Mind Games in the Workplace

by Sebastian Oros

When I was a young boy, I thought “games” only happened on a video screen or a sporting event. As I got older and worked for a broad range of employers, I realized that there were so many more games to be played, specifically the psychological games played in the workplace. These, needless to say, were much less fun.

Have you ever felt this way? You’re working hard and playing by the rules…until a strange new set of rules seem to pop up out of nowhere. Huh? Suddenly, you feel like you have two jobs. One is included in your job description, but the other consists of figuring out the “unwritten” rules. This job seems to have no limits or boundaries, and no one will explain the way the game is played. I call this “Culture Gameplay.” It’s exhausting, frightening, deliberate, hurtful, confusing, and/or hilarious – depending on who you are and how you’re affected.

What Defines a Workplace Culture?

I’ve worked since I was 10 years old. At first, they were odd jobs, but I started my career after graduating college. I can tell you that every workplace has a culture. When I was younger, I was so focused on my everyday responsibilities and cashing my paycheck that I really didn’t pay much attention to the behaviors around me. As I got older, I became acutely aware of these behaviors, but didn’t understand how they came together to create a workplace culture.

Workplace culture combines the values, belief systems, attitudes, and assumptions of the people within the workplace. A great workplace culture values hard work, communication, clarity, growth, and much more. A toxic workplace culture values power, hierarchy, and success at all costs.

What “Culture Gameplay” Happens in a Toxic Environment?

When your workplace doesn’t value clarity and communication, you may suffer from exposure to consistent “Culture Gameplay.” This social-emotional manipulation can impact your behavior and your ability to work. Does this feel familiar? Have you:

  • Felt pressure to “play politics” around certain people rather than speaking the truth?
  • Felt compelled to skirt the truth for fear it will negatively impact your career?
  • Watched others gossip before or after meetings?
  • Felt unsure what information was safe to share at work?
  • Felt nervous about who to trust when?

In a toxic work environment, there are countless examples of Culture Gameplay that occur in our day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute interactions.

What’s the Negative Impact of Culture Gameplay?

This type of environment has significant negative consequences on business. It can lead to employees missing work. It can cause a decrease in productivity, negative employee satisfaction, unproductive business relationships, chaotic teams, and more. 

There’s plenty of research to suggest that toxic work cultures are causing an exodus from workplaces. If your workplace is engaging in this type of culture gameplay, they risk losing their team. 

What’s the Alternative?

And what are we to do about it? At The Intention Collective, we are all about engaging in the RIGHT Culture Gameplay. We flip the script on its head, encouraging business leaders to increase communication, create psychologically safe work environments, and encourage the genius in each employee

Learn more about how we help businesses succeed through Intentionality, People, and Leadership Tools. Book a consult today.

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