Poison

“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?”

— George Eliot

My wife, Milena, has always wanted to be a midwife.

She didn’t really have to, but she still decided to enroll into a medical school at the age of 25. Two years later, we decided not to wait any longer and had our son while she was still in school.

It isn’t easy for a pregnant woman to attend classes or work as an intern at the maternity hospital. Even less so for a mother of a small baby. But Milena did it anyway. And she did it with the kind of ease that can only be experienced when one does something one truly loves.

After more than a year of seemingly pointless interviews and then another year of working as a nurse, Milena finally got the best job in the world — the job of her dreams — and became a midwife in the delivery room.

All medical professions are tough, so I might sound subjective when I say that being a midwife might just be one of the toughest.

In recent years, our hospitals are under-staffed and under-financed and this is unfortunately the context for a midwife’s job, as well. A midwife at the local maternity hospital works long hours, including afternoons, nights, weekends and holidays. Delivering a baby requires both physical strength and mental stability. The midwife is directly responsible for the well-being of both the baby and the mother, as well as the long-term happiness of their family. At the end of each month, her immense effort and responsibility are compensated with a mediocre salary that couldn’t even offer a decent lifestyle to a single parent. Quite discouraging, especially if you consider that a midwife’s job also comes at a great cost to her family, which can barely plan a weekend or a holiday together.

But Milena still does her job with ease. As she likes to say, there is no greater reward for a job well done than when you get to place a newborn baby in the arms of her mother. She does it with ease, of course, because how else would anyone do something they truly love.

But I am not telling you this story to praise my wife or excite you about a career in midwifery.

I am telling you this story because even though Milena loves being a midwife at almost any cost, she is increasingly unhappy with her job. Even to the point where she can imagine herself quitting.

Because in spite of her efforts and results, at the end of a very hard day, all her boss has to say about her performance is something negative. Regardless of how much good she does, her colleagues will go out of their way to tell her about that one thing she did wrong. Instead of supporting each other on one of the toughest, most important jobs in the world, members of her team choose to criticise one another. They choose to set each other up for failure and make sure to ruin each other’s day before everyone can go home. For some sad reason, this culture has managed to prevail in Milena’s team.

When Milena started working in the delivery room, every time she would come home I would listen about all the beautiful babies that were brought to this world today. Recently, though, I hear less about babies and more about injustice, frustration and being emotionally drained. The poisonous culture of her team is slowly killing the dream of “the best job in the world”.

Only the luckiest among us will find a dream job. But whatever that job is, we will likely have to do it as part of a team. And whether we will continue to enjoy the work we love depends greatly on the culture of that team.

Three simple words can make all the difference: “You did good.” Or two: “thank you.” Or sometimes even a simple smile. These small tokens of appreciation can add up to a strong culture of happy people, regardless of how hard or underpaid their job is. This culture can then serve as a vehicle for delivering constructive criticism — not the kind that hurts feelings but the kind that ignites motivation to do better. And to do better together.

A company culture is rarely being poisoned from a firehose. It is usually a number of small incidents or missed opportunities that, like drops, accumulate over time and transform an environment that was once good into a place that even the most inspired people want to leave.

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