Perceived Power In The Workplace

Posted by on October 22, 2018

I have worked in a lot of jobs in my life. The thing is, I have never been in a fortunate enough position to just not work while I waited for my next ideal job to come along.


I have what I call a secondary career. It’s fine, it pays the bills. It’s not what I want from my life long term but I also have no real complaints about it, other than not being challenged enough.


Perceived Power In The Workplace




Part of that secondary career for a long time was being an office temp. Which, as a student of humans, is really interesting.


You get to see how offices function (and dysfunction). You see this across many industries.


You can learn a great deal about management, human behaviour, office politics, logistics, how different places approach change and conflict… you name it, and it’s observable. 


However, there have been times when colleagues have struggled to respect the things I have learned in these roles. Perhaps I don’t explain it well enough. Perhaps it’s too bizarre of a combination of experiences for some to think about. But my main theory:


Perceived Power


The only difference between seeing lots of offices as a temp or as a consultant is that the consultant has perceived power in the office. 


It doesn’t mean anything for the insight or intelligence of the person. There are consultants who are great and there are consultants who don’t add value. There are office staff who can analyse and improve things greatly and there are some who struggle to cope with the slightest change in processes. 


In my experience and opinion, the person is of far more value than their perceived power. The person is who makes the change. The person is who can make the correct change. 


Where this has been hard to manage on a personal level is (apologies for the generalisation, but so far it has been accurate) when talking to people who have had a more linear, traditional career. This is because they tend to look down on my office experience as a negative.


Because it wasn’t at the “right level” of power.


There’s not much I can do to change their minds. If power is important to them, then power being less important to me won’t influence their decision making or behaviour. 


An anthropologists brain is always on, no matter the perceived power status of the job. We are always learning. Observing. Analysing. Maybe as a discipline we’re still at an educating phase of our value when it comes to anything other than academia. I don’t have the answers right now, only a collection of thoughts on this, based on my personal experiences. 



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