Re-imagining the workplace: The engineer’s need for a rock bottom


When the going gets tough, the injured child in all of us, unconsciously takes refuge in comfort zones whose comfort is counterfeit or pseudo. 

We sit there with no understanding that even as things look gloomy and dark outside, there is life and real comfort if we dare greatly.

Some sit there permanently, while others get to a point where they begin to feel the discomfort of the comfort zone and so decide to step out of it and explore darkness, go through it and emerge better people.

Comfort zones are illusions people like the engineer carry for ‘comfort.’ They work in comradeship with such vices as instant gratification which do give a sense of gratification when in actual fact, they are busy making the person pay through their lives.

There are basic symptoms that will make it easy for one to see if they are in a comfort zone, say of alcoholism, such symptoms as a deep sense of guilt and always resolving to quit after indulging. The statement, ‘I must quit…’ is a favourite one but the deep ‘enjoyment’ and ‘comfort’ that come during the act of binging always lure them back to the weakness and they find themselves going round in circles and needing to quit.

The quitting moments come heavily especially when the binging has swept their pockets and they feel like they are so wrong. Incidents in the workplace, such as failure to perform or being invited to a hearing for misconduct caused by alcohol intake, may cause a deep sense of guilt and regret that may be short lived, meaning that they quickly recover from it and turn it into a story to tell their friends when they are back at binging. They make such statements as; ‘I escaped by a whisker…’ These never stop and the person keeps going deep into a hole that goes deep and suffocates their happiness.

Another symptom are these spurts of anger. The truth of the matter is that this abuser or binger is angry at themselves unconsciously. They ask such questions as why they have been such a failure. They look back and remember how they used to be this special person who seemed destined for greater heights but has become a pale shadow of themselves.

They wake up in the morning feeling like a loser and everyone around them, by the phenomenon of projection, is pointing a finger at them and despising them in the process. The finger, if one checks deeply is their own finger and they are just projecting it onto everyone else. It’s easier and comforting for them to accuse others unconsciously than to be the only one who is wrong. So, the anger moments are quite intense because they have found someone else to blame and it makes them feel better.

The engineer has grown this habit of philosophising everything away. His favourite word after messing up has become; ‘Maybe it’s because…’ After an altercation with a colleague the engineer can conveniently escape with a ‘maybe’ statement. ‘Maybe it was because I was standing next to this person who has negative energy…’ Or ‘maybe it’s demons’ or maybe it’s because we are crowded in the office…’ So many maybes with no moment of taking responsibility for their actions. One philosophical statement after another and when things get even harder, the engineer makes his way to the beer garden where he meets his friend, the brown or whatever bottle. Another clear symptom is demonstrated when you find him all alone gulping the ‘waters of wisdom.’ When one has a personal relational with booze, that can replace their social need, they have a dangerous comfort zone.

In all this, the engineer is prompted by life to change and transform. He may never heed the call and continue diving headlong into a bottomless pit until he disappears into oblivion with no hope of recovering in this lifetime. As long as he continues to get the comforts, feels bad, gets a bit of pain, cries a bit but wakes up and manages to bath and go to work, he is unlikely to change. He will fall and rise again. He may have difficulties waking up in the morning to go to work and might even not go to work especially on Mondays choosing to sick. Again, as long as he keeps surviving these, he will soldier on and fall and rise again. If you approach them with an offer for help you can easily become their enemy. An interesting scene in the movie Flight, which deals with alcohol and substance abuse, is when Whip Whitaker, the alcoholic pilot loses it with his alcoholic girlfriend, Nicole, just because she has suggested that he needs help. He loses it and calls her names, telling her that whatever he does, he chooses to. There is something interesting about the abuser’s refusal to receive help, even if it's about helping them carry a bag if they have two. They will hate you and one day burst out telling you where to get off.

They have a friend to protect and so lies also become the order of the day. The friend is the bottle or the substance they abuse. In the workplace it’s the Monday and other days absenteeism that become their biggest source of lies. They have to pretend everything is alright, knowing that something is busy eating them up from the inside.

This might sound strange but the only wish and prayer, if you have an alcoholic or drug abusing loved one, is that they hit rock bottom. All these attempts by life or whoever you believe to be in charge of life are in vain for someone who has entered that zone as the engineer. Something that hits them hard and reminds them just one thing they really value and put that thing in danger will wake them up and make them put their hands up and say ‘I do need help.’ We are enablers when we keep ‘loving’ them and providing ‘comfort.’ They must get an ‘you are on your own now…’ statement and feel really cold. That is a good moment for an alcoholic and in that condition, they need it. It’s the best love they can get. Anything else is enabling and they will take it and get worse.

The Engineer, as a human being, has something he really treasures, something he loves and would never want to lose. This is what needs to be threatened and once that happens, we will be on our way to AA, accompanying him for his first session there. As long as everything he cares about is safe, the Engineer will continue to live the way he has learnt how. The Engineer needs a ROCK BOTTOM!

  • Bhekilizwe Bernard Ndlovu’s training is in human resources training, development and transformation, behavioural change, applied drama, personal mastery and mental fitness. He works for a Zimbabwean company as head of human capital, while also doing a PhD with Wits University where he looks at violent strikes in the South African workplace as a researcher. Ndlovu worked as a human resources manager for several blue-chip companies in Zimbabwe and still takes keen interest in the affairs of people and performance management. He can be contacted on [email protected]

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