Safe Place & Reflective Spaces

It’s a bit strange, that organizations quite commonly push everyone in their company to wear a professional mask at work, in order to get ahead, seem confident or to appear powerful in front of others. What in fact is at play here, is a subtle, but powerful, conspiracy of fears. It seems, that the underlying fear is that if people would bring all of themselves to work – their moods, desires, quirks and feelings – the workplace would somehow turn into a chaotic emotional hub. On the other hand, the employees fear that if they would show up with all of their personality, manners and beliefs, they would expose themselves to mockery and criticism, which could then be used against them at some point down the line. Therefore, many of us settle for a role that is our “work self”, leaving our selfhood at home. Right next to the tattoos we are not suppose to be wearing and the piercings that would turn away the Queen from coming into our venue.

This might sound trivial to some of you and you might feel that you are the same person at home and at work. Kudos, if that really is the case. But it might just be that some of us have been wearing a mask at work for so long that we have forgot what it’s like to be without one. To take the mask off, one needs to feel safe to do so. By taking the mask off, I mean understanding and accepting that we all have an ego and a deeper self in us. The ego is the part of us that thrives toward success and recognition, and wants to look good and win arguments in meetings. The deeper side of us has some deeper longings and hopes for our lives, for other people and for the surrounding environment. Unfortunately, we have learned that showing up from the ego is acceptable, and sort of preferred, in many workplaces today. Thus, sadly, the deeper side of us is kept under a lid or when shown, seen as a sign of weakness or faded out with phrases like “let’s not get emotional at work”.

Since the first breakthrough, self-management, helps paving the way in reducing many of the fears people experience in a workplace, much of the harmful practices can now be replaced with improved ones. When the communication is open, the information flows are transparent, the decisions are made by considering everyone’s advice and the venue is run with naturally born networks (flat hierarchy), they collectively create a foundation for a healthier and safer workplace.

Goldfish bar, Helsinki. Photo by Antero Semi.

In order to move forward and to establish a safe, self-managed, workplace, you have to create, agree and train each other with the proper vocabulary and actions that will not undermine a safe working environment. That might sound corny, but for example RHD (Resources for Human Development) has put in place detailed practices to help their employees to feel safe enough to be themselves at work. One example is their own “Bill of Rights and Responsibilities for Employees and Consumers” document, describing their communal values by naming their rights and responsibilities which help them guide their everyday actions. They also promote few basic assumptions about people and work overall (Laloux, Reinventing Organizations):

  1. All people are of equal human worth
  2. People are essentially good unless proven otherwise
  3. There is no single way to manage corporate issues well

Your team should be encouraged to develop their own sense and definition for purpose, pride and identity. The culture, practices and decision-making tools you endorse will create an environment where special everyday moments will materialize. A great amount of time and effort has to be consciously put aside to train the team with these “ground rules” which in turn will support healthy and productive collaboration between one another. Later on, this document you have created will be given to every new recruit with some training and clarifying if need be. It can also be revised and improved over the years to reflect the changes the company has experienced. However, these documents are not the only way to promote these commitments and assumptions. It should be part of your identity to endorse respectful communication and non aggressive behaviors at your bar, everyday. Conflicts are unavoidable, but inhospitable behaviors are not.

Goldfish bar, Helsinki. Photo by Antero Semi

Reflective spaces

Wisdom traditions and alike have popularized the idea of stopping and smelling the roses every now and then to assist people to reflect on their mind and to have a regular chance for silence. This could mean having a quiet room in the workplace, taking long walks in the nature or to practice meditation or yoga. These prechosen calming moments can open up some mental space for individual reflection and mindfulness in the middle of a hectic week, which in turn, helps dealing with the wildly busy restaurant industry. Furthermore, I’ve noticed that many times when I have cleared some headspace for myself it has lead me to think more creatively or to have a burst of positive daydreams. For me, meditation is like an adult version of napping. It works as a relaxing method as well as a tool to refocus.

When done in a group, the previously mentioned practices can work as a collective reflective moment to clear the possible tensions in the work environment or to help the communication at the workplace. Some examples include peer coaching (working through problems with a group of colleagues), team supervision (asking guidance from an outside coach in various topics such as organizational development and leadership), large-group reflections (a joint reflection moment for the whole team) or even a day of silence (quite hard in an open restaurant, but perhaps having a quiet prep day is one way to go).

I think mindfulness and meditation are topics that should be introduced and emphasized to us in the hospitality school (maybe even already at the primary school) to help us deal with the exceptionally stressful field of work. But I also believe that today’s organizations should do their part to promote a mindful and safe workplace, since it can be an extremely powerful tool in building a culture of wholeness and a sense of community at any venue. This knowledge also carries to our lives outside the work and reinforces our chances for a more meaningful and wholesome life all around.

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Mika Ammunét Written by:

Bar Manager, Future Bar Owner

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