Beating around the bush: You are not a robot

Beating around the bush

You are not a robot

Freya Wasteneys // Columnist

Working in small, remote bush camps can be an interesting social experiment. As a work environment, it can bring out the extremes of personalities and emotions in a way that would not always be appropriate in other professional settings. When employees live and work together, normal social conventions are obliterated and it can be quite liberating. In my experience, co-workers become like siblings, bosses become like parents and the workplace becomes a secluded semi-functional family. When things go well, this sort of environment encourages strong bonds, a productive atmosphere and open communication, but there is always the risk of drama.

For this reason, in most formal workplace settings, there are limited outlets to express our emotions. Whether it’s an office job or customer service, employees are expected to maintain a level of professionalism, keeping emotions in check and supressing wayward feelings that arise throughout the day. While the environment varies depending on the company, as a general rule, getting emotional at work is not exactly encouraged, as it is seen as disruptive, and breeds an air of irrationality.

Despite the expectation of professionalism, workplaces rarely meet such robotic standards, nor should they. After all, studies show that constantly supressing our emotions can have a negative effect on our mental health, relationships and productivity. Realistically, we are often quite unsuccessful at separating our feelings from our work, which is ultimately connected to our motivation.

This is perhaps most obvious in bush camps, where there is often an “anything goes” attitude, as long as it does not disrupt other workers. As a tree planter, there have been times when I have been presented with infuriating situations beyond my control, but I have always been able to release my emotions in whatever way necessary without affecting those around me.

Illustration by Cynthia Tran Vo

Since I am often alone during the day, I can freak out, cry, or bash rotting logs in with my shovel, and move on with my day. There have been times where I have been up to my knees in swamp, surrounded by a million mosquitos, or caught in a freak snow storm. However, knowing that I have the ability to let off steam can be enough, and allows me to maintain a high level of motivation and production throughout the day. Being allowed these unorthodox methods without fear of judgement, most planters return to camp feeling happy regardless of how awful the day itself may or may not have been. At the end of the day, we can happily commiserate over how equally terrible our days were, with a sense of satisfaction that I have rarely felt elsewhere.

Of course, having massive freak-outs is not possible most of the time, and when working around other people in an indoor setting, swearing and crying incessantly would be perhaps a little unsettling, not to mention overly-dramatic. However, in a normal workplace, why is it so rare that we finish a frustrating day feeling satisfied and happy? I would argue that this is partly because there are never instances in which would excuse such cathartic outbursts, but also because we often lack strong bonds in the workplace. We tend to maintain a level of cordiality within the workplace, but then carry pent up frustrations of the day home with us, only to have them leech into other aspects of our lives.

While having a certain level of formality in terms of roles and rules is important, it should not necessarily mean that we detach ourselves from our emotions or our co-workers. There are a variety of ways we can make work more enjoyable, and employers should also do their best to facilitate and encourage healthy outlets. Regardless of the situation, finding ways to channel – rather than push down emotions – is important. While it can be difficult to find a one-size-fits-all solution, knowing that there are techniques and strategies for dealing with the inevitable annoyances is necessary, and feeling supported to do so can make all the difference. Somewhere between freedom and professionalism, there is a balance.

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