Sunday, January 24, 2010

Slitting one's own throat

False consciousness:  In Marxist theory, a failure to recognize the instruments of one's oppression or exploitation as one's own creation, as when members of an oppressed class unwittingly adopt views of the oppressor class. (definition from

It's also known as an inability to see the world the way it really is, i.e., being more than a tad out of touch with reality.

On a macro scale, we're seeing it demonstrated everyday by people who oppose things that would directly benefit them, like a single-payer healthcare system in this country.  On a micro scale, I'm seeing it evidenced daily at work by co-workers who just don't get that behavior that they view as demonstrating their commitment to the job or their loyalty to the agency is actually an active exercise in slitting their own throats.

Over the years I've worked with a number of people who would take work home to do outside their normal duty hours.  When you're getting paid by the hour, that's always struck me as a truly dumb thing to do because you're giving away about the only thing you've got to sell, your time.  There are a bunch of other issues involved, too, including things like the people who do this tend to build up a nice stock of resentment ("Here I am working my butt off on my own time and no one is recognizing me for it!"), but two things strike me every time, both from a management perspective:

1.  If people routinely put in unpaid overtime because the workload has exceeded the capacity of the staff to deal with it, the only way management has of knowing that is when deadlines start getting missed, production quotas aren't met, or something else goes wrong.  If staff keep scrambling and managing to keep up, there is no incentive to management to make any changes (reduce the workload, hire more staff, look for other efficiencies like upgrading equipment).  Problems only get recognized when someone shines a light on them -- and working unpaid overtime is doing the opposite.  It's covering stuff up.  It is a heck of a lot easier to fix a problem if it's pointed out when it's first starting instead of waiting until the proverbial last straw and experiencing a total melt-down.

2.  If a single worker makes a point of putting in hours outside his or her tour of duty, as a manager I'm not going to respond with, "Way to go, what a team player."  I'm more likely to wonder "Why?"  You know, if there are 6 people all doing similar work and 5 of those people get it done in their usual 8 hour shifts but one has to bring work* home to meet deadlines, what does that say about Number 6?  Easy answer:  he or she is incompetent.  Telling me you've worked on Saturdays or while supposedly on annual leave doesn't tell me you're a team player; it tells me you're not nearly as good as your co-workers who have the same workload but manage to get it done within the standard 40-hour week.  You may see your "sacrifice" as a reason to give you an "exceptional" on the performance review; from a managerial perspective it's more likely to yield a "less than successful" and trigger an improvement plan. 

Update: The S.O. helpfully pointed out a third management perspective, one I'm quite familiar with but chose not to mention on this go-round:  management knows perfectly well that there's more work needing to be done than can be accomplished in the time allotted, but isn't going to do a damn thing about it as long as people are stupid enough to be willing to work for free.   
*I am, of course, talking about ordinary work, the regularly scheduled duties that don't vary a whole lot from day to day, week to week, or month to month. 


  1. Yes, yes and yes ... yet fear remains the main push.

  2. Sadly, it's become the standard. It should be stopped, but you and Bill S. are correct. People feel too vulnerable now.

  3. The present time has nothing to do with it. Business has cultivated this attitude for as long as there has been business. They are perfectly willing to let people work for free and then laugh at how dumb they are. The fact that in the past there were times and places where if one lost a job, one only had to go down the street to find another, some of us learned that losing a job wasn't the end of the world or the loss of your identity. (I was looking for work when I found this job!!!) Even then there were those that thought they needed to prove their loyalty to the company.

  4. Makes me think of log cabin republicans - errr... your party hates you....


My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.