Thursday, September 23, 2004

Boring Children, Good Parents, Bad Employees, and Full-Boring Lying

“The more boring a child is, the more the parents, when showing off the child,
receive adulation for being ‘good parents’ - because they have a ‘tame
child-creature’ in their house.” - Frank Zappa

Like "good children," some employers seem intent on having "good employees," that is, “tame creatures” who never speak up except to say "yes, sir," nod their heads in company meetings, and support the party line, all while gritting their teeth and counting the days to retirement.
It should be no surprise. There have been a plethora of reports recently in which employees and managers alike have lost their jobs because they spoke up for something they believed in.
In one well-publicized case, an Alabama plant owner fired an employee who taped a Kerry bumper sticker into her rear window -- the audacity of that employee after the boss had distributed Bush campaign literature to every employee in the plant.

In another case, a manager suffered the industrial death penalty because he had the gall to agree with an employee manifesto in which they objected to reduced wages, the absence of a retirement plan, and company-sponsored health care. How dare he not agree with the proposition that “less is more.”

In still another situation, a manager was terminated because he made a bad political alliance and to get to his manager, they went through him -- a human sacrifice as it were. Rather than just say, “Hey, dude, you guessed wrong. You’re out,” the company made up a story in which the manager was painted the bad guy.

In these days when “preemptive strikes” are all the rage, some employers believe it easier to quash speech than to listen, easier to eliminate dissent than welcome alternative views. Or, perhaps it is simpler. Maybe it is just easier to lie than tell the truth. For sure, it is easier to go to sleep at night having fired someone for a trumped-up reason than it is to accept employment-at-will for what it really means – good reason, bad reason, and no reason at all. That requires the assumption of moral responsibility.

Indeed, it is easier these days to look like a "good employer" than to be one. It is easier to have "good employees" -- those who like "good children" are too afraid to say what they think and then, one day, stop thinking altogether.

All this is not to say an employer should not have loyal employees, but only that they have to earn loyalty, not demand it with the power of a pink slip. It is OK to disagree. It is OK to tell the truth. Indeed, it is necessary if corporate America intends to regain even a sliver of the credibility it has lost in recent years.


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