Goblin Mode in the Workplace Today

By Sharlyn Lauby 


The last two years of the pandemic have been horrible, but I’ve learned a lot that I’d like to share with you. 

A few months ago, I read an article on The Hustle about “goblin mode.” They described it as a “full-on rejection of self-betterment.” Some examples they cite of goblin mode include eating weird snacks in the middle of the night, wearing untraditional attire, and spending more time on mindless activities like scrolling social media. While the term goblin mode first appeared in 2009, the pandemic has resurrected it (of course!). 

The reason it intrigued me is because of the implications for goblin mode at work.

On one hand, I could see goblin mode being a wonderful thing. Let employees wear whatever they want as long as they get their work done. Who cares if it matches? No one will be judgy about the way another person dresses. And maybe the office could have a weird snack contest. You know like a taste-off between saltines with melted cheese versus tortilla chips and peanut butter.

Back to the goblin mode topic. I can also see goblin mode being a challenge. What if that rejection of self-betterment includes a lack of hygiene? Or something considered offensive? Then sadly, management must get involved. 

In doing some additional reading about goblin mode, I discovered it’s more than just a pop culture reference. Some people are defining it as being able to free themselves from the pressures and stresses of life. This could be very good for a person’s mental health which is a huge area of focus right now for individuals and organizations.  

The question becomes:  

Are organizations willing to let employees go “goblin mode” to get the best work from them?  

And if there’s a line, what is it? 

Learning more about goblin mode made me wonder if this is some of the reason that employees want to work from home or have the option to work from home occasionally. Does getting the opportunity to not come into the office allow employees to have a much-needed goblin day (or two) and then come back refreshed and ready to follow all the rules they must adhere to at work? 

I don’t know that I have all the answers here, but I do know that allowing employees to be themselves is key to employee engagement and retention. And maybe that’s what workplace goblin mode is really all about - allowing employees to be comfortable expressing their inner selves, including their weirdness, without criticism or consequences.

Organizations are going to have to think about this in the context of their culture. Does company culture allow employees to be themselves? Employees are going to have to consider this as well. I wonder how many people do what’s called goblin mode without realizing that someone has defined it. Whatever you want to call it, people want to be themselves because it makes them feel comfortable to do their best work. Now organizations have to decide if they’re going to allow it.