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Stoicism-An Outdated Hero?

Stoicism’ is an ancient philosophy emphasising self-control and resilience and has gained popularity as a celebrated way to navigate the challenges of everyday life. 

However, when it comes to the workplace, a reliance on stoicism is outdated and ineffective, driving invalidating and harmful attitudes within today’s fast-paced and pressured work environments.

While the principles of stoicism, such as maintaining emotional composure and focusing on what is within our control, can be valuable in certain situations, they rarely align with the realities of the modern workplace and are often used as a means by which to invalidate other’s experiences and excuse the often inevitable detachment from empathy and care for oneself and others. Stoicism promotes a culture whereby individuals needs are overlooked, and those that speak up are criticised as not being resilient or ‘hardy’ enough. 

stoicism

Stoicism impacts negatively on workplace culture, wellbeing and productivity in a number of key ways:

1.     Emphasis on Emotional Suppression: Stoicism encourages individuals to suppress their emotions and maintain a sense of detachment from external events. However the reality is that we cannot, as evolved beings, switch off our emotions, and the attempt to do so comes at a cost. We cannot pick and choose the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ emotions, finely tuning which ones we experience and which ones we discard. Our brains do not work in this way and to expect ourselves and others to do so is to set ourselves and others up for failure. When we detach from our emotions, what we are really detaching from is the ability to navigate the storm. In the workplace, this can be so detrimental. Emotions play a significant role in communication, collaboration, and decision-making and we need to get curious about these and bring them along for the ride.

2.     Disconnect from others: Expressing emotions and showing vulnerability builds trust and fosters stronger relationships with colleagues. By embracing whole hearted living, including all the complexities of our messy, complex minds, we can show up as our authentic selves and share openly in our common humanity. This lies at the heart of true connection. 

3.     Lack of Emphasis on Well-being: Stoicism often prioritises enduring hardship and adversity without addressing and validating the importance of mental health and well-being. In today’s work culture, where burnout and stress are common, it is crucial for individuals to prioritise self-care and feel safe to seek support when needed. Ignoring our emotional and mental well-being in the name of stoicism can lead to long-term negative consequences. None of us are immune to emotional suffering, and in the same way that we don’t take physical health for granted, we cannot assume that our mental health will maintain itself. 

4.     Limited Adaptability: Stoicism advocates for accepting things as they are and focusing on what is within our control. While this mindset can be helpful in dealing with certain challenges, it hinders innovation, creativity, and adaptability in a constantly evolving work environment. Being too rigid and resistant to change limits opportunities for growth and development. It can promote a culture whereby we see opportunity through a narrow lens, reluctant to open up to new ideas.  

5.     Communication and Collaboration: Stoicism’s emphasis on self-reliance and independence is likely to discourage individuals from seeking help or collaborating with others. In today’s team-oriented workplaces, effective communication, collaboration, and empathy are essential for success. Building strong relationships and working together towards common goals require openness, vulnerability, and a willingness to connect with others on a deeper level. If we are to work together with our colleagues effectively, we need to feel safe to ask for help, to put our hand up when we are struggling. This requires an attunement to our own emotional state as well as the ability to admit when the going gets tough. 

Conclusion

Stoicism is often celebrated as strength, seen to be indicative of resilience and grit. But the real strength comes in the courage to be vulnerable, to open up to the full range of human experience and to share this with others, safe in the knowledge that we are all in this together