So I’m watching “Tropic Thunder” last night and it got me thinking about what’s happening right now in workplaces across the country.
Tropic Thunder is a funny and twisted spoof on fake war with some of my favorite stars, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black and Ben Stiller. It depicts five prima donna Hollywood actors who are in a Vietnam war movie and throws them into a real life war, in this case a drug war.
Suddenly these bozos have to use their fake guns and grenades to help save each others lives, even though they really didn’t know each other that well and really didn’t like each other either.
Maybe some of you a scratching your heads thinking “Did Eve not get enough sleep last night?”
Well, maybe not — rarely get enough sleep these days. But I do have a point to make.
Lately I’ve been getting lots of emails from readers worried that they could be laid off at any moment. Most of you want to know how you can keep your head off the chopping block, and I’ve written a couple of MSNBC.com columns recently to address this issue. (Check this one and this one.)
But one thing I’ve noticed is that people are feeling more and more isolated. There is a hunker-down mentality out there and instead of turning to your colleagues for help, everyone is keeping to themselves and viewing coworkers almost as competition. Others don’t want to get too chummy right now because you never know who’ll be pink slipped next and then you’ll have to deal with the poor sap.
I’m hearing more and more stories of how workplaces are taking on this war-like atmosphere and everyone is afraid of getting shot down, aka fired.
Well, in war there will be casualties, but if you alienate those around you there’s a higher likelihood you’ll blow up your own career with a Oozie. You need your coworkers to help you in the trenches and you should be helping them as well.
“It’s about having camaraderie to get through the tough times,” says Wendy Kaufman, president of Balancing Life’s Issues Inc., a work-life balance training company.
Fear, she adds, is the greatest demotivater and the way you alleviate it is by talking about it. And what better person to talk to about it than someone who’s going through what you’re going through — your coworker.
And reaching out to those around you during tough times is the right thing to do, Kaufman maintains. “The people that do the right thing have less stress.”
Avoiding office or factory friendships because you look at colleagues as merely competition for your job is paranoid, she stresses. “If you’re proud of who we are, done the best you can do, you’re going to feel secure.”
Studies support the fact that a well-balanced life is one filled with friends, she adds, and what better place to build those friendship but at work.
I know, it’s getting hard now to have socialization opportunities with coworkers. Your company may have already canceled the holiday party and maybe team building sessions have also been dropped. Not to mention our own tight wallets, which probably means fewer lunches or martinis after work.
But Wendy advises workers still find ways to connect. It might be a good time to meet up with coworkers to talk about strategies just in case layoffs do come down. Bring your resume and give each other feed back. Maybe a cup of coffee or a potluck dinner is a more cost-effective get together.
“Misery loves company,” she says, but means that in the best of ways. “Together you can learn to laugh about it and say, ‘we don’t know what’s going to happen.’”
You also can’t diminish the importance of how friendships today can also turn into networking opportunities tomorrow. Your friends will remember you and help out when the ax falls and you should be prepared to reciprocate.
In Tropic Thunder Robert Downey Jr., who plays a convincing old black man, comes back to save Ben Stiller because that’s what friends do. It also made for a perfect “Platoon” spoof moment.
Stiller collapses, arms stretched out like Willem Defoe in Platoon, as shots ring out behind him and Downey Jr., reluctantly at first, comes to his rescue.
The not-fake, fake war movie ends, and life goes on for all the fake soldiers.
Now go out there and invite a buddy to a war strategy meeting and laugh a little. You could also rent Tropic Thunder.