Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Can't spell "Who Cares" without "H", "R"

Life is infuriating. Generally when anyone asks me "how's it going" my automatically respond "surviving". This is rooted largely in my linguistic heritage, it's the kind of thing an auld fella might say to a passer-by when he's on his way to the pub, existence being a struggle until you manage to get the first pint down your gullet.

But I'm starting to think that "surviving" is an accurate, if unfashionable, statement that existence itself is an ordeal. The notion that someone might find the whole process of life exhausting is something that makes a lot of people very uncomfortable. Frequently in work people will remark that I'm "looking stressed". Sometimes I suppose I do, sometimes I just look annoyed because I would rather be anywhere than there, sometimes I've just read about another sequel to Legally Blonde and wish that the insects would just get on with it, rise up and enslave us all.

The mask that we project to the world is now, bizarrely, crucial to others perceptions of us as professionals. It's not good enough any more to merely be good (or even great) at your job anymore, no, you must be able to create an illusion of serenity while you're doing it. I was recently called up by a co-worker for arriving at a meeting looking exhausted and pissed off. This was related to a difficult aspect of my work, a problem that's frustrating and one to which there is no apparent solution. The meeting was productive and we managed to make a little bit of progress in terms of discussing the matter at hand. I was asked by this co-worker whether everything was alright and whether I thought I needed to take a few days off. I found this disturbing, for a variety of reasons. For me, the entire process of being "off sick" is a depressing and stress-inducing situation which formally isolates the subject from the activity which they're nominally taking a temporary break from.

More disturbing is the notion that my co-worker had taken it upon himself to pathologise my bad mood. Managers frequently take it upon themselves to assume the role of diagnostician in the execution of their management function. One way they do this is by interpreting unhappiness, either professional or personal, as a potential risk to the organisation, co-workers and the employee in question. Once you start looking at unhappy employees as "risks" you are required to begin thinking about elminating that risk as it may, in future, result in damage to the organisation. This is where things start to get sinister to someone of a paranoiac disposition. The primary objective of the "Human" aspect of management is to protect organisations from entirely "human" behaviours exhibited by the organisations "resources". So where does that leave us? In most organisations the "procedures" for absence/disiplinary/stress management exist in order to depersonalise the experience for everyone concerned. This is a neat trick. It creates a control mechanism which generates an illusion that no individual is actually responsible, it is only the "procedure" which decides for dismissal, re-deployment or disciplinary procedures. Sure, it "protects" the manager and the employee from personalising any dispute, something that can be profoundly unpleasant. But I wonder whether it creates a dangerous antipersonality and fosters an environment in which any conflict is seen as "negative" (contemporary shorthand for "evil") and something to be avoided at all costs.

This creates a charter for cowardice to operate at the heart of an organisation. A place where nothing is said or even suggested without being absolutely certain of the answer, an enveloping thicket of predictability; devoid of leadership, vision or humanity.

Hmm. That started in one place and ended up somewhere else.

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