True Quality Of Life

In Zürich I am surrounded by people (including my husband) working in the finance sector, big 4 consultancies, banks, insurances - all the big corporations. The stories I hear, the way they speak to each other about their workplace, I am surprised they can function properly at all. I know statistics is where fun goes to die, but just to bring you onboard: Psychopathy in the general population is only thought to be about 1%, in a prison population its around 15%, and the percentage of corporate senior leadership who display psychopathic traits is 12% .

The hallmarks of the psychopaths we are talking about here are grandiosity, inflated self- importance, fantasizing about power, success and brilliance. In relations to others, they are exploitative and manipulative; they will use you to provide material to push them forward in their ambition, when you succeed, they can shine their light of confidence on you. This feels very bright and nice, a contrast to how they deprecate you when you fail in your task. When you are no longer useful at all, they make your life miserable. They are usually charming, good at surrounding themselves with admirers and people who mirror their success. Importantly, they lack empathy and can’t handle criticism, because they are deep down quite insecure. This is your textbook Narcissist, and they are the psychopaths of the corporate world.

In the world of power struggles, political games and more narcissists than desks, there lives a mythical creature called Work-Life Balance. I went on a little googling-adventure to see how my kind – the head-shrinkers - tells you to feed it. It was like reading in a language I didn’t understand. “Renormalize”, “Embrace the way your brain works”. What? So, if my boss ticks a few of the hallmarks listed above, I’ve pulled an all-nighter and still haven’t been able to deliver this project on time, and now I’m just waiting for him to finish humiliating his latest victim, before giving him the bad news. I’m supposed to “Set boundaries”? That seems minutely helpful to me in this situation. Whatever you do, don’t cry, or detail how much stress you are under, because they can’t be moved to care. Some of the advice is about how to manipulate them in turn, how to get them to understand how their behavior is affecting you. My response to that is, you can’t hustle a hustler. People like this have been manipulating others their whole life, and will always out-maneuver you. Even the best psychiatrists have trouble changing a psychopaths’ ways, if that is at all possible. Try to remain out of the line of fire, by way of ego-stroking and keeping your head down, offering as little resistance as possible, while planning your escape and strengthening your position.

To complicate matters further, Gen Z (now 18-25) are now entering the work force. This generation seems to score higher on surveys of narcissism, probably resulting from a combination of modern parenting and social media use (they are also called iGen because they grew up with the iPhone). They haven’t had helicopters hovering over them or curling brooms smoothing their glide so much as bulldozers crushing the obstacles in front of them with vengeance. I can only imagine the issues arising when this fragile group of people collide head first into the aforementioned corporate environment. Not to mention, the difficulty of being their line managers, having to take them by the hand and coach them through it. One manager told me that where he previously had to give performance feedback quarterly, he now had to provide end of the day “pat on the back” WhatsApp’s. It didn’t surprise me to learn that as much as 58% of Gen Z suffer from Burn-Out, similar to 59% of the millennials. The same survey tells us that the number of sufferers increased significantly during the pandemic, so maybe only looking at the effect of long work-hours is too narrow minded.

While yoga is as effective against stress as any 30 minutes of exercise is, and unplugging and vacationing is nice, it will not help you manage the constant fretting over advancing your position at work or dealing with being bullied by your psychopathic boss. For that you need an anchor. A stable home, and someone there who cares when you get home and forces you to divert your attention, to give perspective. A family will give what you are doing meaning, not because it will “offer activities you love to do”, as the advice online says. But a sense of an overarching purpose. According to new findings from ONS, over 50 % of women over 30 are childless, I can imagine the educated masses in big corporate pulls the average age of marriage and kids even higher. When you sacrifice everything at the altar of career progression, you will be vulnerable and less equipped to handle the strain and stress of corporate. The day you look up from your desk and discover the emptiness around you, the tasks you’ve been doing with ease for years seem repetitive and meaningless, and the abuse from your boss cuts deeper into your newly bared skin. In the mouth of our mythical creature, I think we find a well-rounded life, with a supportive community, and children who rely on you to survive.

That’s not to say that people with families don’t experience suffocating work-related stress and anxiety. In this case it’s important to answer the question: “What’s the worst that can happen?” Existential anxiety like the fear of losing livelihood and not feeding your family, can be so crippling, that we are even too scared to say them out loud or to think them through till the end. We don’t deal with them properly, until they take up so much space that not a single positive emotion has light to grow. We have had our share of these conversations in our own house. In which case my husband has to put into words exactly what he fears will happen, and then next thing after that, and then we go all the way down the rabbit hole together. Then we will list the possible actions we could take, and which resources we would have to solve them. Decreasing these fears can go a long way, to feeling more confident in your work, and act there from a position of strength. After all, you bring the same head with the same worries with you; hence the dichotomy of work/life is false.

As a medical student, I would spend my summers working at palliative wards of nursing homes. On their death beds, they would speak to me about the special times with their families, and the achievements of their children. I would know all of their grandchildren’s names, but rarely what they had done for a living. At the heart of our mythical creature lies the question; what is the end goal of what you are doing, and for whom are you doing it?