In previous years, every time January 1st rolled around, I would join in with my friends and family in setting unrealistic goals for myself to achieve throughout the new year. By March, those goals would be forgotten. By July, whatever I had planned for myself would not only not have occurred- the opposite was likely to happen.
For years, I have been telling myself I’d get a better job and buy my own house. Every year, it never happens. While I’m comfortable with where I’m living, I’ve decided to set a goal that’s not only easily attainable but easy to remember as well.
I’ve decided not to trust anyone who works for any Human Resources department in any company.
Those of you who work for an hourly wage might have some inkling as to why I have made this decision.
As the people responsible for hiring and firing employees, Human Resources staff literally have the power to alter someone’s entire life by admitting them to a job or letting them go from a job. They are often aided by snitches and informants who tell them who is being naughty and who is being nice. Employees inform on one another, never guessing who their true antagonist might be. They do so out of spite, out of boredom, or out of fear.
Whatever the reason, the ultimate result rarely changes from company to company: miserable, negative people can get anyone fired that they want out just by going to HR and issuing certain kinds complaints.
Whether these complaints are true or not is beside the point. It’s always easier (and cheaper) just to let someone go than to launch an internal investigation to determine the truth of whatever allegation was made. Evidence is not required.
Suspicion is enough to have someone hit the unemployment line, possibly have to move out of their nice apartment into one that’s not so nice or even to take a job that pays less just to keep the bills paid. Getting someone fired from a job has so many negative consequences for the person let go that dismissal should be treated with much more caution than most companies currently approach it.
I don’t mean to suggest that Human Resources personnel have it easy, however. They clearly don’t. They are supposed to be responsible for the morale of the company, despite the fact this is an area in which they are typically powerless.
Some workers are just not happy unless they’re miserable. Some workers are not happy with their pay or lack of advancement. Some workers would rather do twenty hours a week than forty. Some don’t like mandatory overtime; some would rather have more overtime. Many, if not all, of these factors are simply out of their hands.
Yet HR has to do their best to try and keep employees happy anyway.
Keeping people happy often means hammering down the nail that sticks out. This sentence derives from a Japanese axiom which suggests that conformity is good while non-conformity is bad. And indeed, it turns out that conformity to workplace norms is the easiest way for a person to keep their job, to avoid being tossed out on less than pleasant terms.
Human beings are allowed in the workplace. They just aren’t tolerated- especially in a corporate workplace. An employee who wants to keep earning a paycheck would be well advised to keep their mouths shut and keep their heads down in order to avoid offending anyone.
For, like it or not, it’s true that people can get easily offended- people even get offended at those who are offended.
In such an atmosphere, it’s only a matter of time before someone goes to a Human Resources representative and lays out what they’ve seen and heard from their own biased perspective. The HR representative must then choose to act or not act, to risk a possible lawsuit- despite the fact that employees generally lose such suits– or to cover all their bases simply by letting someone go.
And while many states require that employees enter into a good faith contract, many states also have laws that stipulate an employee can be fired for any reason at any time in the absence of a union contract.
This is called At-Will employment. As one might expect, it is a legal codification of what is already an imbalance of power dynamics between the employee and the employer. It is a law that can be easily taken advantage of, even to the point where some companies treat employment as a revolving door: most folks don’t stay for long, and those that day become increasingly pessimistic about the company and the increasing workload they have to take on.
In such an environment, where dismissal is right around the corner for the smallest and most inane of reasons, the employee in today’s world has no choice but to keep the truth to himself. The truth, it turns out, is not only not the best policy- it is the worst policy. In order to keep a job, employees fail to disclose whether they have been recreationally using marijuana.
They don’t talk about anything they know could get them in trouble. They want to keep their jobs, because there’s no telling how much time they would have to spend in order to find a new position (or even if they could find a good one).
The result is an emphasis on task-completion. The workplace is prevented from becoming a community of people who like each other and see themselves as friends. They are, at best, individuals who tolerate the presence of others. At worst, they are in active competition with the people with whom they’re laboring for a common goal- the success of the company. When it’s every man for himself, empathy is removed from the equation.
The success or failure of people other than one’s self cease to matter.
What’s worse, today’s business environment places an emphasis on customer service- even to the point of excluding employee satisfaction. Today’s Human Resource personnel have lost the plot when it comes to what makes a company successful. It’s really quite simple, though chances are you’ll be greeted with a polite, dismissive smile if you suggest this to any HR rep: if people enjoy being at work more than they enjoy their free time, they’ll want to come into work.
They’ll volunteer for extra hours. They’ll go the extra mile. They’ll help out as much as they can. Conversely, if an employee doesn’t like their job- perhaps because they feel that the workplace is a minefield of legal hazards- they won’t have an incentive to come in or do extra work. They’ll do what’s asked of them, and not much more. If another opportunity should present itself, they’ll be out the door. If they really don’t like the company, they might not even give their two week notice.
Whether bosses realize that they’re reducing their own productivity at the workplace by demotivating employees is actually not a salient issue. The question for them is whether their company makes money and whether they are not brought up before a government inquiry for breaking whatever minute, transitory law happens to be in place.
As long as the numbers balance out, many of them could care less. Bosses aren’t at the cash register talking to customers. They aren’t there putting out product at three in the morning. They aren’t there with a headset on for six hours straight with no breaks. They don’t experience what most of their employees go through, so they have no way of sympathizing with the people who are just showing up for a check.
Under such conditions, there’s no way that the workplace environment can ever change.
The best that any employee can do is to refuse interaction whenever possible- and this is what I have decided to do. If numbers are all that matter, then numbers are all any boss of mine in 2018 is going to get.
After all, it’s in my own interest to keep whatever job I may happen to have. It’s not in my interest to get suddenly fired and have to fall behind on my bills.
There ought to be a better way to do things. Companies with all the power and money and influence ought to be able to manage their affairs better to create a warm, friendly atmosphere.
By and large, they don’t. Warmth is not required for businesses to function. It is certainly not required for Human Resources personnel to make a decision about whether someone stays or is let go.