Employees as emotionally stressed cogs on a wheel–again

When you scan the organizational landscape do you see the smiling ghost of Frederick Taylor haunting many workplaces, with the attendant rattling chains of emotional distress, psychological decay and desperation? Back in 1911, engineer Taylor designed Scientific Management which basically defined employees as inert cogs on a wheel andbrain-cogs2 interchangeable, emotionless parts that could easily be tossed in the dust bin if not performing at maximum capacity and calibrated outputs.  One of his inspiring quotes about employees is “All we want of them is to obey the orders we give them, do what we say, and do it quick.”

Fast forward to today. We now see organizations using 24/7 technology to tether employees to the wheel of allegiance; focussing with laser precision on inert “priorities,” “goals,” “benchmarks;” speaking in tongues with multisyllabic buzzwords of corporate-speak; and measuring value through flow charts, org charts, and “outputs.” We hear of “management science” coated with the lacquer and sheen of “bottom line results.” Taylor and his legion of disciples over the decades made it possible for smoke stack industries to create efficiencies at the cost of employee humanity, self-esteem, and emotional/physical health.

Today, I suggest we are in a Neo-Taylorism Age. We see organizations obsessed with crunching “big data,” replacing the value of Emotional Intelligence with “Corporate Intelligence.” and actually believing that linear systems and processes guided by “Project Managers” take precedence over people and their messy, misplaced “feelings.” We have gone from the tyranny of smoke-stack industries in the Industrial Age to the equally dehumanizing silos and cubicles of the Technological Age. “Hard data” continues to take precedence over the “soft skills” required to care for, value, and respect one another. And to make this hierarchy clear, lip service defines the concept of a psychologically healthy workplace where underfunding, uneven leadership, and check-the-box accountability is the norm.

So, look around. What do you see? The ghost of Taylor in the robes of technology and “management science” haunting the corridors, or places discovering they are comprised of human beings with mixed emotions, desires, and a value that can’t be codified on a static spreadsheet? Where do you find the most psychologically healthy employees? And why is that?

3 thoughts on “Employees as emotionally stressed cogs on a wheel–again

  1. You hit the nail on the head several times! If I had a dollar for every “buzzword” I am subjected to during my workday, I could pay for a trip to Europe. Now my organization has taken on buzzwords in other languages- Japanese- to try to show they are concerned about the work. The people who progress in the organization are those very project managers, administrators, and “friends” of the upper management. The average worker-bee is seen only as that “cog in the wheel” that is employed to make the place work so the folks in the Ivory Tower look good and get their kudos.

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  2. Well said Karen! It’s great to hear stories like yours from the trenches. Speaking out fearlessly if a great step to employee empowerment.

    Dr. Eli

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  3. Thanks! There was a time when I kept quiet many times because I would get slammed whenever I opened my mouth- no more, though. It’s true that after so long being that cog, people just decide to try and survive and get through their day. They know they do not have a say in what the mighty high ones dictate down. When we remain silent, our clients suffer, at times even more than us. In nursing, when we reach that point of cog-ness, we stop trying and it trickles down to our veterans and patients. I could tell bunches of stories that would make people’s heads spin. Thank you again for starting the discussion!

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