If you’re crying in the loos or feeling unlike your usual self at work, take a look at what’s going on around you. Is your office making you sick? If you feel crazy but can’t explain why – it may be psychological abuse or gaslighting.

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Gaslighting, harassment or bullying?

Nearly one in five Americans are bullied, and more than 60% are aware of abusive behavior in the workplace — Workplace Bullying Institute.

Chances are it may have happened to someone you love, someone you work with or someone you buy groceries from. It may have happened to you. You’re not alone. It has impacted public servants, nurses, lawyers, retailers, charity workers, new business directors, musicians, and even footballers. It can happen in every industry. It can come from bosses, colleagues, clients or outside suppliers/vendors. It’s toxic behavior in the workplace.

Until the robots take over our jobs and, short of shutting ourselves away from the world, we live and work with other humans. Humans can be bullies, gossips, assholes, and psychopaths. …

If your staff turnover is high and client tenure short, it says a lot about your culture. Having a good one is all about people, not ping pong tables and soft furnishings.

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Company description in an actual job ad

“If you take a job where there’s lots of assholes, the chances are you’ll turn into one too” — Bob Sutton, The Pineapple Project, ABC, 2019

Ad agencies obsess over this concept of “culture” but having a good one is about more than just “matchy-matchy bean bags,” free pizza and ping pong tables. It’s more than onsite parking, flat-screen monitors, two free pairs of glasses and a new office with panoramic views (real incentives from real job listings). It’s about how people feel about working with and for you.

When they’re trying to recruit you, companies are on their best behaviour. You may meet everyone from CEO to receptionist, have orientation or onboarding sessions galore and be told: “you’re a great fit”. You get a true feel for corporate culture once you’ve got your security pass and it’s often after the novelty has worn off. Most probation or trial periods are three months but, like a New Years’ resolution gym membership, the harsh reality of what you’ve signed up for can set in after about six weeks. Think of Tom Cruise in The Firm. …

Second-grade girls charged with collusion after early morning collision with the school principal.

Little Miss Sunshine, Roger Hargreaves, image: Madonna Deverson

When I was seven years old, I got into serious trouble at school and took my friend down with me.

Principal Stevens, a stern and physically imposing man, told the entire school at morning assembly about our alleged crime. He spoke into a microphone from the top steps of the library, broadcasting the news over the loudspeaker system, through the corridors and across the ovals. The mysterious “two girls in trouble,” their crime and likely punishment was the talk of the playground before the bell sounded.

Sitting in terror outside the principal’s office, we waited to meet our fate. Our favourite French teacher stopped in surprise when he saw us “oh no, it was you two…what did you do?” he asked. …

In the Era of Trump, when the President is acting like a competitor, how do you protect your brand?

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Image by Madonna Deverson 2016

In the era of [insert here]

Stiff competition and adulterous clients make advertising agencies race to keep ahead of change. Partly because they like shiny new things but also to show that they know what the next era of [insert here] will bring. Change is a constant topic in our industry; we’re experts at talking about it. Is this another new era of unprecedented times?

Facebook, Google, Netflix et al. took over the world via algorithm while normal telly was time-shifting quietly in the corner. No one watches our ads anymore. Newspapers folded, and Russian bots sent us into an echo bubble shame spiral. Agencies hired all the unemployed journalists and set up “content hubs” to monitor the news and respond in real-time to cultural moments. Creative briefs demanded work that was so newsworthy, it could write its own press release. …

Has email become less urgent — almost irrelevant — as we shift towards more intimate, instant messaging platforms? Word.

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Image by the author. @ Nick Metropolis, Los Angeles 2016

“I sent a lot of great emails” is not an achievement worthy of a resume bullet, nor is “answering emails” a remit on most job descriptions. And yet, sometimes it feels like that’s all we do, all day, every day.

I have 18,603 unread emails across 4 accounts today. I used to relish the red dot but now those notifications nag. I sent my first work email in 1996, it went off with a “whoosh”. I’ve spent many hours since, labouring over beautifully composed emails to my boss that didn’t receive a response, no matter how many times I re-wrote or re-sent them. …

How revisiting old words can inspire new ones.

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For a job interview, I set up a fake blog as a prop to explain “blog culture”. My premise? How brands could use blogs to show some personality, to let consumers see behind the corporate curtain.

It was before authenticity, content marketing and corporate values became a thing. Clearly too early for the train to Purpose Town, I didn’t get the job (but we’re still friends).

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Indian Reservoir Camping Ground, somewhere in Texas, 2007

I started writing Blog Off “for reals” while on a road trip across the US (told you I didn’t get that job). I eavesdropped, shopped and people-watched from Texas to New York. I wrote about Piggly Wiggly, the Amish who shop at WalMart and my first (and last) visit to Olive Garden for “Italian food” with a white evangelical church-going family in Houston.

I was writing about hearing gunshots and being bitten alive by ants in a Texan camping ground when my enthusiasm for blogs evaporated. Partly because of the gunshots and ants but also, my mum started reading it. Mum would comment; “sounds great, remember thingy from primary school? …

You are here.

After two decades spent as a legal alien in the UK and US, Madonna Deverson returned home to Australia with no fixed address. When the welcome back parties dry up, she finds it not at all like the home she imagined.

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I am upset. There are refugees on Nauru, false narratives about African gangs and typos in The Age. Google doesn’t work, Amazon won’t deliver every little thing I need, neither will the local sushi place. I must physically shop, going from store to store before they close at 6pm. I can’t find places open for lunch after 3 or dinner after 9pm. Something called the NBN is coming soon, any day now, hopefully before I throw my laptop out the window. …

Collingwood: night and day

Returning expat Madonna Deverson explores old stomping grounds, confused but impressed.

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Streets of Collingwood. Photo: Madonna Deverson

“Make sure you keep smiling,” says the toothless busker as he plays the spoons to Icehouse’s Great Southern Land outside a Japanese cafe. I nod before entering Gontran Cherrier, a high-end French bakery. Gontran, a celebrity chef, chose Collingwood for his first Australian “artisan boulangerie” as the area reminded him of Montmartre in Paris. Collingwood lacks a mountain and Moulin Rouge type landmark, but I agree with the sentiment. Particularly when the server responds in curt English, refusing to entertain my rusty French as I question the menu. Yes, just like Paris. …

Nearly three-quarters of us are going through the motions, showing up but only doing what is absolutely necessary to get through the day at our jobs.

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Photo: Fed up graffiti, New Jersey. Madonna Deverson

Claire Snyder took active steps to find work that she was more engaged in. Meeting recently at RMIT in Melbourne, we discussed her transition from journalist to activist.

A freelance consultant for environmental advocacy and “purpose-driven” groups, Claire has high profile organisations such as OXFAM, Greenpeace and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) on her resume. Along with the majority of Australia’s 1 million independent contractors, she is her own boss.

“A bit of a mixed bag,” Claire’s background is in journalism. Working at a local paper and as a writer/sub-editor for the Australian Associated Press (AAP) in her twenties, she felt psychologically unattached to her job. A dream job for many but she was only putting time — not energy or passion — into her work. She’s not alone. On top of not feeling engaged, only one in five workers in Australia and New Zealand strongly agree they even like what they do each day according to Gallup. “I was doing entertainment and sports lift-outs, things that weren’t very close to my heart.” …

Poorly run meetings are the biggest time suck.

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Talking Heads, Image by Madonna Deverson, Nick Metropolis Collectibles, LA 2016

If your career has mostly been in small companies with dedicated internal teams who regularly communicate, you may not have a problem with meetings. My first “proper” meetings at one of the biggest global advertising agencies in New York were more like those captured so gloriously by Sarah Cooper in her series Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings. Initially, I felt lost and incredibly stupid, faced with a foreign language I had yet to master. …


Madonna Deverson

Formerly @ New York Times, Ogilvy, Fox News, CCNY-BIC, Leo Burnett. Brand strategist, news researcher, writer: trends, brands, culture, media www.CONTXTURE.com

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