Control in the workplace
Control in the Workplace: A Rant - Wayne Dean-Richards
Tell me I’m not wrong (he said: manipulatively): the fight for domination within species is a staple feature of wildlife programmes on television? There’s talk of the leader of the pack, the alpha male and more. There’s a range of favoured, well-established phrases, a full lexis in fact. In the animal kingdom the battle for group dominance is hugely significant. Yes it is. But is it still the same with humans in the workplace? And if it is, can we afford it? As supposedly civilised creatures in an age of austerity, I mean.
Let’s start with language. Is language used to dominate in the workplace? I think so. The modern workplace is like one of Pinter’s early plays, the dialogue divisible as: that which is intended to dominate, tactical negotiation, or evasion.
So we get:
BOSS: Send out that invoice.
(It’s domination because the WORKER knew that the job was to send out the invoice: and didn’t need to be told.)
WORKER: I can call to let them know the invoice has been dispatched if that’s alright with you.
(This is a crawler: prepared to say anything they feel will get them in with the BOSS.)
WORKER: Leave it with me.
(In other words: Leave me alone, get off my back and I’ll do what needs to be done, I don’t need you to tell me.)
Is the above – broadly speaking - the case? I think so. Which begs the question: Is it bad that language is used to control and dominate in the workplace? As before: I think so. Why is it? Well, in order to arrive at an answer a bit of reader participation is needed. Now don’t worry, this isn’t like audience participation at a live show: an invitation to bear witness to overt displays by egotists or the gut-trembling embarrassment of the congenitally shy. No, a single question is all that’s required: In the workplace have you, dear reader/worker, even been given an instruction by the BOSS where you’ve been sure the primary feature of the utterance is to control or dominate you, the completion of the task only secondary?
If your answer is: Yes, my supplementary question is: How did it make you feel?
With me, it makes me feel drained. (Ever wonder why – besides the fact that sometimes their only work is telling you to work – BOSSES have more energy than workers? It’s because being controlled, being dominated is incredibly tiring.)
If you’re not sure if you’ve been given an utterance whose primary purpose is to control or dominate you, you need to remember the scene in Cool Hand Luke where, driven by Luke, as played by Paul Newman (a man to whom this writer bears an uncanny resemblance) the work gang finish the day’s task before the end of the allocated working day.
Should it be the case that you haven’t seen Cool Hand Luke you need to: (1) Stop reading this. (2) Hang your head in shame. (3) Go and watch the film. (4) Ask yourself: This is a terrific film, why haven’t I seen it before? (5) Resume reading.
Having recalled (or just seen) the scene in question, ask yourself: in a similar situation with the day’s specified task completed ahead of schedule, would my BOSS let me go early? Or would your BOSS have used language to control and dominate and directed you to additional workplace based used of time? As in:
BOSS: Now you’ve sent that invoice and called to let them know you’ve dispatched it: tidy your desk: we don’t want this company getting a reputation for slovenliness.
My feeling is that all too often the workplace isn’t principally about work, it’s about BOSSES controlling WORKERS and such lack of specificity is detrimental to the completion of the work at hand.
Be clear, I’m not trying to argue a case for WORKERS doing sweet FA all day and then going home early, though, ironically, that this is all every WORKER aspires to is: the view of many BOSSES and used to justify their own autocratic behaviour. It seems to me it’s about time we kicked the practices of the Serengeti Plain from the workplace. Stopped locking horns and focused on the hunt. In short: it’s about time WORKERS were allowed to get on with work rather than being un-necessarily controlled and dominated. As a result of which productivity would increase because (1) BOSSES were being specific in their management of output and (2) WORKERS weren’t being drained as a result of being controlled and dominated.