Does your organisation push employees to the point of exhaustion? Or does it support healthy workplace functioning by considering the emotional and physical welfare of those that work within it?
Does it claim to care about and value employees then contradict itself by designing unreasonable and unachievable targets and goals? Or does it talk about employees as precious resources and consequently institute guidelines and programs to help support them in their work?
In biologic terms, the parasitic relationship is one where a host supports the life of a parasite by giving up part of itself, for example, nutrients or blood. The parasite takes from the host until there is very little or nothing left to give. The parasite either stays with the weakened host or the host dies and the parasite moves-on to another host,
In the workplace, organisations create parasitic relationships when they do not prioritise the physical and mental health of their employees and neglect to consider them to be as important as corporate goals. Each employee in this relationship serves as a host for the needs of the corporate parasite. It is important for employees of any stature or level to recognise when this relationship exists. The next step is to work to put healthy boundaries in place that limit what the parasitic organisation can take from employees. Otherwise, the organisation will literally drain the life out of employees, leaving people feeling stressed, burnt-out, irritable, isolated, worthless and disinterested.
What are some signs that an organisation is parasitic? The parasitic organisation might claim as part of their corporate mantra that their employees "live and breathe" the organisational mission both inside and outside of working hours. The organisation might push employees to do "whatever it takes" or "make it happen" to meet the corporate goals. The human resources department might be limited, non-existent or mainly focused on corporate needs. Employees may not be appreciated or recognised for their hard work, either extrinsically with monetary and other tangible rewards or intrinsically with "thank-yous" and verbal acknowledgement.
It can be problematic for an employee to try to maintain healthy boundaries and feel satisfied in workplaces that are parasitic. The same rationale that helps create a parasitic organisation will most assuredly prompt those people in charge to react negatively towards and push-back on any attempts that resemble noncompliance by employees. "I expect you to always answer your emails on weekends and while on holiday!" "We need everyone to work 60 hours per week indefinitely to increase our sales and meet targets" (but on the same salary as a 40hr per week agreement). "I don't want to hear about any conflict - just work it out amongst yourselves!"
A more ideal relationship between organisation and employees is one that is symbiotic. Each party gets something important and valuable from working together. Ideally, both thrive and flourish while on the same track. The relationship that exists between organisations and employees may be on a continuum from parasitic to symbiotic. An organisation may be ruthless and self-serving across all operational facets - purely and unabashedly parasitic. Alternatively, it may be considered and measured in how it operates while helping employees with healthy personal and professional functioning - supportively symbiotic. An organisation may also float somewhere in between, with some good policies, procedures and aspects of culture firmly in place, with others that are skewed and out-of-balance.
If you realise that you work in a parasitic organisation of any degree then there are some proactive steps you can take to thrive and to avoid being overcome. You can implement different strategies to survive without wasting away in servitude. The strategies may include explicit and clear feedback and language to supervisors and high level managers about what you are willing to do and what you think is appropriate. Conversely, it may require less overt tactics that do not draw attention to your self-supportive efforts. It may be worth employing a bespoke mix of various strategies. It depends entirely on the organisation and also on what you want in both your work and in your career. By understanding your relationship with your organisation you may find you have access to more resources and choices, which will lead to more workplace satisfaction overall.
Blogging about mental health issues for personal and professional development. All material is authored by Cori Lambert unless explicitly stated otherwise. Authentic Consulting and Counselling is located in West Perth, Greater Perth Area.