Where's the humanity in organisations?
August 4, 2006
There’s a great thought provoking post at Anecdote that asks the question – are organisations losing their humanity? I’m going to re-post Andrew’s piece here with my own thoughts to follow:
For some time now we have wondered whether organisations may be starting to lose their humanity. Maybe its a good question whether they ever had it, but the “Time is money” metaphor predominant in business today seems to have a lot to answer for. Tick Tock. To busy to spend time in dialogue. To busy to explore, we need to know the outcome. “How are you today” – “Busy”. To busy. Time is money.
And then, what about the “no asshole” rule suggested recently by Harvard professor, Bob Sutton.
Don’t hire assholes regardless of their earning potential and if someone has developed into one, help them see the light or get rid of them.
Its interesting and ironic that things have gotten so bad that we need to become more mindful of assholes and asshole behaviour in organisations.
And all this is not without cost. Organisations should care. As Leon Gettler a senior business journalist and blogger at The Age has found:
Workplace bullying is estimated to cost Australian business in excess of $3 billion a year and employers could be liable under a stack of laws, including Occupational Health and Safety, discrimination and workers’ compensation.
So, I wonder, are organisations losing their humanity? What do you think?
I think organisations were and continue to be “humane” places – however, the discourse has been changed in the past 10 years with as Andrew rightly points out, increased legislation to protect organisations from being liable for what in many cases is ordinary behaviour. I think we have to move to a situation where we recognise, that to be human means bumping into each other, pissing each other off, falling in love etc – we do those things and we recover from them. If we teach people that the only way in which humane behaviour can be expressed is as a negative, potentially litigious and costly endeavour is it any wonder that we’re becoming more “inhumane” – the rule then becomes – do not show your humanity here – it is dangerous.
Not withstanding serious infringements (which should be dealt with under existing laws anyway) a lot of what ends up in formal processes is ordinary behaviour which generally has at its root one of three issues (each one leads to the other if they are not attended to)
I am hurt
I am disappointed
I am angry
Let’s start listening to those conversations first and putting in place mechanisms for attending to them before any formal processes get underway. We need a “before” process which looks at the systemic issues behind behaviour that is deemed to be “inhumane” – I don’t believe that people come to work having made a firm decision that this is how they will be at work today – there is always a more sophisticated picture and legal processes, while important sometimes, rarely deliver a win-win for anyone. They really are the end game. The processes I’ve designed (with brave and risk taking clients!) have done that – allowed room for the feelings to be vented, looked at individual and systemic responsibility and allowed everyone to contribute to a better solution. But I also know that those clients were unusual – it’s not everyone who is able to unpack the emotional environment in which they are working and then wonder what their contribution to that is. But I’m hopeful…so longs as organisations are networks of people – they will always be humane!