This article is asking questions about the role of Therapists in dealing with the psychological fall-out from the social and political environment, mostly meaning from Companies and Employers. But, what about the role of Companies and Employers in taking responsibility for causing that fall-out?
I hear two equally unsatisfactory answers:
- “That is NOT the remit of Companies. Our remit is for business management and growth and, by doing that, we are providing jobs for people which is what people, ultimately, most want and need.”
- “We are doing it already and doing an ever better job at it.
In regard to the first answer, if this is what Companies implicitly or explicitly believe, then we are, quite simply, on a road to complete disaster. It means that billions of people – by far the vast majority of human beings – will belong to institutions which see them and their health and welfare as incidental, secondary, means to an end. Getting off this road to disaster will involve becoming convinced about and embedding two related beliefs:
- That the welfare of people, and especially employees, is core to the purpose or mission of any organization.
- That genuine care for the welfare of employees, far from being incompatible with the goals and success of an organization, is eminently achievable, and will up the chances of overall success.
For more on these two points see Managing to be Human.
The second answer is even more dangerous. Again, there are two versions:
- “We say our employees matter to us, and, all going well, they do. But, when push comes to shove in terms of costs or profitability, we are very clear about what matters most to us.”
- “We do believe our employees and people matter to us and we go to great lengths to demonstrate that.”
I think we don’t need to spend time on the first one!
The second one is both the most common and the most dangerous and damaging.
The kind of moral pressure the writer describes, and which management takes as normal, is far from confined to Manhattan. It is prevalent, indeed universal, in virtually all versions of Performance Reviews, Talent Management, Careers Management in most organizations. Managers are simply oblivious to the damage they cause through their normal and unjust use of positional power which decides the fate and worth of people. Like the therapist in the article, I am so often dealing with individuals in organisations who are the butt of, victims of, management and organisational bullying. It goes by the name of performance management, career development, leadership progression etc. but behind it all, one person with a lot of power is using or abusing their power to decide the fate of another human being. And, that human being, has no real option but to go along with it and try to comply with or meet the whimsical standards of the manager for fear of making things worse if they push back or challenge.
You might hear this as a challenge to a manager’s role and right to manage, to assess, to identify their people’s needs, weaknesses etc, and it is not. Rather it is a call to the kind of sensitivity and respect a manager has to bring to this role in which they have so much power and where they can, and do, serious and lasting harm to people’s lives as the article is saying. ‘Managing’ can quite inadvertently be a cover for bullying and managers can use their positions to deal with all kinds of personal insecurities and wounds oblivious to the damage they do to others and, ultimately, to themselves.
Getting this right is not impossible and it is delightful when you meet it. It is subtle. I once provokingly remarked to a group of managers in a company I was working with how I believed their wonderful culture of respect for people was a really good strategy and would win hearts and minds and help performance. Two or three in the group immediately and seriously challenged me. “No, that is NOT why we do it. We do it because people do matter to us. Full stop!.”
The Company happens to be very successful as well.