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An Introduction to the Work Psyche

Matthew Campling's case studies and theories about how we relate to the modern world of work provide some helpful ideas for dealing with a few of life's challenges. The contribution of these ideas and articles is gratefully acknowledged. 

Campling's Age/Work Arc Theory (CAWA)

Life for us all changes faster than it ever did. The notion that any job could be for life disappeared decades ago. Now we ask how long a career can last - certainly not for a lifetime's work. 

  • In fact, now we need to face the likelihood that not even a particular skill-set or specialism can be for life. Added to this - happily for most of us - life just keeps on getting longer and longer. So if we are to make the most of our time on this Earth we need to think about how and why our working lives change, anticipate, and stay one jump ahead.

Understanding and embracing the inevitable stages of life-change, and the great opportunities that come our way (if we can recognise them and grab them) - for personal growth, diversification and fulfilment - require for many people a new way of looking at things. 

  • Change is positive when we manage it ourselves. Doing this can be difficult, sure, but change is generally positive when we realise what is happening and why, and when we have the confidence to decide our own choices and direction.

Matthew Campling's contemporary Age/Work Arc theory provides a wonderful and helpful perspective on life-change, and the contribution of this theory is gratefully acknowledged.

Background Information and Questions to Ask Yourself

Campling asks these questions to set the scene:

  • How do you ensure that your own career isn't derailed or sidelined?
  • How do you distinguish within yourself a genuine 'breakout' talent from a one-hit-wonder?
  • How can you plan for career black spots, given that being made redundant at 50 is very different from redundancy at 25?
  • How is it that 'the right job' commonly becomes the peak of one's working life and after that it's downhill?

Matthew Campling, a psychotherapist and writer currently working in London, looked at the lives of a number of people he had encountered over the years and formulated the mechanics and properties of the Age/Work Arc. He began with the benefit of hindsight: charting a graph of the careers of the people he knew he noticed a rough Arc in the overall picture.

He asked some more questions:

  • Why did some people attain a prominent position, and keep it, while others had good years and bad?
  • Are there rules to the way we should look at our career and those of others?
  • Can we avoid career breakdown by drawing from a wider vision of our potential capability?
  • Why was it that some people seemed in control of their working lives, and others just jumped from a bad fit to bad?


The importance of recognising the Arc became clear when he considered some of his acquaintance's work histories (names have been changed).

  • James (31 at the start, 37 at the end): James worked at a sports centre. His parents had lent him enough money for a one-bedroom flat. He enjoyed the social elements of the sports centre and a succession of women drifted easily into and out of his life. Six years later, however, James was beginning to recognise that he had somehow missed the boat. Employees younger than he was getting promotions and suddenly the prospect of the same job, the same one-bedroom flat seemed like a prison.
  • Howard (45 at start, 48 at end): Howard had had a public school education, and a combination of school connections and an ambitious wife had pushed him up the corporate ladder. But at 45, having talked his way into 'the job of a lifetime he fudged it. Losing his confidence he accepted a number of time-limited consultancies. As his 50s approached he was making the best of his limited options, in a job which exploited his organisational skills while returning little by way of financial reward or status.
  • Amanda (32 at start, 38 at end): Amanda made big sacrifices in her chosen role as a singer, taking lowly paid jobs so she would always be available for 'the break'. After an unhappy love affair, she turned to the world of accountancy. Within three years she was able to buy a larger property and within six years she was headhunted by a financial services company. Her love life didn't improve but she had the compensation of being respected and well paid.

Campling's Age/Work Arc suggests that for a certain number of years our Arc is in the upward trajectory, then we reach a Zenith point, and then we fall downwards. Obviously, this is a simplification since many people will have ups and downs rather than a single Arc. But the underlying point is that, rather than seeing our work lives as something totally under our control or moving from job to job with no greater plan, we should be aware of the Arc and become aware of where we are on it.

To examine the examples above in terms of the Age/Work Arc:

  • James failed to see how the good life at 31 would need alterations and additions if it would still satisfy him further down the line.
  • Howard had come to expect a smooth upward ride. Had he been aware of the Arc he would have realised the upward trajectory would not continue without serious, conscious effort made by him. He could coast only so long, thus at the time when he would have been expected to mature into a responsible CEO, his weaknesses were exposed. Knowing the Arc, he would have had a more realistic view of how much his work success prior to that point depended on factors other than himself. He could then have sought to avoid the risk of such a pinnacle, staying instead where he was comfortable.
  • Amanda avoided the downside of her Arc by changing professions. Although she didn't become the star she wanted to be, she came to realise how much more control she had over her life working in financial services. Unfortunately in her previous life as a singer, she had rejected a number of men because they wouldn't suit her image. Once she became an accountant she remembered these men and saw how they would have fitted into her new role, but by then it was too late. However, having job security did compensate for other aspects of her life that weren't as satisfactory.

 If you are comfortable in your job if you enjoy bonding sessions with your fellow workers if you can picture your life drifting on for many years in a pleasant manner - beware. Rather than these days being your happiest, in terms of Campling's Age/Work Arc you may already be experiencing your Zenith, and one day you will realise that you've been sidelined, and rather than contentment, you will experience the panic of knowing your best days are irrevocably behind you.

Expanding on the notion of the Arc, Campling devised a '7 Ages of Work' number of work stages for different careers - see details below. 

Seven Ages of Work

Advertising Copywriter

  1. Unpaid Work Experience
  2. Junior Copywriter
  3. Senior Copywriter
  4. Creative Director (small company)
  5. Creative Director (major company: print/press/radio)
  6. Creative Director (major company: industry and specialist)
  7. Mature Copywriter


  1. Promising Junior
  2. Middle Manager
  3. Senior Manager
  4. Managing Director
  5. CEO
  6. Semi-Retired Consultant
  7. Lecture Circuit


  1. Teacher's Assistant
  2. Primary School Teacher
  3. Secondary School
  4. Public School
  5. Head of Year
  6. Headmaster/mistress
  7. School Board

Business-person - turned Artist

  1. Driven salesperson
  2. Managing Director (paint company)
  3. Managing Director (book company)
  4. Counsellor
  5. Head of Counselling Service
  6. Painting Holidays
  7. Exhibited Painter

Note the differences in the severity of the downturn of the Arc. These are partly due to the specifics of the industry, and partly due to the efforts made by the individuals.

  • Our imaginary Copywriter begins well. Impressed with his or her raw talent. Easily swings into the professional advertising world and rises through the ranks. Takes a bit of a career risk by leaving a larger company to be a CD at a smaller enterprise, but this pays off when he or she moves to a larger outfit as a CD. Then, after having spent too many nights at work, they hit difficulties when their marriage breaks up. Trying to use work as a substitute in all the wrong ways, they get a reputation for having burned out. They take a less prestigious job but even that doesn't work out and eventually, using their name and history rather than their current performance, they grab hold of a hack job.
  • Our Manager works up through the ranks. He or she has a less glamorous job than the Copywriter, but compromises by emphasising the family. Although increasing work demands do put pressure on the home front, by continually clarifying the situation in two-year visions the marriage survives. As the Manager matures, first in a CEO position and later, when the pressure gets too much, segueing into a well-paid consultancy.
  • Our Teacher example took a while to work out exactly where they wanted to work. Beginning with younger children became stultifying, eventually, they became Head of the public school of their dreams, finally retiring but retaining a grip on the school by remaining on the Board.
  • Our Business-person/Artist had more than one career, something which is fast becoming the norm. He or she begins by putting great effort into getting places. Having a keen interest in amateur painting, they believe being MD of a paint supply company brings together both loves. But then things go spectacularly wrong and they have a breakdown. Coming out of the breakdown, they realise that Counselling is a wonderful thing - and retrain as a therapist. Sadly, there are many people with the same idea and they discover they cannot make a living as a therapist. Fortunately their partner, also tiring of the hard life, persuades them to risk everything on buying and doing up a delightful country wreck and offering painting holidays. After a stormy few years, a happy ending is reached when, after a visit by the owner of a London gallery, their talent is recognised and a number of professional exhibitions follow.

Part of the point of the Arc is it needn't always be a bad downhill slide. The reality for many smart people is that they make provisions throughout their lives, so when the unavoidable issues of the next generation and a waning ability to work like they used to make a change necessary, they have options.

Having options is the most helpful route to overcoming the downside of the Arc.

Consider these other examples: 

  1. Janet: Successful businesswoman. When her father died she became a trustee for a major cancer charity. When (due to the downturn in her particular specialism) job options in the City dried up, she was able to use her voluntary experience to move into a highly paid job in the Caring sector.
  2. Paul: After a number of positions, Paul took an MA in counselling and became the manager of a counselling organisation. At the same time, he was a Prison Volunteer. When he was made redundant he moved full-time into Prisons work.
  3. Don: An actor. After the bloom of youth faded, his lifetime's passionate interest in antiques paid off when he first worked for another dealer and then opened his own antique shop.

What all these people have in common is more than one string to their bow. Campling says:

"..Since we are not killing time, time is killing us, and we will do better if even our downtime activities have some point. Going to the races may pay off - as it did for one acquaintance of mine - when thorough knowledge of the horses meant he is now running a profitable internet betting advice service. Although it may seem sad that everything needs to pay us back in some way, the reality is there are many, many people all chasing their dream: utilising the energy of our outside interests is a way of making our hobbies pay."

The Age/Work Arc is a simple concept with great potential for re-evaluating and reshaping our attitude to our work. Whether you 'work to live' or 'live to work', bearing in mind the Arc's salient points will sharpen your judgement, sound an alarm bell if needed, and suggest ways of overcoming the natural age downturn.

To summarise the basic points:

  • By observing others' Arcs we become aware that we must have one as well.
  • For the first half of our working lives, the Arc works in our favour, the second half against us (to accommodate the next generation, whose Arcs are upward).
  • The Arc has an upward trajectory, a Zenith and a downward trajectory.
  • Although ultimately there will be one Zenith, by changing focus and diversifying we can begin a new sub-Arc.

By not concentrating too much on a single focus, by keeping other options open, we have more control and can jump careers which will begin a new upward trajectory.

Look for activities that have connections with the rest of your life.

And consistent with managing any sort of change, awareness is crucial: it will always help is to become aware of the Arc, and where you are on it. 

Depression at Work

What is depression? When it occurs in the workplace, how can it be best understood, and then dealt with in a constructive manner? 

  • Campling has used his personal observations of client experiences, to come to a different conclusion from that followed by current medical and psychotherapeutic approaches.

Rather than regarding depression as an illness, or something that needs treating with chemicals, Campling asks "what is the depression trying to tell me?" 

  • He observed that what seemed to be occurring in depression was that certain difficult situation and the expression of emotions gets interfered with in everyday life, particularly within the pressurised atmosphere of an office or work environment.
  • Campling suggests that inside each of us is an invisible space, a psychic space, and it is in this space that our reactions to events - anger, fear, worry, bewilderment, being overwhelmed - should be experienced. 
  • But for many reasons - for instance not having the time to focus, or simply not wanting to feel the emotion - the organic impulse/response cycle does not take place. Continuing to imagine the invisible space, imagine that a certain area in this space is set aside for that emotional reaction to be experienced.

When this does not happen, rather than experiencing the emotion and then moving on, what Campling describes as a dark brown cloud fills in for that missing response. When your internal space fills up with these dark brown clouds, you feel depressed. Therefore the correct way to get rid of depression - in fact, to move the emotion on - is to acknowledge what the depression is covering up.

  • For example, one client came to Campling saying that their work together was likely to last a long time - he had been depressed for a long time, and had not been successful with other therapists. 
  • Campling explained his own understanding of depression. This consultation took place in London. The client in that very first consultation acknowledged that he did not want to live in London. Instead, he wanted to live in a hot country, like the Middle East. But he had been unable to leave London because his parents were very happy with him in London, so he was staying in a cold climate to please them. At the second meeting, the client who had been so sure therapy would take a long time announced that he had told his parents he was leaving London - and they had been just happy to see him being cheerful.

Another client's depression, once exposed to Campling's theory, also turned out to have come from the opposite of a physiological reason: the client was not acknowledging the fear that his high-profile job caused him. In this case, Campling worked with the client to reframe his overly-responsible and ultimately self-defeating mindset. 

  • What was a special breakthrough for this client was to acknowledge his limitations, and the client allowing himself to have insecurities, rather than attempt to bypass these by merely throwing more improving suggestions at him (as had been attempted by his previous coach).

Obviously, not all cases of depression are this simple to move on. But there is a great deal that the individual can do for him or herself by reframing their attitude to depression, and rather than dreading it, coming to understand what it's trying to do for them.

Understanding and Controlling Anger

It is usually regarded that being angry in the workplace is a bad thing. Sometimes not being able to express this emotion can be the onset of depression (see elsewhere in these notes) but Matthew Campling has come to believe that even if depression does not set in, not acknowledging the information that comes to us through anger is, as is often the case, going against part of our psychic defence system.

Most of us will have experienced the unpleasantness of working with an angry co-worker or employer. 

  • Campling worked with a client who got angry virtually on a daily basis. Naturally, this led to his co-workers being extra careful not to say or do anything that would bring this anger on, but overall it affected the worker's day-to-day experience in the office because he also felt affected in a negative way by his own anger.

Working with the client, Campling discovered that the client was using the instant hit of anger to overcome feelings of exhaustion and inadequacy. 

  • By getting angry not only did the client have extra energy for focusing on the various demands of his job, but he also threw up a wall which gave him his own space, more space than the crowded office generally allotted. 
  • The downside was the headaches he got after the anger and the growing sense that his fellow workers were barely tolerating him.

With this particular client, Campling went back to their formative years. He discovered that the client had grown up in an angry household - the father felt trapped, and the mother felt betrayed. So for this client, although he had not realised it, having anger around on a daily basis was perfectly natural and acceptable - and yet he knew that was no longer the case.

As with most situations, merely understanding more of the mechanism in place was helpful to the client. Rather than experiencing the anger as natural, something over which he had no power, the client came to a more objective view of his own anger, and therefore he gained more control over its expression or suppression.

But that is only one aspect of anger in the workplace.

One of the most important functions of anger is to alert us to danger.

One of the most negative aspects of emotion is how ego then gets involved. For example, Campling observed how, in the proper and constructive use of anger, we are alerted to a potential threat: 

  • a co-worker trying to poach our clients, a co-worker who through insinuation takes un-earned credit, a manager who uses anger as a way of deflecting criticism. 
  • Anger can be helpful for only the first few seconds. It serves its purpose, which is to wake us up to the potential danger. Then the ego takes over. You will find more about Campling's view on the use and abuse of ego elsewhere in these notes, but here consider only what happens in anger.

Take the example of a worker who discovers a co-worker is seeking to take un-earned credit. For a few seconds, anger is working in its proper way, alerting to danger. Then the ego takes over, and the different voices we all carry around in our heads all start to have their say:

  1. "It's not fair, I work so hard and no one ever stands up for me..."
  2. "I don't know why I bother with this company - no one appreciates me..."
  3. "He/she is much more popular and I won't be validated (if someone else steals my credit)..."

It's fairly easy to spot in those three examples that the principal emotion is self-pity and it's invariably useless and negative.

So then the psyche, trying to cope with this attack on its well-being, retaliates by keeping angry.

When that happens, the perspective and the purpose of anger are lost. All that remains is the expression of the negative emotion. And the longer the 'negative emotion' of anger is expressed, driven not by rationality but by the ego and by trying to avoid feeling self-pity or some other emotion, the less and less will the person be in control of their anger.

Campling decided that the solution, generally, is to have a two-stage response to anger:

  1. In the first stage, to be grateful to anger's alerting property.
  2. In the second to realise that the ego has taken over and that the ego has little relationship to the logical brain. Therefore, where a worker or employer finds that they are getting angry and staying angry in a negative way, using the two-stage response helps ground high-flying anger to a point where its constructive few seconds can be used to bring about a positive solution. 

See also the section on Transactional Analysis to understand more about how our brains deal with situations that make us angry.

Active Response Mechanism

In simple terms, in this context, an 'Active Response Mechanism' is an automatic reaction within oneself which serves as a sort of early-warning system - so as to anticipate and prevent risks or problems from arising.

In common with many of the therapeutic tools and observations, Campling has identified, Campling's theory of the Active Response Mechanism (CARM) emerged from some element of his own personal experience. 

  • Specifically, he once had an encounter with someone he knew on a casual basis, during which Campling mentioned that he was doing development work at the gym where he and the acquaintance had first met.
  • A few weeks later Campling discovered that the acquaintance had gone behind his back and approached the gym director, offering his own services. Campling was upset by the underhand method and irritated at himself - if he hadn't mentioned the work, the other wouldn't have been able to take advantage. From this grew the notion that we all need an Active Response Mechanism which somehow will wake us up to danger at times and in circumstances where we are not already prepared.

He looked for other examples among his work colleagues. 

  • One woman, he realised, seemed to have an active response mechanism fixed permanently on overdrive: she saw enemies and subterfuge everywhere. 
  • Campling realised that living with one eye permanently on danger was also not desirable: it was the kind of behaviour one observed in refugees or people who had undergone some severe trauma they had not yet put into perspective and integrated into more ordinary daily life.

The conundrum, therefore, was how do you best protect yourself from possible threats whilst at the same time remaining open and relaxed with the rest of humanity?

  • One of the ways in which we learn is, obviously, by bitter experience. In this case, in Campling's example, he learned that talking, even casually, about work to someone who might be in a similar field was not a good idea!

The example provided an opportunity to develop and extend the usefulness of the internal Active Response Mechanism:

  1. But how to take this one example and grow it so that not just similar but also dissimilar situations would set off the internal Active Response Mechanism?

Campling examined the sort of situations where one might be unaware of a possible downside outcome and realised that rather than focusing on any particular approach, the keyword was 'awareness'.

It is said 'The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. We might otherwise say 'the price of safety is eternal awareness'.

  • It is by having this insight that we begin to grow the concept of an Active Response Mechanism.
  • When we are fully engaged in work activities we need to trust that those around us are not in their own way actively seeking to gain an advantage over us. Sadly, there are many companies where the dominant work culture is exactly that: competitiveness and cut-throat politics is endorsed rather than frowned on.
  • The upside is that when one works for a company like this, one is already more actively covering oneself, already aware of potential danger. It is, interestingly, in companies where most people are honest and have scruples that we need our own active response mechanism because the others will lull us into a sense of false security whilst the ruthless few seek to gain their single-minded advantage.

The Active Response Mechanism is not easy to develop but it's entirely possible with a little thought. It's difficult to generalise about what we each need since this depends on our own specific circumstances. Yet it's clear that we each need an internal early-warning system, which alerts us even in mid-sentence to possible danger. Some characteristics to bear in mind are:

  1. Would this person be talking to me if there wasn't a work perspective?
  2. So if that's the case, who may gain from it: both of us, me, or him/her?
  3. If it's him/her, what might I say that would be of more help to him/her than to me?
  4. Am I trying too hard to impress this person, or to deflect their criticism, and by doing so am I making myself vulnerable?
  5. How will I feel about this conversation once the person has gone - will I have an uncomfortable feeling that I said too much?
  6. How soon can I bring the conversation to a close?

Also, remember the emotional response. We often try to ignore our emotions because they demand attention when we are doing something else, but there's no better early-warning signal than the emotional sense that something is wrong.

  • When this happens, step back mentally and look at what's going on: are we saying too much and is it only for the other person's good?
  • What are they thinking about, listening to me? Do they have another agenda?

Finally, remember that these encounters are all helpful for us to understand ourselves and others better. Use difficult situations as material for growth. If we find others have taken advantage of us, instead of closing up defensively, seek to grow.

Difficult painful experiences are the lessons by which we develop. If we see them as such then we become stronger than those who would take advantage of us.

A couple of inspirational quotes echo this sentiment:

"Nietzsche was the one who did the job for me. At a certain moment in his life, the idea came to him of what he called 'the love of your fate'. Whatever your fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say, 'This is what I need.' It may look like a wreck but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge. If you bring love to that moment - not discouragement - you will find the strength is there. Any disaster that you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life. What a privilege! This is when the spontaneity of your own nature will have a chance to flow. Then, when looking back at your life, you will see that the moments which seemed to be great failures followed by wreckage were the incidents that shaped the life you have now. You'll see that this is really true. Nothing can happen to you that is not positive. Even though it looks and feels at the moment like a negative crisis, it is not. The crisis throws you back, and when you are required to exhibit strength, it comes." - Joseph Campbell 1904-87, American writer, anthropologist and philosopher


"What does not kill us makes us stronger."  - attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher, 1844-1900, based on his words: "Out of life's school of war: What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." from The Twilight of the Idols, 1899.)  

Dealing with Workplace Ego

Always an easy workplace put-down is 'he/she has such a big ego'. Instantly the type is pegged: someone who thinks only of themselves is not a good team player, is difficult to work with, and is always blowing their own trumpet.

Often the origins of that ego are to do with identification (see Managing Negative Aspects of Necessary Functions, elsewhere here) but to give more help in working with workplace egos, Matthew Campling looked into the ego itself.

  • The Ego was the term given by Freud to that aspect of ourselves characterised by a rampaging, all-consuming selfishness. Freud said that the Superego also existed, to control the uncontrollable. Where individuals at the office don't seem to have much Superego support we may find ourselves bearing the brunt of their loud, even primitive personalities.

Yet what Campling is interested in is the way in which virtually every person, given enough time to calm down, and given enough therapeutic support in the form of unconditional positive regard and empathy (two of Carl Rogers's three 'core conditions' for therapeutic growth) will reveal a very different picture.

  • It seems that what we call The Ego is not only a bore for other people, it's also a grind for ourselves. 
  • The way it works is when we have a difficult task, one we may feel either technically or psychically ill-equipped for, we call on our ego to do the job. So the person who may sweep bullishly into the boardroom, bark out a long list of instructions, and then glare defiantly at the other parties present is seen as being egotistical.

But the full picture might be that they know how important the situation is to the whole of the business, or they may feel that everyone hates them because of how they behaved last week, or they may feel themselves to be a total fraud. And for all these reasons, the ego is the part of themselves they've 'sent in to bat'.

Therefore rather than hating or resenting someone for being egotistical, a better way to work with or respond to the individual would be to try to understand what the ego is covering up. It could be any or all of the above: frequently people who, for example by their upbringing, quickly land a job in authority have enormous feelings of inadequacy and live in constant fear that someday they will be caught out and exposed (which would bring ego-death!)

Alternatively, the individual one believes to be completely egotistical may have an enormous, but misplaced, sense of responsibility. 

  • Like the person who has over-identified with work practices, the egotistical worker may in some way genuinely believe that if they don't keep bashing away all the time the whole enterprise will be doomed.

When people are near a breakdown of some sort, often they speed up rather than slow down. They become ever more desperate in their attempts to control each and every aspect of their outer and inner world. Sometimes they need to have their mobiles taken away from them, unplug their landlines, and be banned from using the internet. Only then can what is going on inside them begin to expose itself - and here it is obviously better to act sooner rather than later, when the damage may be greater.

But even when people don't reach that sort of crisis point, it's always worthwhile, if you are suffering the effects of someone's ego, to regard them in quite a different light. W

  • hen Campling worked with couples at war with each other, a lot of the early work was to reframe the angry and bitter barbs they would hurl at each other. Likewise, when you are on the receiving end of ego - the first count to ten - then try to reframe the outburst and work out what it's really about: is it insecurity, fear, a sense of panic, a concern they will be unmasked and defenceless?

The notes on Transactional Analysis can be helpful in reframing behaviour - understanding what is causing it, in ourselves and others, so as to be able to respond to it unemotionally, in a more controlled manner.

And for yourself, if you find yourself excusing behaviour with "Sorry, I've got a big ego," don't stop there:

  • Be honest and examine what the ego is doing for you.
  • Finally, don't forget to be nice to your ego. Whenever the going gets hard it's the ego we push into the front line, to take the brunt of the bad news. Then we forget about it, which can cause resentment in the ego, which in turn leads the ego to behave badly as a way of expressing itself, though, sadly, negatively.

Campling observes that the young city types who travel on the tube and have to get out at an earlier station to discreetly throw up are suffering the consequences not just of too much alcohol, but not having a good relationship with their ego. They are using drinking to deal with pressure, and the body sometimes kicks back.

Therefore, after a speech or a board meeting, speaking to your line manager or asking for a bonus - acknowledge your ego. Positive self-talk is a powerful technique for self-control and development. Tell yourself out loud, "Well done, that was hard," or if others are within earshot, say it mentally. But say it, and allow your ego its moment of glory.

In common with the rest of our emotions, denial doesn't work: instead acknowledging our ego it will then quieten down, and be a help rather than a hindrance. 

Adapting to Workplace Culture

Matthew Campling began thinking about the peculiarities of individual workplace cultures by working with a young Eastern European stockbroker. 

  • The client was aware that his upbringing had not equipped him for the very different demands of working in London. So firstly the task was a crash course in the difference: principally that whereas back in his native country, the stockbroker had liked the very rigid divisions between males and females, his basically chauvinistic attitudes were getting him into trouble in the more equal work environment of the City.

Campling avoided trying to surround the stockbroker's entrenched attitudes with a thin layer of 'liberal values' because to do so would cause inner confusion. Better not to try to disguise the basic attitudes, rather put them on one side, and develop a new, organic set of attitudes necessary in the stockbroker's new work environment.

  • Since his problem was mainly to do with the women he worked with, concentrating on a new set of attitudes meant that the stockbroker was free within himself to have another look at relationships with women generally. He was having trouble finding and keeping a girlfriend 'because women in England don't like to be told what to do'. Campling pointed out that by focusing on his work issues with women and finding a solution, he would also be better informed in his relations with women in his private life.

What was immediately apparent in the new job was a very different culture. His line manager told the stockbroker about the company's 'flat structure' but it was still a shock to discover that the women on the same level or lower than the stockbroker weren't ready to do his chores. This meant that in order not to rock the culture boat, the stockbroker also had to grow a new set of attitudes toward working with personal assistants and research assistants.

Fortunately, he willingly took on board the challenge, since as Campling pointed out, he was well thought of technically and professionally, it was only in the sphere of interpersonal relations that he needed to grow.

  • Working together, Campling and the stockbroker defined what it was the p.a. and research assistant would and would not do. This took place over a number of weeks, but within the stockbroker's three-month probation period he had made sufficient progress, along with his excellent technical skills, to warrant the company making his appointment permanent.

This started Campling thinking generally about workplace culture.

  • It would be good to believe that individual workplace culture has come about for all the best reasons and that everyone involved understands these reasons and works with them. 
  • The truth, however, is that it's often precisely because this culture has come about unconsciously that the culture fails to function well, and worse, becomes dysfunctional.
  • This can often be traced to a single person, in either an executive or, harder to credit but even more, prevalent, a non-executive position who has in some way stuck, and from their position affects the potentially harmonious work structure.

Campling once encountered a p.a. whose proud boast was that other stuff, "...even up to partner level, are scared of me!" How this sort of situation persists relates to energy:

  • Most workers are used to devoting their entire daily allotment of energy to the work ahead. A worker who is insecure (and expresses this in temperament) is clearly under-used: sometimes it's a vicious cycle because the more temperamental the individual is, the more people tend not to give them work, giving them more time to cause chaos! What's needed here is focused energy.
  •  And that's why a work culture can become seriously deficient unless someone summons the energy to tackle it. Therefore, to ensure that the work culture continues to work smoothly, it's not so much a desperate half-day team-building exercise that's needed, it's a few minutes every day - coupled with an active response mechanism (see the active response mechanism section above) to identify the culture-related problem and address the cause at the source.

Author/Contributor Acknowledgement - Matthew Campling

Matthew Campling is a psychotherapist, writer and life coach working in central London. For ten years he was an advice writer (agony uncle) to a number of publications and has appeared on daytime TV as an expert in emotional and existential issues. He sees private and corporate clients. He can be contacted at

Matthew Campling's contribution to these ideas and materials is gratefully acknowledged.

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© Matthew Campling 2006; edit, design and code Alan Chapman 1995-2009.