For most of us, work is the cornerstone of our lives. It is where we spend most of our time and can often define our sense of self-worth. In recent years, we have seen various growth trends in acceptance, creativity, and well-being at work. These are not only beneficial for our health but also for making the organization more productive. However, in our attempts to create a better working environment, we often make mistakes that can be counterproductive. One of the main obstacles to achieving acceptance, creativity, and well-being is that we often create from the same mindset that contributes to our problems: our ego. Many of us operate from our ego without realizing it, which can cause us to view reality through a narrow and distorted lens. Instead of addressing the root problem, we often try to fix the symptoms.
How to identify when we are acting from our ego:
Ego is often framed as the “macho,” outspoken, over-the-top, self-absorbed individual. However, ego is the part of ourselves that identifies with our individualism. Our race, gender, profession, education, relationship, or parental status, and anything that we identify as “Me” is our ego.
Our ego is primarily concerned with our perspective and welfare. It often leads us to consider our beliefs as facts, consider ourselves special, and believe that our needs, interests, feelings, and ways of operating are more important than the collective’s.
Here are a few other indicators of operating from our ego:
We allow fear and morality (human law of right and wrong) to drive us.
We accept your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs as an indicator of truth. This is not the same as using thoughts and feelings to understand yourself better; that would be introspection and curiosity.
We find ourselves reacting to others’ perceptions of us.
We need to correct and steer others in the direction we believe they should be taking their lives.
We tend to make decisions based on fear instead of logic and faith.
We feel the need to prove ourselves.
We believe that action in and of itself is more important to creating change than the intention behind the action. For instance, the notion that holding the door open for someone is simply a matter of doing what's right, without regard for whether the person's motives are self-righteous or selfless.
The last indicator mentioned, the motivation behind an action, plays a significant role in the lack of positive changes we see in our workplace and society. Instead of genuine motives, we often see self-interest, manipulation, or superficiality, which leads to more backlash. Actions become mere reactions with a goal in mind rather than a solution to the problem—a means to an end.
To distinguish between ego-driven actions and selfless, intentional acts, one must possess a higher understanding that cannot be found in books, laws, or moral codes alone. This ability requires discipline, humility, and the ability to be still, a rare trait in our modern world. Being still means more than physical stillness - it entails quieting the noise in our ego-driven minds and tapping into a deeper sense of knowledge that allows for clarity and creativity and promotes unity and compassion. Only in this state can we cultivate and manifest positive change. As Albert Einstein famously said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Until we learn to embrace this truthful, peaceful, and well-intentioned state, we will continue to fall into the common trap of ego-driven problem-solving.
Trap #1: Overemphasizing Acceptance
It is widely acknowledged that embracing diversity and inclusivity in the workplace is crucial, and fostering an environment that welcomes everyone is vital. However, many organizations are too heavily focused on superficial acceptance, establishing rules and ‘guidelines’ that dictate one’s behavior, engagement, and involvement at work. This forced acceptance which typically revolves around another’s appearance or identity and not so much diversity of thought and ability, can result in the suppression of individual viewpoints or a playing-along-to-get-along mentality.
This “do as I say, because I said so” approach will not foster community and genuine acceptance but will likely lead to a culture of hyper-aggression (resistance) or seclusion due to fear of retribution. This approach stifles innovation, creativity, collaboration, and decision-making processes, ultimately hindering the organization's progress and the unity of co-workers and leaders.
If organizations want to genuinely foster acceptance, they should instead promote open communication, personal responsibility, and mutual respect, adhering to the principle of "doing no harm" and creating a space where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas.
Trap #2: Believing That Creativity Can Be Forced
Creativity can be elusive, and organizations often attempt to force it by introducing fancy incentive programs, brainstorming rules, or even ping-pong tables. While these tactics may create temporary excitement, creativity cannot be willed into existence. It comes naturally when individuals feel inspired and stimulated. Therefore, instead of pushing employees toward creativity, organizations should focus on creating an environment that encourages their employees to feel inspired and intrinsically motivated. This could involve creating a culture of autonomy and well-being where employees have a high degree of control over their work and support when they have mental blocks or challenges.
Trap #3: A One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Well-being
For an organization to achieve optimal performance and innovation from its workforce, it must prioritize genuine care and connection rather than viewing wellness programs as an optional add-on or using a one-size-fits-all approach. This involves actively listening to employees' needs and having dedicated experts on hand to provide guidance and support to those who require it. Organizations should be willing to address a range of employee needs, including physical, mental, and financial health and community-building activities that foster a sense of belonging.
Trap #4: Expecting without Giving
Expecting others to meet our demands without considering their needs erodes the trust and respect necessary for a successful company/employee relationship. When we let our ego take over, we may expect people to go out of their way for us without considering what they need from us. The traditional approach of the employer having all the power is slowly giving way to a more employee-centric approach. Nowadays, employees want organizations to prioritize their needs before they commit their efforts. However, achieving balance is essential in all areas of life. While making requests is okay, we shouldn't seek demands and responsibilities outside of ourselves.
To be clear, this does not mean allowing people to trample over you, or cause harm. It's important to clarify that we should not allow others to mistreat us or cause harm. Rather, we should remove ourselves from negative environments and focus on developing our emotional intelligence to handle challenging situations effectively. Although our ego may resist this concept, accepting it can lead to a significantly easier and less stressful life, increasing our resilience and contentment. And employers who want a strong workforce must genuinely invest in their employees. Remember, balance is key in all areas of life, and while we can ask for help, we should not seek to place demands or responsibilities on others beyond ourselves.
Organizations and employees must be mindful of the common traps that impede their growth. Overemphasizing acceptance can lead to a culture of fear or resentment. Believing that creativity can be forced often creates an uninspired workforce and a one-size-fits-all approach to well-being leaves some employees underserved; and expecting before giving creates conditional expectations that cripple relationships. But when we are mindful of these traps, creating a work environment that achieves acceptance, creativity, and well-being authentically is possible.