When it comes to workplace issues we need real humans, not listicles

By: Lauren Brisbo, Communications and Outreach Lead at Empower Work

Last week, I noticed this popular Forbes video and article making the rounds on LinkedIn. It had accumulated nearly two thousand likes and donned a compelling title: ‘4 Ways to Manage a Difficult Boss.’

My curiosity was peaked. The video launched with the stat that over 50 percent of employees have left their job at some point in their career because of a conflict with a manager. Through my training as a volunteer peer counselor with Empower Work, I’ve learned that most workplace issues are interpersonal in nature. Our experiences on the job are largely shaped by our relationships — with co-workers, bosses, managers, and the like.

I continued watching the video, intrigued.

It went on to give four tips for managing a difficult boss: practice mindfulness, be empathetic, take responsibility, and vent outside of the office. That’s when my disappointment set in.

Generally speaking, these are good tips to live by because they build agency. While you can’t control how your boss acts, you can control your response to their behavior. In this case by putting yourself in their shoes, staying calm, or owning up to any mistakes you may have made.

But there’s inherent risk in oversimplified recommendations. Issues in the workplace are rarely black and white, and context matters.

Sure, maybe your boss had a bad day and snapped at you. It certainly helps to be empathetic and understanding. But what if it’s a pattern of behavior that consistently makes you feel small and belittled? What if those comments are tinged with undertones about your gender, race, or sexual orientation? What if that boss passed you up for multiple promotions or called you in for an unexpected performance review? 

And what if their behavior is so toxic that it causes you to leave a fantastic professional opportunity because it feels so uncomfortable?

Those important details can help shape decisions and next steps. When it comes to challenges in the workplace — whether it’s a conflict with a manager, toxic work environment, or job transition — people need the space to reflect on their situation.

Empower Work provides this space. Anyone facing a work issue can reach out via text and be connected with a trained peer counselor within minutes. Rather than give advice, our goal is to help people reflect — and ultimately find a next step that feels right for them.

For some it might be having a conversation with their boss or finding an ally at the company; for others it might mean searching for other positions or requesting a transfer to another team. Weighing those next steps is very personal, and having someone to talk to can make all the difference.

In the big vast world of workplace issues there are no cookie-cutter solutions or easy answers. We need real humans — not short videos or listicles — to help people navigate their biggest challenges at work.

Lauren Brisbo