gloom or despondency, rather than optimism and energy. And what builds businesses and helps develop organisations? Energy or gloom? Light or dark?

Many would say I should be sympathetic to someone in my work environment who is gloomy; that we all have gloomy days and that’s okay as life can’t be smiles all of the time. They are right and to a degree, I am sympathetic and understanding. However, we each have a responsibility in life towards others. On a gloomy day, we have a choice about what we will present to the world as we walk through the door. We can choose to bring energy in and to share our energy with others, or we can choose to bring the gloom in and in so doing, drain some of the positive energy of others we meet.

The ‘glass half empty’ people around us often argue that pessimism is not a choice, but something preordained for them. But that is NOT correct. I have seen plenty of people present a positive face to the room, despite feeling under the weather or being seriously ill and plenty of people bring the sunshine in, despite dealing with very complex or stressful issues outside of work. We can each choose our attitude. We can each choose how we act each day. We can choose to be positive or we can choose to sink into negativity. We can choose to smile or we can choose to scowl. My view is that we have choices. In fact, far more choices than many would have us believe.

As an educator, the big question for me is, who is out there educating people about the fact that they do have choices and responsibilities towards others? Or is it all left to social media? Thought of the day posts and the occasional self-help book? And critically, who has the confidence to throw people out of the workplace, if they make life miserable for others by being difficult or negative? I’ve done it, but would you?

We live in a ‘blame’ and ‘victim’ society, very much created over the past 20 years by a legal profession that has by and large lost its vision, integrity and understanding of its critical role in supporting, rather than destroying the fabric of our community. When individual rights are always placed higher than community rights when winning the case, or maximising the fees is more important than being honest or fair, then difficulties are always going to arise. In my view, this delightful ‘blame’ and ‘victim’ society has, in equal measure, been created by the political pen pushers who put process, procedure and risk aversion above the long-term needs and welfare of citizens. We live in a society where playing the victim is the norm, when something doesn’t go the way we would like it to.

I acknowledge that my own HR profession must also shoulder some of the blame. For often, without question, it praises the ‘sage’ risk-averse advice of its lawyers and implements yet more process and procedure with barely a murmur. How I wish those in my profession would more often stand up to be counted, rather than wimp out at the slightest sign of controversy or conflict and stop this embarrassing habit of kowtowing to the nearest lawyer as though somehow that will raise their status.

But returning to education, our education process is so geared to qualifications and developing the skills to do the job, that sometimes life education gets missed out. An employer teaching staff about personal responsibility and about our choices in life is usually not one of the priorities of the training budget! But perhaps it ought to be.

For surely life isn’t just being ‘done’ to us, instead life is ours to pursue if only we can grasp the fact that we are in control, we choose and our decisions, actions and their consequences are ours alone. I would love to put this on the training agenda at work. Would you?

Comments, thoughts, opinions all welcomed. Please leave them below …



  1. Stellamaris Mohammed 30 October, 2015

    What an excellent article! I absolutley agree with you – Thanks Helen for this. We in HR should speak up, be bold, stop hiding behind policies and procedures and challenge when it is right to do so and also use every opportunity to educate colleagues about what it really means to be responsible – with rights also comes responsibilities.

  2. Helen 2 November, 2015

    Thanks Stellamaris for your kind comments. Shall we start a quiet HR revolution together? 🙂

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