October 10, 2007
Recent surveys reveal that three out of four Irish workers believe their employers are showing less loyalty while at the same time, four out of five Irish workers are contemplating leaving their job. Trust between workers and bosses is not what it should be.
In an effort to combat this slide into indifference, every year companies all over the country hire a conference hotel — at great expense — to tell their employees they love them.
To see why trust has broken down, all you have to do is spend an hour or two at such an event because the increasingly popular team-building off-site sheds light on an important aspect of Irish working life.
Workers, many of whom spend their entire day dreaming of being somewhere else or playing Second Life, get together under the guidance of an over-enthusiastic human resources manager whose gushing management style comes directly from an MBA handbook.
The spread of this pseudo-science is not unlike the spread of a religion in the Dark Ages.
In the modern Ireland, corporate St Patricks armed with disturbingly similar symbols, explain the apparently inexplicable and reveal the true light via simple code.
So instead of the shamrock symbolising “three persons in the one God” we get “five steps to effective management” or “10 secrets to sales success” or “eight immutable rules of corporate reputation”. This guff, really St Patrick and the snakes for slow learners, has seeped into many Irish companies.
An example of this is the term “human resources”. When they were called personnel departments, at least they pretended you were a real living, feeling person.
Yes, you might not be as important as a manager in the accounts department but at least you were a step up from the filing cabinet.
When you went to personnel with personal issues like a death in the family, a holiday query or requesting to go on a spoof course, the idea that your entire worth was being assessed, costed, calculated and determined by a simple input/output equation was not signalled directly.
Sometime in the mid 1990s, the corporate world decided to dispense with the pretence of personnel.
Instead you became a resource, like the filing cabinet or the electricity that keeps the building lit — a human resource but a resource nonetheless. Hi, my name’s David, I’m a resource.
These days, human resource departments come up with initiatives, culled from gobbledygook textbooks, which are always company-wide, task-specific, people-centred, goal-orientated, growth-targeted, client-focussed, time-saving, knowledge-enhancing, audience-appropriate, team-building, earnings-driven, profit-sensitive, carbon-neutral, dim-witted bull-shit.
A recent conference was entitled something like ‘Knowledge Management — How to leverage know-how in a hostile environment’.
God knows what this means but that doesn’t matter.
The evening promised to be Glastonbury for people with quoted companies. It was all lights, dry-ice, Dad-rock and soggy canapÃ©s. At half past eight, the pushy PA took over proceedings. She’s got that scary look about her, you know that German anti-nuclear activist from the 1980s with angular glasses, spiky plum hair and a clip-board.
She’s Irish but has been in the US for three months so she said things like “ball-park”, “touch base” and “in the zone”.
She also had that annoying habit of saying, “ya know what” in response to every question she’s asked. For example:
“Would you like a cup of tea?”
“Ya know what? I won’t.”
After interminable talks about sales, motivation and blue-skies, the main act appeared in the guise of the right-on, I’m one of you, ordinary-guy CEO (even if he had stock options worth multiples of the salaries of everyone in the room).
Part of the corporate story is and always will be progress: you too can make it, reach for the stars, realise your potential.
Behind the scenes, ten minutes before the three hundred “workers”, (described grandiosely as “associates”) sat down to pay homage to the corporate Gods, the chief executive bounds in all chummy and practises his nonchalant, spur-of the moment, off-the-cuff, learned-off-by-heart speech.
He is media-trained to within an inch of his life, right down to the phoney pauses, drum-rolls and inserted gags.
The act opens with a blast of U2′s ‘Beautiful Day’, cue dry ice and a light show worthy of a mid-1980s prog-rock stadium gig.
The CEO takes the stage to thunderous applause, coffee-to-go in his hand. He says something entirely predictable like “Yikes, now this is scary”. The crowd laugh uproariously in synchronised Ceausescu-like fashion.
The CEO starts the verbal high-fives immediately, congratulating everyone for targets met and standards set. He refers to the head office as Redwood — an anodyne suburb of St Louis — saying how Redwood “respects” Dublin and reaffirming that the people are the company, without the people we’d be nothing.
He introduces us to a black receptionist from Illinois with Alicia Keyes braids by satellite link up.
“Dioneesha is the face of the company”, he smarms, “she’s been employee of the month six times and it’s hundreds of ordinary people like Dioneesha Wilkins who make this company great” — which is obviously why Dioneesha gets the bus to work.
He gives the crowd his life story — wrong side of the tracks, hard working mother, kitchen-table wisdom, and penny apples. It’s all standard rags to Ritz Carlton stuff delivered in that Jesus Christ Superstar, would-you-believe, evangelical CEO tempo.
The chinos are slightly loose, pushed down by the paunch. He has an open-necked pink aertex with an ad for the world’s top selling incontinence drug on the sleeve. He looks like an overweight caddy. You know he has a copy of ‘Foreigner 4′. There’s a hint of a mullet.
All the talk is of winners, going the extra mile, digging deep, listening, the “go-to-guy”, being counted, respecting the opposition, the importance of Number 1, merit, co-operation, potential, uniqueness, diversity, systems, integration, serving the company, fulfilling your work, respecting yourself. When you put it all together, it’s about nothing and everything.
With this sort of corporate codswallop, is it any wonder so many of us feel restless?