Are organisations losing their humanity?

Posted by  Andrew Rixon —August 4, 2006
Filed in Communication, Culture

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?

About  Andrew Rixon


  1. ken says:

    Have you read/seen “The Corporation”? The DVD has some excellent interviews: Milton Friedman very strident in the point that legal bodies can’t and shouldn’t care (only people can care, organisations can build a fitter-landscape that encourages them to care/no-care).
    There was a video I saw last week (presumably on Google Video) from the Japanese office of Google, where they were working on the Earth fly through software. In Japanese, so I couldn’t understand a word of it, but it looked like a fun “office”, one too far away from antything that could have been imagined by Mr.Sloane, Watson et al.

  2. annette says:

    I think organisations were and continue to be “humane” places – however, the discourse has been changed in the past 10 years with as you rightly point 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”?
    Not withstanding serious infringements (which should be dealt with under existing laws anyway) most of what ends up in formal processes is ordinary behaviour which has at its root one of a few issues
    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.
    I’m currently researching “disappointment” in organisations and your post is really pertinent and timely!

  3. Amanda Horne says:

    Hi Andrew. I believe organisations are trying hard to work on their humanity. It depends on what perspective you take: if you want to find what’s wrong in organisations, we could indeed find that humanity is draining away. Or, to take an appreciative focus, we could notice all the good things organisations are doing to recognise that they are employing human beings who have human needs. Take for example “Accentuate the Positive” written by Bronwyn Fryer in Harvard Business Review( Feb 2004, “Breakthrough Ideas for 2004”, this being the same article in which Robert Sutton wrote about ‘no assholes’). Fryer wrote about organisational studies which focus on positive attributes such as: loyalty, resilience, trustworthiness, humility, compassion, honesty, trust, and “they are finding that employee happiness really does pay. It’s beginning to look as if a positive workplace atmosphere is worth developing, and not merely for its own sake; it may be the foundation of true organisational success.” Love the no asshole rule. If they’re not employing assholes, then instead they’re employing…….
    Thanks, love the blog. Amanda

  4. Mark says:

    Picking up on annette’s point about the need to start listening to conversations. One of the notes I took at Prof Brenda Dervin’s recent workshop in Sydney was “anger dissipates when people are listened to”. Creating the conditions for conversation (which involves both speaking and listening) should be a high priority for organisations.

  5. Andrew Rixon says:

    Great point Mark. It’s scarey what can happen in a room where no-one feels listened too let alone heard.
    Thanks Ken for your comments. I have seen “The corporation”. I appreciate your point about “organisations not caring, only people do”.
    Providing spaces for this ‘caring’ is clearly important.
    I like Annette’s balanced view point with this. In particular:
    “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.”
    It seems that Amanda is also suggesting ‘a balanced perspective’. Thanks Amanda!
    What about the time is money metaphor? From a previous blog another metaphor has emerged. “Time is food”. Savouring time. Enjoying time. I wonder whether such a metaphor might bring a balance back into organisations? 🙂

  6. ken says:

    Can we have a go at bringing together a few ideas kicking around from other recent and not so recent posts here, do a rip, mix, burn (but no guarantee of learning)?
    Starting with “Not knowing”, our patterns of expert knowledge have been interrupted (at a point in time), we’re out of the comfort zone, not making-sense of what’s happening and un-easy feelings stir…
    “Noticing” the uneasy feelings, we’re out of the time-less state of flow, we can’t not have an emotional reaction, confused we may get mad, fearful or other naturally stressful responses…
    Still not-knowing but in the here-and-now we have “awareness” of the stress, and, knowing a little emotional intelligence, can react knowingly (cognitively) to that reaction (mmm, recursive loops, in time, it’s “information” about the situation, or more unknowing fuel on the fire :)…
    Now the awareness gives us choice, we can try harder, suppressing emotions (like an efficient machine, is that the de-humanising bit, or being dependent upon an unfeeling corporation to know-how to “fix” our problems for us?). Or we can choose to take time-out and make-time to give-voice to the feelings: call it narrative therapy, double-loop learning, or just caring/listening (gulp, wisdom). So, we can spend some time, now and appreciate the returns later (back to the financial metaphors, but perhaps in a way that anchors with upper mgmt?). If others want to take part (maybe crying in a metaphorical beer), then those personal interactions may strengthen our “network” of weak-ties and nurture a stronger “community” of colleagues who know and trust each other (and can swap war-stories) in the emotional heat of the future moments: better adapted to absorb more complex scenarios and sustainable without mis-interpretation, break-down, burn-out or dis-ease.
    Too many fuzzy bunnies?

  7. Louis Salguero says:

    Hiring Business Assholes is like a cancer, they embody all the negatives and evils of commercial society, lying, cheating, backstabbing, stealing, is this the kind of individual you want representing your company?
    It is great to have ambitious individuals, and having said that, it is important they still understand the meaning of integrity, honesty, loyalty and many other valuable human qualities, after all, business is done through people, having these assholes can make or break a business.
    Big corporations in Australia, mostly the Major Banks and Telstra have lost the plot, putting customers last and profit first, and eventually, there will come a time when customers will be fed up and refuce to deal with them as competition increases, mark my words.
    On a more personal level, there seems to be an epidemic of devalueing people, bosses have adopted the attitude of “Because the employee gets paid, is enough” they don’t have to worry about moral and personal welfare, and therefore, employees respond in a very negative way, however, I must admit, every men is a master of their own destiny, meaning, is a personal choice to simply do their best or simply, follow the negativity flock.
    I see it in my own employment, when individuals gather around to point out and comment on the evils of the organisation we work for and not seek a constructive solution to any grievence they may have, that induces an element of extreme negativity not only to their own self, but allienates fellow workmates, I strongly suggest to stay clear of such de energising beings, who will use whatever means necessary to suck you into their own personal black hole.
    Now, going back to big companies, bosees, need to relegate performance, profits and shareholders to the back seat for a little while and go back to basics, providing a humanised service which in turn will draw all the above mentioned back into their coffers, and things will take care of themselves, people are willing to pay more for a great service and no sane person wants to pay for a service which as a bonus they’be treated like a number, think about it.

Comments are closed.