Pushing back against ‘HyperNormalisation’ in workplace culture begins with authentic leaders speaking plainly and sincerely.
People in large organisations often experience a disconnect between the culture sold to them by leaders and what they actually see as the day-to-day reality.
I recently attended a function where I overheard an unexpectedly emotive reaction to the frequent use of the word ‘collaboration’ in a speech. Someone that I know to be a great leader in his large workplace angrily whispered - “I hate that f----ing word now, it gets used in every meeting at work and at every consultant’s off-site, but nobody actually collaborates”.
It got me thinking about how many large organisations throw around buzzwords with no sincere follow through. Even worse, there is an ever-growing lexicon of fluffy jargon with increasingly less substance infiltrating the workplace.
Yet most people just seem to go along with such obvious disconnects in large organisations, and I couldn’t help but recall the Adam Curtis documentary titled ‘HyperNormalisation’.
HyperNormalisation, a term coined to define the final days of the Soviet Union and popularised by documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis, describes the acceptance and normalisation of distorted or simplified versions of reality by individuals and society at large. It captures the societal tendency to embrace distorted norms perpetuated by those in charge or by the prevailing culture, despite an awareness of the complex issues lying beneath the surface.
The prevalence of overused, blatantly unlived sentiments and the creation of specialised ‘fluffy’ jargon within Human Resource and management consulting has given rise to HyperNormalisation in the workplace. The disconnect between contrived cultural illusions and the nuanced reality of large organisations poses significant risks to team dynamics, culture and employee engagement.
People know things are not right, that there is a big disconnect between the spiel and the lived reality, yet just play along with it as it's too hard to push back now.
Modern workplaces and universities where eloquent language in the form of speeches, MSN statements, HR memos etc become the end, not the means to achieve anything further. Fluffy sounding statements or principles and call it a day without needing to follow through.
We begin accepting language/ speeches, statements etc. on face value without critically analysing them further because we feel we can’t speak up, or indeed, we are incapable of even seeing / understanding the issue because the entirety of our lives in and outside of work are so permeated now with non-sense that we don’t have a 'bull-shit' free frame of reference anymore. Very few institutions, environments exist free of it now so how can we identify or call it out at work?
On a one-to-one basis, coworkers that know each other well may acknowledge and even mock such a disconnect outside of work (as mentioned above). Most critical-thinking people are likely to sense something is amiss and that a workplace culture may be dysfunctional, however it might appear to difficult to push back or address it.
One major concern is that cultural disconnects may manifest as both a symptom and cause of low employee engagement. Leaders and HR professionals aiming to appear sophisticated and in touch with current cultural narratives or fads, often deploy convoluted language that inadvertently distances them from their team, creating a sense of exclusion and disconnection.
This linguistic barrier and lack of sincerity fosters cognitive dissonance, where employees nod in agreement during meetings without a genuine understanding of what is actually being said, eroding trust and hindering genuine collaboration. This can lead to situations where people are seen to be 'talking the talk', but never actually 'walking the walk' on things like collaboration or inclusion.
This phenomenon can quickly foster a highly contrived culture that prioritises insincere conformity over authenticity.
Employees may feel compelled to conform to a somewhat vague and meaningless culture that in reality, begins to stifle individual expression leading to homogeneous workplace norms that ignore or shut down true diversity of thought and behaviour.
Addressing creeping HyperNormalisation requires self-awareness and a commitment to transparent communication. Leaders must recognise the importance of accessible language, genuine feedback and adopt simple and sincere communication styles.
Pushing back against the fluffy and the fake has to be driven by good authentic leaders.
Breaking free from HyperNormalisation demands push back from people tired of buzzword-hijacked workplace conversations and culture. It demands a commitment to authenticity, open dialogue, and an appreciation for clear communication.
We find the Belbin Model and its reports to be a highly useful and pragmatic way to openly discuss real working behaviours, strengths and associated weaknesses without the vague and fluffy terminology. Practical tools to facilitate meaningful growth need to be robust, but also approachable.
If you throw around terms like ‘collaboration’ or ‘psychological safety’ but don’t follow through on making it happen in practice, you should welcome being called out on it, because pretending all is well when in fact things are not will likely come back to bite you in time.
Pushing back against HyperNormalisation in organisational culture starts with everyone at all levels of an organisation deciding to 'keep it real' at work.
Next time you may feel pressured to say something like "let's reach out, circle back and touch base on that collaboration piece" - think twice before you add more BS to the already growing pile. But it’s all OK, there may well be a complex and expensive proprietary consultant tool with a catchy name and many structured workshops needed to help ‘de-clutter the corporate speak” with even more corporate speak.
Call me cynical. :)
To find out how we can help use Belbin to create a down-to-earth common language for teamwork and behaviour in your workplace, contact us:
T – 1300 731 381 E – Admin@SabreHQ.com