Are we engineered to blame ourselves at work?

This is a story of “Joan” who is depressed, insecure, lacks confidence, and blames herself for things not going well at work. I see “Joan” everywhere, in every workplace, and have experienced the “Joan” persona myself many times in the past. But here’s the thing. Joan is perfectly normal. Actually, better than normal. She is a bright woman in her 30s with an advanced university degree, years of a terror facesuccessful experience, and many excellent evaluations in other workplaces. So what’s up? And why is Joan down?

The answer is that Joan’s personality is dramatically clashing with a very toxic corporate personality. Many organizations spend huge amounts of time, effort, resources, and energy on designing impersonal system structures that look a lot like the machine works envisioned by engineer Frederick Taylor who designed the cold, impersonal model of scientific management back in 1911. That’s the way too many organizations are still designed and run by managers and “leaders” who believe that what’s comfortable and safe and perfectly measurable to them alone is what’s best for all.

The problem is when things finally start falling apart in the mechanistic model, when the gears start grinding, and the nuts and bolts spring loose, many people get very excited about the immediate actions and not the organizational structure and systems that are causing the actions. To egosystem and mechanistic managers, this is perfectly normal for two reasons: First, they have a natural tendency to focus more on the here and now than the then and there. This is because their natural survival instincts are honed to be reactive and respond to immediate threats.

Second, many of us have been taught from early grade school not to question authority, to make sure our printing is neat and within margins, to memorize facts as gospel and to regurgitate them by rote on final exams, to stand in line, to never ask “why,” and always park in the right spot.

So, if like Joan, you’ve been led to believe throughout your life that the behavior of organizational personalities is always right, then it’s obvious when things go wrong that it’s not the organization’s fault but yours. This is why when things go wrong, and they always do, we default to blaming system actions–human actions–and not the systems themselves or the structure they support.

Actions are here and now. Actions are easy to associate with a human–like you. And that means it’s easy to find a human scapegoat rather than a corporate structure or system flaw. Organizational structures that beget systems and processes affecting our lives are rooted in the company culture.  And all that usually has a huge investment of power, pride, and profit by those in senior positions who created the structure and systems in the first place. Admitting an organizational system flaw to them means admitting their own egosystem flaws.

When we, like Joan, sink in the miasma of mediocrity and emotional pain that comes with flawed structures and systems creating stormy workplace climates, we may at first complain and scream about “bad bosses” and “horrible workplaces,” but over time we become acclimatized to the toxic environment and start believing that our malady is of our own making. Like Joan, we start to question ourselves and our worth because, after all, organizational structures, systems, and processes are perfect–or so we are conditioned to think.

The remedy? You’re not crazy, in fact you are healthy and smart and full of potential. It’s the organization that’s nuts, that oozes with corporate personality disorder.

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