Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Disposable Society- The Sunday Collage

"We don't fix things anymore. When something breaks, we simply replace it. It's cheaper."
-Phil at the radiator shop

One of the most difficult adjustments that I've had to make since retiring a few years ago- is adjusting to life outside of law enforcement. Here's the weird part. In terms of what I have seen in the private sector, we had our shit together. I thought the reverse would be true.

Let me tell you what it was like. We hired and trained the right people back then. We took an active interest in their lives and their development. We spent a lot of money on education. We had discipline too. But unlike life out here when something went wrong- we didn't blame the employee first- we asked ourselves, "Where did we fail to train? What did we do wrong as managers?"

Three things happened. The problem was solved about 95% of the time because we realized we had overlooked something as managers. Our employees knew that we were going to look at ourselves first before blaming or disciplining them. Time and time again- we had training mistakes. We failed to train properly.

The second thing that happened was that employees knew they were going to get a fair shake. (A few of them read this and I hope they wouldn't disagree) So it encouraged open communication which in turn- encouraged the best outcome. The employee had due process that began with us examining our own conduct.

Thirdly, we got better. We were evolving. We were taking interest in our employees' lives and doing everything we could- not to make better cops- but to make better human beings. We didn't dispose of people, we invested time and energy in employees and we treated them fairly. Every once in awhile, you would find yourself with an employee who was simply lazy or dishonest. Those are things we can't fix.

Imagine what happens when the environment you have been working in fails to honestly or properly develop employees. Instead, the organization requires blind obedience. It never examines itself. It simply overlooks it's own deficiencies, always blaming employees for misconduct when in fact, management has failed to train. There is no due process. You are simply disposed of because there are thousands of people who are looking for a job. That's how it has been since I have left law enforcement. I have become a member of our great, disposable society.

I suck at being obedient. I confront stupid in the workplace and when stupid is the boss, something is going to have to give. Our  world is filled with fragile egos and shitty managers looking for obedient workers. We have a vast over supply of those types. Desperate people who need jobs are willing to put up with all kinds of shitty management- just to survive. They become obedient sheep. Or they become disposable. The proof is in employee turnover rates well beyond the national average of 5%. The last two jobs I have worked at have turnover rates of at least 50%.

Think about that. Half of your employees leave each year. They lie and you lie about that working  relationship. We pretend. The shame of course is always borne by the departing employee. Why does this dance continue year after year? It's actually very simple. Shitty managers never look at their own misconduct first. It never happens. In fact, if you have employee turnover rates well beyond 25%- I don't care what salary you pay or what the industry is- you probably have a management problem. A dishonesty problem.

For nearly a quarter of a century, I was insulated from that world. As a manager and as human being, I got some things wrong. Mostly in my personal life. But thank God, what I didn't do, is raise any sheep. I didn't require blind obedience. I was evolving, becoming a better human being. I never looked at people like they were disposable.

Here's a key difference. I was insanely loyal to the mission of law enforcement. I was marginally loyal to managers and never loyal to bad managers. Stay loyal to what you believe in.

One other piece of advice. Today's employers aren't looking for "employees." They are looking for hostages. If you find yourself in an interview with a potential hostage taker- be sure and ask what their turnover rate is. If they claim they don't know, explore the question a bit. If they have 50 employees and they've lost 10 last year, I'd be seriously questioning why I would want to work there. This is a fail safe system for avoiding bad management. I might adjust up for a food service business or adjust down for a government job. You gotta die to lose your job at a place like the post office. They have no management. They have largesse gatherers.

The problem with living in a disposable society is obvious. We all participate in dishonesty. Nobody gets better or has to improve, we simply part company with some mutually agreed upon bullshit. When employees are treated poorly at a job that pays nothing with no benefits, the job becomes disposable. So we dispose of each other. We have forgotten the basics. Many employers have forgotten basic human decency. To help people survive not just as employees but to become better human beings and pass that along. Poor managers see no benefit beyond their immediate needs. They see no larger picture. If you were treated poorly as an employee- when you become the boss- chances are good that you will treat your employees the same way. We are de-evolving as a society. De-investing in each other. When things do go wrong, we've forgotten how to trouble shoot and repair ourselves and our relationships. We simply get rid of each other and find a replacement. It's pretty sad, really. On a macro-view, this treating people inhumanely and disposing of them is going to bite us in the ass. Not in some crappy little workplace, but in the fabric of our society. I think it already is.

"People are not radiators."


Anonymous said...

Strange you should focus on this theme as I was having much the same conversation with my wife last night. I was telling her that where I work (a mind-numbing, soul-sucking cesspool of misery, anguish and despair...but hey, the money's good), honesty is not valued. If management asks my opinion, I never tell them the truth. Either I keep my mouth shut or I tell them what they want to hear. Tell them the truth? Not bloody likely. And if they ask me to do some ridiculous or idiotic job, I never say no nor do I point out how stupid it is. I just do it, but I do it in such a half-assed or unenthusiastic fashion that nothing is really accomplished (they pretend to manage, I pretend to work). The turnover rate, by the way, is 50% per year and it isn't the fast food industry, either. What a lovely hole I work in, but again, the money's good.

Anonymous said...

I too had the same problem as you describe Brian. Retired from the fire department and as I was starting to notice as I got close to retiring that "things" were different. Interestingly I now work in IT as a contractor and the same relationship has developed regarding how we are treated. As I tell my fellow contractors we are just a line item on a spreadsheet. Keep up the good work brother.