There’s a mantra, a commandment really, amongst certain religious fundamentalist groups that women and girls should always “keep sweet.” While the concept seems to have originated in polygamous/FLDS cults society, it has reached into other patriarchal groups. The phrase is designed to remind every girl and woman how she should conduct herself. Whether she is encountering life’s daily frustrations or something more harmful such as being forced into a marriage or encountering abuse, a ‘godly’ woman should maintain a smile on her face and acquiesce to the men-in-charge.

This, of course, has led to some horrible and harmful outcomes such as FLDS girls being forced into polygamist marriages at a young age. All because “the prophet” admonished them, over and over, to not show emotions or ask questions. The manifestation of this belief has been described as being “immune to gloom.”

Somewhat extreme I know; I’m willing to bet very few of you reading this consider yourself a member of a cult. I mean, it’s not like you’re with a bunch of pals sporting the same hairstyle, wearing matching Nikes and waiting to transport to the spaceship to join up with the Hale-Bopp Comet. Right?

Not to make light of a situation that took a tragic turn back in 1997, but that Heaven’s Gate group’s  “Procedures Book” read somewhat like an HR Policy Manual. Among other things the book “enforced a 7:22 vitamin intake time, the direction to shave with a razor, and the proper circumference for pancakes.”  As pointed out in this article, “these rules were implemented with the argument that they were training for the strict and disciplined life they would live on alien spacecraft. But in reality they kept members obedient and subservient to the group and its leader.” ……….I think I’ve worked for that company……..

Disregarding the rules for pancake circumference, which we can all agree crosses over into the realm of too much detail-obsession, we have to admit that some of these cultish behaviors sound eerily similar to the exhortations that infest a lot of organizations.

Don’t rock the boat. Don’t ask questions. Follow the directions. Keep a happy countenance. Keep a smile on your face.

Keep sweet.

*********

A few weeks ago I was having a miserable (OK…let’s call it shitty) day. I was swirling about in a mental twister; simultaneously tracking and worrying about home/family/work/to-do-lists/dogs/parents/chores/not-enough-hours-in-the-day. At one point I took a brief stretch and wandered out of HR to get some coffee. In order to get to the employee dining room I had to pass through the casino lobby and walk past the Valet Office which was chock-a-block full of patrons, visitors and employees.  But it’s a quick jaunt and I quickly arrived at the blessed coffee machine.

As I was filling up my mug (java!) an employee grabbing a Coke next to me asked “are you OK Miss Robin?”

“Oh no!,” I thought, as I quickly rearranged my face into the super friendly welcoming smile we’re accustomed to plastering on our faces in the hospitality industry.

“Oh sure. I’m fine!” I chirped.  *** Grin Grin Grin ***

And then I thought to myself, what load of fresh crap is this? I seriously think I need to pretend with an employee? Because I’m the head of HR or what?

“You know,” I said, as I let my countenance shift back into not-so-sweet-and-smiley-mode, “I’ve had a rough couple of days. I’m dealing with a sick dog, we’re slammed in HR, and I’ve just got a lot on my mind. I’m tired and just not feeling it today.” *** Shrug Shrug Shrug ***

“Sorry to hear that Miss Robin,” he responded. “It will get better.” (and then he gave me a hug)

**********

A few weeks after that I attended WorkHuman in Austin where, among other things, we discussed creating connections, exhibiting empathy, and finding ways to create a deeper sense of belonging for individuals at work. “Let people be themselves” was a phrase I heard uttered a gazillion times (and then I flashed back to my non-smiling-RBF hug at the coffee pot).

I spent a lot of time at the event thinking about the importance that ONE person can have in an organization. The symbolism of ONE act. The impact that ONE person can make when challenging the status quo.

I think when we talk about “working human” it’s moving it from the macro-enterprise-company level and being up-ended and inverted. Over the last four years at WorkHuman we’ve moved from talking about the “organizational change” and now discussing how ONE person, perhaps at the bottom or in the middle of the org structure, can be the catalyst for creating a more human-centric company.

By questioning and challenging those in authority.

By calling out institutional racism, sexism or other -isms.

By shining the light on destructive policies, programs or practices that destroy, rather than uplift.

By refusing to “keep sweet.”

The Dangers Inherent in “Keeping Sweet” at Work
Tagged on:                 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *