Annexation, Invasion and Sanctions in the Microcosm of the Workplace

Watching and reading about the ongoing situation in Ukraine, it is only natural to be heartbroken and anxious about the lives at stake there. The understandable tendency is to see the Russian leadership, troops and aggressors as ‘the bad guys,’ ‘the villains,’ or possibly even ‘evil.’ Some of us may like to believe that surely we would never be capable of the violence we see played out on the news. But how much of what takes place on the world stage also takes place in the microcosm of the workplace?

Annexation is the forcible acquisition of one state’s territory by another state. It is generally held to be an illegal act, but can be legitimized and/or accepted over time as the general recognition of ownership shifts. While we may not use the term “Annexation” in the workplace, you may recognize the feeling. Perhaps you have had a project or responsibilities that have been subtly moved away from you in ways that felt challenging. Or perhaps you have been the instigator, annexing someone else’s responsibilities, either to take them yourself or pass them along to someone else?

Invasion, of course, is much more clearly delineated. The closest parallel here is probably a reorg, where a whole team may shift between departments (or even cease to exist) without a significant period of transition. Reorgs are often determined by senior leadership and announced as fait accompli; a disruptive overhaul intended to restore or dramatically improve the organization. Many of us have experienced that disruption first-hand and know the unease and fear that can come with it. Perhaps you have also been on the decision-making team that implemented a reorg, and know the responsibility and worry that accompany those decisions.

Sanctions have much more subtle applications in the workplace, and often come in the form of restrictions or monitors to ensure productivity and desired behavior. In the workplace, these are not in response to annexation or invasion, but they are sometimes used to track an individual or team’s activities following a reorg, or to keep track of ‘billable hours’ for specific projects. I will occasionally meet someone whose employer requires them to complete a timesheet to document every 30 minutes of their workday; someone even noted that they had to account for every 15 minutes! If you have been subjected to such sanctions, you may relate to feeling demoralized and disincentivized by such a tactic. If you’ve been responsible for enforcing sanctions, you know that this is not an enjoyable role either; while they may appear to be necessary, the impact may require a greater emphasis on relationship building to have any long-term success.

How might it be useful for you to think about annexation, invasion, and sanctions as you work with your team this week?

This week’s tip:

Consider the ways that what you see played out on a global stage also takes place in the microcosm of your workplace. Take some time to reflect on when you have experienced feelings of annexation, invasion, or sanctions at work. Ask yourself how you have also enacted these on other people – your team, your employees, or your colleagues.

  1. Where you have been on the receiving end: Take some time to reflect on those experiences. If it would be helpful to talk to someone about it, find a friend or a professional to help you unpack that experience and see how it affects you on a daily basis.
  2. Where you have taken those actions yourself: Take some time to reflect on those experiences too. If you find you need to apologize to someone, reach out to them this week, and listen to what they have to say. Ask yourself (and perhaps ask them) how you might handle such situations in future.

Try this out this week, and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group! We’d love to hear from you.

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Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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