There are few other places, apart from perhaps within families, where we are so compliant. When your boss is a dick you keep quiet, because they are your boss. You quite possibly even publicly agree with them as they are being a dick, laugh along with them, or quietly take it on the chin when their dickish behaviour is directed at you.
However, when your friend in the pub is a dick you tell them they are being a dick. Perhaps you decide not to say it, but you certainly don’t feel the same sense of risk or danger in saying it (unless your friend is not such a great friend after all).
Both people (the friend and the boss) are adults, human, and being dicks but only one of them is able to repress your true thoughts so completely simply by virtue of the fact that they are part of a structure that we invented based on a mostly irrelevant hierarchical system (more about how hierarchy can be modernised to work really well in a future post) .
We have normalised behaviour that is repressing us and we hardly even notice, apart from to feel that horrible feeling in the pit of our stomach that we are not happy or fulfilled, that we are living mainly joyless lives and we aren’t quite sure what to do about it.
In the workplace we see official breaks are being cut and temporary contracts increased, but there is nothing to support the idea that doing this makes us work harder, or more efficiently or that it does anything at all apart from cuts costs short term that have bigger costs in the long run. Still, it happens anyway, it’s normal.
Our voice is unimportant for the most part, our views irrelevant, if we are in an entry level role or a low paid industry we generally have to also be complicit in the idea that we have nothing wise to teach or any experience worth listening to. ‘What would you know about running a company? You are on the factory floor!’
The extent to which we have a say or an influence over our working conditions is still mainly defined by where we are on the payroll. The way people speak to us is entirely acceptable if we are below them in the hierarchy and they wish to keep us in line. It’s normal.
Although I know logically this has emerged over a very long period of time and is simply accepted as entirely ‘normal’ but this is largely my point – because it is ‘normal’ it still goes unchallenged and unchanged despite all the research that say’s it doesn’t work anymore.
I still find it slightly bizarre (actually, I find it completely bizarre) that another human being can, in exchange for an often mediocre or meagre salary, or sometimes not even when they pay your salary (they have just been placed in authority over you), dictate entirely our time, our voice, our activities, our priorities, our behaviour and our interactions.
I find the same bizarreness in Politics and the Law to be fair but that’s another ponderous adventure for another day.
This normalising of relatively bizarre behaviour, or harmful behaviour, is also reflected in A Handmaids Tale. At one point (SPOILER ALERT), one of the ‘wives’ is killed by a disgraced Handmaid. As she lay there dying she asks why? The Handmaid replies ‘you held down a girl every month whilst your husband raped her’.
Yes, legally and morally speaking, this is exactly what happened. However, the ‘wife’ was unlikely to see it this way because of the culture that had been built up around it. She was indoctrinated with the cultural norm that she was taking part in a sacred ceremony that was for the greater good (to breed, even though she wasn’t able to herself). It is highly unlikely that in real life, someone in this situation would have any concept that perhaps this was wrong because it was just so, well, normal!
It is entirely ‘normal’ for you to be a slave to the 9-5, to have to speak in a certain way to your bosses, to hide your true feelings or emotions at work, to give up family life to serve the ‘greater good’ of profit making activity. Many people will read this and wonder what the hell my problem is!
My problem is this: we have normalised submissive behaviour, subordinate behaviour to such an extent – without also teaching the skills of assertiveness, resilience, mental health care and managing work life balance, that we now have a workforce suffering from Depression and taking time off for it (without feeling it is ok to say that this is the reason) at a greater rate than ever before.
I understand, of course, that there is also greater awareness now, which means that this could have been the case all along but now we are hearing about it more. Still, that doesn’t mean that because it has always been present that we should dismiss it as irrelevant in today’s world.
There is nothing wrong with following orders, with discipline, with instruction, with having leaders and management structures in itself. The issue is that the way this is put into practice is ineffective and yet we continue to do it anyway! People still sneak off for an extra 10 min break by ‘going to the loo’ for an extended visit, by pushing the 30 min break into a 35 min one, by sitting and pretending to work by all manner of creative or traditional means.
You didn’t win by cutting the breaks, you just ensured that they found another way to get the break that you don’t know about or can’t do much about (without imposing time limits on how long you can have for a poo).
Instead what can happen in the workplace is that we are shamed or guilt tripped into becoming the ‘right’ type of employee. Sometimes even worse than that, we are threatened into it. The type of threats that we have come to see as completely acceptable ‘if you don’t stay late tonight, I’m going to have to pass you over for promotion’, ‘if you can’t work these hours over and above your contracted hours now, we won’t offer you the extra work when you want it later on’.
These threats may be implied or stated but they are still actually wildly unacceptable. Apart from the fact that we DO accept them, because, you know, we need the money, we can’t afford to be sacked, we don’t want our boss to start being a dick to us, we want to appear helpful and ambitious.
All the things that actually most of us would do or be anyway without the threats but now we feel we HAVE to, we suddenly hate the fact that we are being made to stay late or work extra hours we will probably not get paid for just to drive someone else’s business forward.
So do I have an answer to this on hand? Yes – one I would like to proposed anyway.
But before I offer a solution, in Part Three I’ll show you how highly effective companies are throwing away the rule book and becoming wildly successful in the process.