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Office Universe:

In my fictional universe, superpowers exist, but they manifest in a peculiar manner. Individuals are granted abilities that are strictly related to enhancing their office work and professional communication. These powers:

  • Don't work outside the realm of office dynamics and tasks.
  • Have stronger drawbacks and longer cooldowns between usages the more powerful and absolute they are.
  • Are superpowered versions of individual workplace soft skills categories
  • Cannot perform physical feats.
  • Cannot alter the free will of other people.
  • Solely aim to improve office productivity, collaboration, and personal well-being within the workspace.

Examples of office-exclusive superpowers:

  • Hyper-Active Listening: An augmented version falling under 'attention to detail' in workplace soft skills. Understanding, internalizing, and remembering every word of a conversation, irrespective of distractions.
  • Growth Mindset Mastery: An augmented skill falling under 'adaptivity' soft skills. An innate capacity to embrace challenges, learn from criticism, and view efforts as the path to mastery.
  • Clarity Communicator: An augmented skill falling under 'communication' soft skills. Conveying ideas in such a way that there's zero chance of miscommunication.
  • Temporal Taskmaster: An augmentation falling under 'time management' soft skills. Intuitively allocating perfect amounts of time to tasks, ensuring punctual completion without ever feeling rushed.
  • Empathic Mediator: An augmentation falling under 'teamwork' soft skills. Sensing and understanding colleagues' emotions, allowing them to diffuse tensions and fostering harmony.

Example of "Clarity Communicator" in Action:

Imagine a high-stakes board meeting where new strategic directions for the company are being discussed. Sarah, a new hire with the "Clarity Communicator" superpower, is presenting a novel business approach. As she speaks, every member in the room, irrespective of their previous understanding, departmental bias, or personal opinions, grasps her vision clearly. Anyone listening feels understood when they interact with her, leading to productive discussions.

Although Sarah can only use her ability for ten minutes a day and feels exhausted due to the extreme and absolute nature of her ability to allow others to understand her ideas, her ability quickly cements her role as a facilitator in discussions on her team, as well as their primary presenter.


Question:

Given the focus on mental well-being in corporate settings, which office superpower would be the most beneficial for employees (especially new hires) to ensure heightened levels of mindfulness and happiness at work?

The best answer:

  • should have a specific superpower, rather than an amalgamation of them.
  • is clear and concise about what the superpower does
  • details any potential drawbacks this power would have, especially if it is strong
  • should be an extension or augmentation of an existing, real world soft skill
  • is logically self-consistent with both the question and itself
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  • $\begingroup$ Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Worldbuilding Meta, or in Worldbuilding Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 2:57

3 Answers 3

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Frame-ish challenge

So, I'm a regular on The Workplace SE - I'm also a Corporate who...

I'm not going to answer your question directly - but I am going to answer the Meta question:

My 20+ years of working in Office/corporate environments has taught me that the biggest factors in Mental Health at work are the following:

  • Accomplishing a task successfully.
  • Being recognized and rewarded for hard work.
  • Being seen as having individual worth.
  • Having a support network of peers/management.
  • Reciprocity.

So, what do I mean by all of those? Well, some of them might be self-evident, others less so - so I'll expand on them - and once finished - that should give you, the writer, the information needed to create a super-power that will accomplish what you seek.

First up - finishing a task successfully. This is often overlooked - but when people work - doing a job well done and being able to stand-back and admire the fruits of your labor for a period of time is important.

When I did my time on a Hell-desk in a Call Centre, no matter how hard I worked or didn't - there was always dozens more people in the call queue. The system was setup so that individual ownership of an issue was discouraged (I'll expand on that in a moment) - the net result was a soul-destroying job where I rarely got the satisfaction of having accomplished something.

Next up - being recognized and rewarded for hard work. The obvious answer here is Pay - and Pay is a big component. I left my last job because due to inflation, I was worse off than when I started - I asked for a payrise to be in-line with the median salary for the position I held - I was denied, I took my skills and experience elsewhere.

However, it's not just pay. Linking back to my anecdote about a Call Centre - when I went above and beyond for a customer to solve their issue, instead of treating them like a number - I was criticized by Management for having call times that were too long. I pointed out that many of the people that had low average call times could barely speak english and the reason for the low call times was because the people calling in gave up because they couldn't understand them. My hard work wasn't being recognized and conversely - other people's busy work was being rewarded.

Being seen as having individual worth - For some jobs, the worker is treated as little more than a robot - the horror stories of Amazon workers springs to mind. Even the lowest of lowliest positions in an organization exists for a reason - Sometimes that reason can be up for debate - or can change with time - but the point is - the person doing that job is doing it because it needs (or is seen to be needed) to be done.

Shelf-stacking at a Supermarket - not the most mentally taxing position, but if the shelves aren't stocked - problems. Office Cleaner - again not a very taxing job - but if an Office isn't clean, people will loose morale and good luck making the C-Suite team pick up a vacuum. Having a management team that sees you not as a cog in the wheel or a serf from which the maximum should be extracted for the minimum input really does help with morale.

Having a support network - Whether this is peers that you can call on with a 'Hey, I've got this issue and I'm stuck' or if it's Management having your back - this one is huge.

Nothing will dissipate any sense of Corporate morale quicker than if the workers feel that Management don't have their back. This doesn't mean that everything goes the workers way all the time - lord knows I've made numerous cock-ups in my career - and I've had a few written warnings in my time - all of them were fair though and were never held over me. As an example - say you are working in a construction field - and certain legally required safety equipment is either not provided or not up-to-code: If management works with the workers to rectify it - then all is well (sometimes things can't happen immediately and work-arounds are needed) - if the Boss has a go at the workers and dismisses them in order to suck up to their management - you can watch the morale sink like a lead balloon.

Reciprocity

I've left this one to last as all the above things could, in one-way or another, be expressed in this form.

When you work - you are trading your Time, skills and experience in return for financial reward. You want to be fairly rewarded for your time, skills and experience and the company wants to be fairly rewarded with your output.

That is the essence of the business relationship.

An Employee might need to raise that they are swamped with work and need the company not to commit to new business or to hire more staff. Conversely the Employer might need to know that the Employee will only push back when they absolutely have to, not just because they don't feel like it.

Morale is highest when both parties feel like they are getting a fair and even trade.

So, whilst I've not answered the question directly - I trust I've given you an insight into the fundamental principle that drives Office interactions.

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    $\begingroup$ I like this answer, it helps the OP learn how to build worlds without treading on story building or SE's rules. And I feel your hell-desk experience. I worked for Discover Card in their collections department many years ago for exactly one month. The only positive that month had was listening to one of my fed-up co-workers adopt (all the love in the world!) an oriental accent and threaten to eat the card holder's cat if they didn't pay their bill. A dozen of us couldn't take calls until he was done, we were laughing so hard. Boy, that job stank. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 4:55
  • $\begingroup$ I do like your answer, however I feel I must mention that what you have here are states - not skills. Reciprocity, transparency at work, room for growth, are things we aspire for, but often do not have at work. $\endgroup$
    – Enthu5ed
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 5:24
  • $\begingroup$ To get there a worker has to have either a growth mindset, good communication skills, high EQ, active listening skills, learning skills, or any number of workplace related skills. $\endgroup$
    – Enthu5ed
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 5:25
  • $\begingroup$ So, in your opinion, what is the key skill workers would need as a superpower in this world to reach a state where they can perform without obstructions at their job, and also allow them to be able to communicate this effectively with their employer? $\endgroup$
    – Enthu5ed
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 5:27
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The ability to orient the efforts of the workplace towards meaningful activity

For the most part, all of these little superpowers and tricks mentioned in the OP have at their root the fact that office work is often alienating and meaningless. There is an inherent tension for the worker in that they would probably be doing a million other things with their limited lifespan if they had the possibility to do so without having to work. There is also added pressure due to the fact that most office work is oriented towards making someone else richer; whether this results in positive outcomes for society overall is a frequent enough outcome but largely incidental for the most part.

Now, many might say they would still be doing so and so if they had the choice to do so. They would still want to program and make art and help others with much effort. but it's very doubtful they would choose to pursue those same activities in an office context. Even people who have internalized the soulless 'thinkfluencer' culture on LinkedIn would probably behave differently.

So what would be the most significant superpower in light of this? The ability to sense how to direct the workplace towards the most meaningul self-organisation and output possible. By meaningful, I mean a state where workers feel the least amount of alienation to their work and where the output has a clear multifaceted benefit. More practically, this would mean a person who is able to find the arguments and expression most likely to encourage the structure to move towards the production of truly useful things and services, and towards a cooperative and self-directed system where the workers feel naturally part of something they appreciate and value. In this scenario, there would be little need for Linkedin-ish rebranding of basic human emotions and values in the form of "Growth Mindset mastery" and "Hyper-active listening". These expressions would sound alien and condescending because the workers would feel naturally inclined to participate in the absence of alienation, corporate masks, or dry, anti-human language adopted to maintain stability.

This would be powerful enough to be exhausting, but the workers would in all likelihood quickly come to perceive and appreciate the competence of the power-holder and accommodate them in some way so that they are able to lead (or advise, as a first among equals in a co-op) to the best of their ability. This would in itself be a natural consequence of the power's beneficial effect on the organization. Eventually, the power-holder's influence might not even be strictly necessary if strong enough foundations are set.

This power may however be self-contradictory, in that it would probably lead to a move away from the corporate office model.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a good start, however this seems too non-specific as a super power. What specific category of office soft-skill would this be an enhancement of? Is this an augmentation of a leadership skill that gives the wielder the ability to understand everyone's strengths and states? If so, what would it entail specifically, and would there be any drawbacks? $\endgroup$
    – Enthu5ed
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 19:47
  • $\begingroup$ Each day, the wielder gets a handful of immediate insights on what to say in the moment to motivate or lead his or her colleagues towards changing the organization durably. Like some sort of bodhisattva, the wielder catches a glimpse of what a non-soulless, non-Linkedinish workplace and society could be like and the conclusion of what to say next comes immediately to mind. However, this state only lasts for a few seconds and the use of the power leaves the wielder more tired than before with the risk of exhaustion with overuse. $\endgroup$
    – Qwokker
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ Nice! So it's an instinctive ability that works a few brief times a day, at the cost of some exhaustion. Thank you for the clarification. $\endgroup$
    – Enthu5ed
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ Though I'm sensing some sort of grudge against LinkedIn, I feel that good, non-superficial mental health, work-life balance, and assertiveness is exactly how you avoid a 'LinkedIn'ish cultural hell where you work 12 hours a day for corporate credit. $\endgroup$
    – Enthu5ed
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 21:58
  • $\begingroup$ I use LinkedIn as a stand-in expression for what I identify as cultural rot that follows the corporate organization model, but it's only one contributor of many. It just happens to be one of the more visible ones and a good shorthand to explain the concept in a way people might immediately understand and empathize with. In a way, the end goal of the power would be to remove the alienating notion of work as we understand it in the modern world, and return to its definition as the natural contribution you feel compelled to make for your family or community for intrinsic reasons. $\endgroup$
    – Qwokker
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 14:14
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beneficial for employees

beneficial for employees

beneficial for employees

beneficial for employees

The most beneficial power would be Class Consciousness:

According to Karl Marx, it is an awareness that is key to sparking a revolution that would "create a dictatorship of the proletariat, transforming it from a wage-earning, property-less mass into the ruling class".

This is the actual real world foundational basis for the existence of unions.

You may beling anywhere in the multitude of polictical spectra. You may believe in full blown socialism and wish for everything to be stated-owned or controlled to some extent: or you may believe in complete economical neoliberalism and believe that only trickle-down economics are capable of generating wealth and happiness. But what we believe and what we want is one thing; Reality and actual numbers are another. Everywhere in the modern world, unionized workers earn more than non unionized.

And when it comes to mindfulness, happiness and peace of mind (in the office and outside of it), nothing beats being able to buy food and pay rent.

I will concede that the notion that union work pays more is much more complex than it seems. But union workers still make more than non-union anyway.

Note: Responses should emphasize (...) their potential ripple effects on the broader corporate culture.

I've seen it over and over again through the last couple decades. Businesses that have to deal with unions have way more elaborate manuals and procedures having to do with ethical and respectful behaviour in the office. I worked in a non-unionized place where you could be fired without severance for not "looking fresh and content, due to impact on morale". For a desk job. Where I work now, we have over twenty pages about how to treat each other well, our rights as workers and the legal consequences for the company if any boss treats us with disrespect.

Also, they should not neglect the potential drawbacks of stronger super powers.

You may get some union busting fights with the company, which may lead to office closures and a lot of resistance and harassment. Stand strong, in the long run unions can make considerable gains for everyone.

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    $\begingroup$ As a non-union worker (who would never touch a union with a 10ft barge pole) - nothing would make me nope out of a company faster than Marxist drivel. I like to eat, I like to own things. Class consciousness ends up with an Us vs Them scenario which is entirely counter-productive to high Office Morale. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 4:51
  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately this would not qualify as a superpower in this world. Can you rephrase your answer as a superpower? Note that it cannot change free-will or persuade others to change how they think. $\endgroup$
    – Enthu5ed
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 5:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Enthu5ed this is a sensing power, like thw spider sense or Wolverine's acute sende of smell. People who have class consciousness know when their surplus value is being exploited. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ Ok, that might be more workable as a super power. So it’s similar to the empath power, giving the user the ability to sense they are being exploited, and also allowing them to gather others who feel similarly. I think if you can word this power more, as an example, as an ability and focus on the benefits of transparency and solidarity against exploitation, it would be a good answer. $\endgroup$
    – Enthu5ed
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 12:41
  • $\begingroup$ I support unions but not this answer. There's better places for advocacy. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 15:25

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