Is Organisational Psychology Harming Us?

Is Organisational Psychology Harming Us?

Erving Goffman once wrote, “When they issue uniforms, they issue skins.” Arlie Hochschild suggested we add "two inches of flesh".

What does this mean?

Goffman was criticising how the organisation shaped the man. That once you signed up for work, you owed your soul to the company. It determined how you should act. How you should think. How you should be. You became, as William H Whyte put it, The Organizational Man. Hence, the skin. 

Hochschild was interested in emotional work. When you were expected to fake emotions in service of customers. In her most famous work, The Managed Heart, she used airline stewardesses as an example. And there's nothing much more fake than a stewardess's smile to a tipsy customer leering at her at three in the morning!

She argued that if you faked emotions on a consistent basis, you lost touch with your real self. You couldn't tell the difference between real and faked emotions. The organisation took control of your inner self as well as the outer. Hence, the two inches of flesh. 

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Change Yourself: A Guide to Organisational Living

Change Yourself: A Guide to Organisational Living

Look, a lot of what I write is extremely critical of conventional thought. Pushes a lot of buttons. Might piss people off. 

I accept that it makes me seem grumpy and cynical. Perhaps even revel in it a little. But ultimately, my message is full of hope.

I believe there is a better way to live. We can design better organisations. Develop better managers. Inspire better leaders. We just need to face our reality. See it for what it is. Learn how to survive and thrive in it. And then take steps to improve it. 

This blog suggests a way of doing just that at a personal level. 

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How to Survive (and Thrive in) Organisational Change

How to Survive (and Thrive in) Organisational Change

Moan, moan, moan ... the change management industry doesn't comprehend change ... moan, moan, moan ... recruiters have developed socio-technological constructs and methods that actively prevent them from finding the type of candidate employers are looking for ... moan, moan, moan ... models of personality aren't worth the paper they are printed on ... moan, moan, moan ... 

That's what my wife tells me my LinkedIn posts read like. She says, "it's all very well to complain, but where are your answers?"

Well, OK then....

Nobody is an Island

When people talk about organisational change, they generally mean changing the behaviour of the organisation on a wide socio-technological scale, introducing new cultural modes of behaving and new ways of doing things (systems and processes). They don't actually realise that the most important point of change is themselves. You cannot be a static island when everything else is fluidly swimming about around you. You will end up having your shores slipping away, your habitat exposed and your relevance blown away by ever-increasing turbulent winds.

We have slipped into a mindset that people should be "authentically themselves" at work, which, for me, suggests we should always guard against our core-self being changed by the chaotic ambiguity of change-based stresses and emotions swirling around us. I don't think it is a particularly helpful image. Flexibility of self is as natural to us as breathing. We constantly differentiate between requirements to be caring, forceful, helpful, demanding, relaxed, energetic, studious, active (and many more) during everyday activity. We make snap behavioural decisions thousands of times without any cognitive or psychological stress. We switch between different personas often and without a second thought. Somehow this has been forgotten in a desperate rush to discover our real, authentic selves! And that's not good. 

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Your Identity is Fluid

Your Identity is Fluid

When discussing the misconceptions of identity currently littering much of the organisational tracts on the subject, Kevin Sinclair, an Organisational Coach based in Newcastle, New South Wales, and I recently had a brief online conversation about this article written by the philosopher, Julian Baggini. We agreed that (a) the literature fails dismally to capture the idea of the self being fluid and (b) comically (and perhaps tragically) regards fluidity of self as being emotionally stressful and psychologically harmful rather than a necessary and core element of what it means to be human. 

I've written stuff on the idea of a fluid self previously, but have failed to articulate it with any clarity. I always get caught up in socio-psychological jargon that hinders rather than helps the reader. I think it is an important, perhaps vital, topic for those experiencing the pressures of contemporary organisational life. So, not being able to explain it clearly is hugely frustrating. So what to do? 

Obviously, like any good son, I ask my mother for help!

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