The Totalitarian Business World

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In Western Europe and the USA, the workplace is no longer just a place where you earn the money to pay for the other things in life: family, time with friends, hobbies, clubs and associations, political activities, entertainment, religion, and so on. Nowadays, many activities in the workplace have moved further and further into the private sphere. This is not a threat to democracy, like other forms of totalitarianism, but to individual freedom.

Time off is no longer time off

Not only are many employees expected to be available on mobile phones and email outside working hours and during holidays, but, just as a company's image and values are instrumental in an employee's choice of workplace, so are companies trying to mould their employees according to certain values and codes of practice through staff development programmes and the use of specific management tools.

Tarnished management tools

Meanwhile, management language is getting even more "religious" and companies are talking about their "Ten Commandments", setting out mission statements and sending employees on development courses that make use of an opaque mix of serious psychology and unsubstantiated humbug. The latter includes a number of occult elements, mixed with superstition and rituals, which have no scientific backing.

Should you as an employee participate?

Before one as an employee agrees to participate in these diverse development programmes, it is therefore reasonable for one to ask as follows:

• How much of the personnel development which I will be exposed to is based on established scientific knowledge?

• How many of the consultants who speak about the various effects of these tools have seen the research material on which their claims are based?

• Does such research material even exist?

• Has the consultant got his/her knowledge of psychology from a recognized university or business school, or from a weekend course in the New Age industry?

• And finally, is participation really voluntary?

In most workplaces, it would probably be seen as a lack of cooperation if one asked to be excused; but what for some is a good experience and a path to self-knowledge can be felt as deeply intrusive by others, or a stressful waste of time, which one only participates in as a matter of courtesy towards one's boss. The wishes of the workplace can therefore come into conflict with the individual employee's personal freedom.

The democratic problem

Firstly, there is a problem if the employee can only keep his job by agreeing to participate in therapy-related activities. One of the basic principles of democracy is the inviolability of the individual, and a workplace that considers itself entitled to influence people's emotions and behaviour risks undermining this principle.

Secondly, it indirectly presents a democratic problem, because public engagement is a prerequisite of democracy. However, a business world, a work culture and a personal ambition level that pushes people so much that they go down with stress leaves no room for social and political engagement. Employees who are force-fed with courses and lectures during working hours and over long weekends are deprived of the surplus energy to participate in similar activities in the community outside the workplace.

Next chapter: Corporatism