I was watching the movie Fury recently, a very good, yet very disturbing movie set at the end of the second world war. In the movie, the main character Norman is a reluctant young soldier who was trained to be a typist but is forced to become the assistant driver/gunner in the tank “Fury” after the death of the previous gunner. Initially, he refuses to shoot the enemy, but he is forced by his Sergeant “Wardaddy”, played by Brad Pitt to shoot a Nazi in the back as he kneels begging for his life. As the movie progresses he realises he has to kill in order to stay alive and save the lives of his crew and begins to relish killing Nazis.
I was fascinated by the transformation from Norman to “Machine” his nickname from his crew. He had to change, and change fast, in order to survive. The typist who refused to fire his weapon transformed to become a ruthless, efficient killing machine. What disturbed me more, is the thought that the transformation Norman experienced could happen to any of us in the horrific situation he was in. Many of those who fought would have been considered ordinary men, not trained killers before they joined the army.
To survive in war, soldiers must be prepared to kill the enemy, to do that, you have to dehumanise them and view them as lesser people. An interesting counterpoint to this came at the end of the movie when Norman was hiding under the tank and was found by an SS soldier (the worst of the Nazis according to Wardaddy) and instead of dragging him out and shooting him, or worse, torturing him as he was told would happen, the soldier left him alone, and the movie finishes with Norman being rescued and labeled a hero.
It’s easy to see how war could change someone dramatically, but how much do other changes in our environment change us? I’m sure we know people in relationships who have changed either for better or worse when they start a relationship with someone new. Sometimes change is necessary to make a relationship work, compromise is essential, you must think of someone else, not just yourself. Other times one or both will be forced to change, and not for the better. One test for a good relationship, do you make each other better people?
Whilst it’s a bit of a stretch to compare work to war, there is no doubt in my mind that your workplace can change you. At the extreme end, some people become depressed, overwhelmed, burnt out by their work whereas others grow, thrive and become better people. Sometimes it’s just called the culture of the organisation, and you either fit or you don’t. Those that don’t make it weren’t cut out for this environment or didn’t have the right attributes to succeed.
If you don’t think your workplace changes people, take a look at the senior people in your organisation, especially the ones that have been there for a long time. Are there similarities in values, working style, management approach, communication? Is this a result of self-selection, recruiting people who are all similar, or perhaps the organisation moulding and changing people so they fit, or some combination of all three?
Do you find yourself in situations where you are wrestling with your conscience, just bursting with the need to disagree, challenge or object, but you suppress that because you know you will be swimming against the tide? Are you having to justify decisions to yourself that previously you would have said were just wrong? Do you feel the need to comply with the company line? It may not be ethical dilemmas, it could just be that you feel you need to suppress who you really are to fit in. You might be able to do that for a while, but eventually, it becomes suffocating.
If you find yourself in this situation you have 3 options:
- You adapt, change and compromise, just like Norman did in Fury
- You stay and swim against the stream, be an internal agent of change to make a difference in the organisation (in my experience, unless the leadership are also swimming against the current with you and trying to change the culture, this is futile)
- Or, you get out and find a place where you can be yourself, thrive and excel.
There are a lot of workplaces that don’t make better people. Some even do real damage in the pursuit of winning. But there are some that make people better, not worse. If you need help getting out of an environment that is changing you, and not for the better, get in touch, let’s talk about your options.
Jarrod Moyle – Managing Director