50 Shades and the Workplace

Originally posted on http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/50-shades-and-the-workplace-dsh/


People often say, “Talent joins organizations, and leaves bosses.” The chemistry, synergy, feel—or whatever you wish to call it—of the organization is not sufficient to retain the recruited talent. While the onus of retention falls on both boss and talent, the subordinate often ends up in a relationship with a boss that just doesn’t fit. This leads the subordinate to decide whether s/he must leave the organization or try to adjust to the boss’s demands. This dilemma mirrors the one examined in the story 50 Shades of Grey.

50 Shades is a story about how one (psychologically tormented) person offers a less experienced person a contract to sign as an agreement to fulfill certain tasks. The subordinate is lured by the branding—the attractiveness of the package (i.e. Christian Grey). Ultimately, while it is the first part of a trilogy, the subordinate (i.e. Anastasia) is constantly questioning herself as to whether she should stay within a relationship that doesn’t feel entirely “right.”

In every relationship (e.g. professional, personal, or in commerce), we are faced with the decision as to whether the engagement, partnership, or transaction works for us and/or benefits us. We as consumers and employees vote with our dollars, just as we vote with our feet. We don’t spend money on widgets which are uninteresting. We leave places which don’t “tickle our fancy.”


And, since time is money, we are most productive and thrive when we earn our money by spending our time doing what we do best, and by enjoying what it is that we do. That is our passion. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (551-479 BC) said: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Which brings us to choosing a job/relationship we love in an environment where we feel safe. A safe workplace is one where the job description is specific, individual expression is appreciated, the leadership is authentic, no harm is done (verbal, physical, emotional, etc.), and the organizational culture is transparent—not simply rhetoric or plaques on a wall.

An unsafe workplace is one where the job description shifts with each quarter, conformity is expected, the leadership is withholding, co-workers are abusive (verbally, physically, emotionally, etc.), and the organizational culture demands adherence to top-down structural office politics.

50 Shades exposes us to how susceptible we are to the dangers of living in an unsafe environment. These unsafe environments also creep up all the time in the workplace. Therefore, leaders must be aware that creating unsafe workplace environments puts employees in predicaments, which force them to choose between steady work and sound emotional health.


In an unsafe work environment, the following behaviors result:

  • No Corporate Policy on Sexual Discrimination. E.g. Court fines paid on sexual harassment while the harassers keep their jobs.
  • Leader-Member Exchange Theory. E.g. Strategic inquiries are taboo.
  • “Right to Work.” E.g. People fired for having personal lives or speaking up.
  • Traditional Cultural Schemas. E.g. No paternal leave policy.
  • Unconscious Bias. Promotions based on personality; not on tenure or merit.
  • Insider/Outsider Dynamics. HR turns a blind eye on discrimination/bullying; or, they are the perpetrators of discrimination and bullying.

In an unsafe workplace environment, employees typically develop four types of coping strategies. The first two of the employee types below co-align with the 50 Shades protagonist.

Employee Type in Toxic Organization Relationship/Description (& extra movie example)

  1. Denier- This type of individual believes that the dominant culture is correct. What is practiced is okay, sanctioned, acceptable, and is clearly a “success” because there is money to endorse whatever behavior is practiced. There is little to no need to change anything; in fact, the culture should be strengthened and perpetuated by any means possible. Any exception made is a means to obtain the end goal. (50 Shades protagonist makes minor changes to the contract demands, and acquiesces).MOVIE: The Reader
    “You’re not guilty of anything merely by working at…”
    “The question was never ‘Was it wrong?’ but ‘Was it legal?’ and not by our laws?”
  1. Sympathizer- This type of individual understands that what is practiced within the workplace (see concrete list of behaviors above) is not completely ethical and/or acceptable. While the practices may not illegal, they do not sit well with the individual; however, the money/attraction is there, so this type keeps his/her mouth shut, and stands silently by as others are ushered out. They typically also excommunicate those who are not a part of the inside circle of practices (50 Shades protagonist did this with her flatmate).MOVIE: Jobs
    Bill did not agree with Steve Jobs decision to fire their best programmer just because the programmer dissented – the programmer had asked for clarification on the decision to delay the deadline just to add fonts. Nonetheless, Bill only offered passive resistance and a lot of grimacing.
  1. Survivor- This type of individual knows exactly what is happening within the workplace, yet continues to work at the company until s/he can find something better. S/He has adequate knowledge and experience, but is not out to rock the boat. In the meantime, covert outreach is made to reach out to those who have been unjustly treated.MOVIE: The Help


    “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
    Aibileen reassures little Mae that she has value, despite being put down repeatedly by Aibileen’s employer (the girl’s mother).           

  1. Change Agent- This type of individual is ready to speak out against unhealthy practices, for him/herself and others. S/He may try to subtly redirect the culture towards organizational health, but, ultimately, this person either walks or is let go/fired.MOVIE: The Bourne Identity.
    Bourne’s official resignation: “I don’t want to do this anymore.” Supervisor Conklin scoffed at the notion, for nobody quits in his CIA…they were killed – either by him or by the enemy. Bourne stated emphatically that such an arrangement was unacceptable.                                                                                                                                   


Because organizational culture trickles down from the top, it is imperative that talent understands “the way they do things around here” before joining. Otherwise, talent may find themselves in toxic relationships, and be placed into the position of one of the above-described types. Unhealthy situations also have a ripple effect that extends to those at home.

What’s your safe word?

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is based in Nashville, Tennessee.  She is a Global Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, a “dot” person, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic thinking partners.

© Rossina Gil, 2015


– See more at: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/50-shades-and-the-workplace-dsh/#sthash.7ZQFS2Kj.dpuf


About Rossina

Thought Partner & Corporate Primatologist

Posted on March 3, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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