Broadway’s “Sweat” addresses workplace culture — and says we need to take care of each other


The New York Times calls Lynn Nottage’s Broadway hit “Sweat” “the first work from a major American playwright to summon, with empathy and without judgment, the nationwide anxiety that helped put Donald J. Trump in the White House.” But the play that won Nottage the Pulitzer Prize also addresses the culture under which workplace bullying festers.

“Sweat” tells the story of factory workers in a poor Pennsylvania city and their struggle to stay afloat financially while their steel factory declines. In Nottage’s heartbreaking story set almost entirely in a bar, characters clearly relay their distinct points of view with both compassion and rage. Each character represents an overarching issue — class, race, or immigration — while she fights for her hard-earned piece of the pie.

The show ends with a major insight about our culture: when one character experiences a life transformation due to an event, one character says “it’s nice that you take care of him.” And the other character responds “that’s how it oughta be.”

It’s not just workers in declining factories who experience fighting for a piece of the pie. It’s workers in workplaces throughout the nation who claw at each other (often in the form of workplace bullying) in competitive cutthroat cultures modeled at the top of organizations. Rather than collaborate for the collective success of the organization, workplace bullies fight for power, using abuse to push down workers whose competence and work ethic threaten their position and bringing down the organization’s potential. Studies support that managers who treat their employees like humans get better results.

If we want healthy workplaces, we need to start taking care of each other. That’s how it oughta be.

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