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Tuesday, November 28, 2020

Organized Abuse

Bob Sutton has posted an interesting—and sometimes somewhat horrifying—post called The Damage Done. He points out that:
. . . multiple surveys from the U.S. and the United Kingdom suggest that between 15% and 25% of employees report being the victims of persistent psychological abuse at work (and the percentages are much higher in some occupations, like nursing).
Nearly all of us have suffered from such jerks and sadists in the workplace at one time or another. It’s no fun, as you know. Bob’s posting contains some compelling first-hand accounts of the bad feelings and other negative effects produced by wretched bosses whose characters are tainted with mean-mindedness, egotism, bullying, and tyranny. Women are especially likely to suffer this type of abuse—and not just from male bosses either.

Everything that Bob says is true and correct, but, in line with his forthcoming book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't, he concentrates on individuals. If that were the only problem, it would still be important to deal with in any civilized society.

It isn’t. Many organizations have institutionalized such barbaric behavior. Their corporate cultures are disfigured with tolerance (even encouragement) for bullying, discrimination, petty tyranny, and the continual harrying of people to deliver greater and greater profits for a few fat cats at the top.

The top executives in such organizations are often the most egotistical, bullying, and autocratic people around, and they teach those below them to behave in the same way.
Of course, they don’t describe themselves in such realistic and unflattering terms. They use phrases like: “It’s a jungle out there, and you have to be tough to compete.” They joyfully repeat the old saw that if you can’t stand the heat, you should get out of the kitchen. They promote bullies and brown-nosers, claiming that they have earned those higher positions because of they way that they consistently “bring home the bacon,” conveniently ignoring how these people do it. The top executives in such organizations are often the most egotistical, bullying, and autocratic people around, and they teach those below them to behave in the same way. They pride themselves on being hard on weakness, and (like all bullies) are always ready to polish their egos, or make a few bucks, by screwing anyone who looks weaker then they are.

It’s time we spoke out and told the truth about this kind of organization, full of jerks and bullies. When jobs are scarce, people will sometimes put up with such foul behavior and convince themselves that they have no alternative, if they want to eat. I’ve worked under such a regime in the past, and I soon came to believe that I would rather starve! It isn’t worth it. Nor is it tolerable in a civilized country.

Anyone who believes he or she has a good range of career choices in the marketplace won’t put up with being messed about by some idiot, bullying boss.
The law can only go so far. Besides, animals like this are often rich enough—or sufficiently eager to spend the shareholders’ money—to hire smart lawyers and weasel their way out of any charge—especially if the government of the day is half-hearted about enforcing the letter of the law on potential financial supporters. But the power of public opinion is not so easily bought. Getting a reputation as a“JerkFest” —an organization that harbors and supports jerks and assholes in leadership positions, in order to make quick, short-term profits—is a great way to ensure that no sensible person will even consider working there. Nor will these organizations retain the talent that they do have. Anyone who believes he or she has a good range of career choices in the marketplace won’t put up with being messed about by some idiot, bullying boss. The only people who will stay are either trying to take the business for as much as they can, in the shortest time, before they get out; or are certified jerks and assholes themselves; or are desperate, because no one else will employ them.

Unless executives want to take that risk, for themselves or their organizations, honesty—and kindness—is by far the better policy.
Using uncivilized, bullying, and sadistic approaches to leadership—all the more extreme examples of “Hamburger Management”—may look as if it will deliver better profits that the nice guys get. In the short-term, that may be true. But beyond that, it will hurt any organization by developing a bad-smelling reputation amongst employees, customers, suppliers, and everyone else needed to make the organization work. We’ve seen in recent years what happens when ruthless, egotistical executives get into trouble: all those who fawned over them during their fifteen minutes of fame turn on them in an instant and help thrust them down. Unless executives want to take that risk, for themselves or their organizations, honesty—and kindness—is by far the better policy.

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2 Comments:

pete aldin said...

When you have worked for a man who is seriously a textbook sociopath (that's not just hyperbole) for ten years, you discover the damage done ONLY truly when you leave and look back at the people stuck there. Unfortunately not everyone CAN choose their job nor feel they have the choose to move away.

I say Board members and other management have a lot to answer from when they turn a blind eye to the assholes who lord it over us working stiffs.

Love your blog.

1:43 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

I couldn't agree with you more, Pete.

Board members and other senior executives who tolerate such bad behavior in the organization carry as much guilt for what happens as the sociopaths themselves.

Turning a blind eye in the cause of profit is uncivilized and reprehensible, and those who do it should be recognized as unfit for their office.

Thanks for your kind comments and support, too. Keep reading, my friend.

7:24 AM  

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