Hierarchical Bullies

A story doing the rounds over the last couple of days concerns Lindsay Shepherd, a teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada. Briefly, Miss Shepherd showed her class a video clip of a televised public debate featuring Jordan Peterson, who is either a Nazi or a fairly normal chap depending on your point of view, in order to demonstrate that there are two sides to every debate. She was then hauled over the coals for several hours and reduced to tears by these two fuckwits:

David Thompson has the story covered and I recommend anyone interested pops over there and reads both the post and the comments. The case has caused outrage, mainly because Miss Shepherd was smart enough to record her bollocking and lay bare the Kafkaesque bullying she received at the hands of her supposed academic superiors. This article from the National Post gives a flavour, as does this one from the same place regarding one of the professor’s pathetic apology.

But it was this tweet which caught my attention, referring to those interrogating Shepherd:

It would be tempting to convince ourselves that such behaviour exists only in the clown-quarter that is western academia, but what Freek Groeneveld describes is widespread throughout many modern organisations, including corporations.

Firstly there is the relying on authority. I don’t know how many times I’ve been sat in front of someone who has dared speak to me in a certain way solely because he or she sat above me in the company hierarchy. Had the roles been reversed, they’d never have uttered a squeak; had the situation arisen outside of a work environment, they’d have been lucky to avoid getting a slap. In the brief periods I’ve been a manager I learned that if you are relying solely on your authority then you’re already in trouble. By all means use your position to make a decision, but if you rely on it to prevail in an argument it’s a sign you’ve already lost. If you rely on it to manage your people effectively, then you really shouldn’t be in the post. Nobody who has earned the respect of their subordinates should be relying on their position in the managerial hierarchy (technical hierarchy is somewhat different); that should be almost incidental if you’re managing people properly.

Secondly, there’s the “we all agreed” line. Too often I have heard the words “it was discussed” in relation to a subject that was briefly mentioned in passing, rapidly glossed over, or delivered in a monologue by a manager to a subordinate. It’s a deliberate ploy to lay the foundations for the next step in a process without the necessary bother of having to make a proper case, secure agreement, or listen to dissent.

The mistake Miss Shepherd made was to cooperate with what was obviously a kangaroo court. I can see why she did, but she’d have been better off understanding that the people she was dealing with were not acting in good faith. They were not seeking an explanation, they did not want to give her an opportunity to salvage her reputation, the whole process was set up so they could exercise their power over someone in a compromised position. The whole charade was a demonstration of their power, authority, and egos – and this is true for so much of what passes for management in modern organisations.

I know this is easy to say, but she ought to have flipped the script on them. You’ve seen how frustrating little shitlord kids are, the sort you see on police reality TV shows having been caught shoplifting. When questioned they interrupt, deliberately misunderstand the question, respond to a question with one of their own, ignore their interlocutors for periods, etc. and generally show utter, complete contempt towards the people in front of them. Miss Shepherd should have opted for a form of this. e.g. by laughing in the guy’s face when he uses some stupid term like “positionality” and say “What? What the hell does that mean? Did you just invent it?” She should have shaken her head confused and asked the guy to repeat himself, and then start looking out the window when he’s halfway through doing so. There are a million passive-aggressive tricks she could have pulled to signal her contempt for the whole process and the people conducting it.

The reason she didn’t do this is because, like thousands of Soviets who were hauled before similar tribunals, they believed they’d done nothing wrong and thought cooperating would make them leave her alone. She would have worried that if she didn’t cooperate they’d punish her, possibly by firing her. We all have bills to pay, and we all need a job. This is why so many people allow themselves to get bullied by those above them in the hierarchy: they think by cooperating with unreasonable people they’ll get treated less harshly. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I suspect she was finished from the moment they hauled her in, and the only way to save herself was by fighting back – hard. She – and anyone else in a similar position – needs to understand that the worst that can happen is you lose your job: you’re not going to get shot or sent to a Siberian camp, so grow some fucking balls. Secondly, she ought to have flipped the script in the way I described until one of them loses their cool and says something which could get them fired. Or something close to it. Then she needed to walk out and pen a letter to the head of the university describing her version of the meeting, shorn of all context and scattered liberally with terms that lawyers like to use in divorce hearings. In other words, assume the role of bully for herself and go on the warpath. It might not work, and she might get fired anyway, but it might also make them back the hell off, or at least get them on the defensive and having to explain their actions. And it’s better than grovelling in front of a star-chamber.

This is how anyone should deal with a bully in any organisation. Note that I mentioned her letter should be shorn of context. This is important. A mistake a lot of people make is to write thousands of words when lodging a complaint or defending themselves, whereas the whole idea is to give the other person the biggest headache possible. I remember once being asked to sign a document I didn’t want to. I thought about writing an explanation why, but in the end I simply wrote:

“I have no intention of signing this document.”

and left it at that. Let them come back to you to find out why you won’t sign it. If you’re going to be treated like shit, don’t make it easy for them. Simply resort to one sentence replies and make them run around trying to work out what you’re thinking. Here’s another I’ve used, in its entirety:

“Your email appears to contravene the corporate ethics policy.”

I never said how or why: let them figure out what you could possibly mean. Give them a sleepless night or two. Get the headache on their desk, and off yours.

I wish more people stood up to bullies, and to Lindsay Shepherd’s credit she gave it a damned good shot; by recording the meeting and making it go viral, she’s probably going to have the last laugh. But the way to stop this thing from happening in the first place is for people to grow a pair and not cooperate. If people could stand up and shout down Stalin’s show-trials, we ought to be able to stand up to wankers like those at Wilfrid Laurier University at the risk of getting a bad report.

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More on Twitter’s Troubles

Following on from this post on Twitter’s troubles comes this:

Twitter has suspended its verified-profile scheme and described it as “broken”, following complaints over the type of accounts being verified.

Typically, prominent people, including musicians, journalists and company executives, get a blue icon on their profile after proving their identity.

However, some far-right and white-supremacist accounts have now also been verified.

Presumably those with “far-right” views – meaning anyone to the right of your average Twitter employee – and white supremacists don’t have identities.

In a statement, the company said: “Verification was meant to authenticate identity and voice, but it is interpreted as an endorsement or an indicator of importance.

An interpretation encouraged by Twitter administrators who would withdraw verification as punishment for expressing the wrong views and withhold verification from people they didn’t like.

“We recognise that we have created this confusion and need to resolve it.”

By hiring some serious adults, ones that can tell the difference between “verify” and “endorse”? I’ll not hold my breath.

Twitter has been making a series of changes to address abuse and harassment on the social network.

By that they mean they’ve been enthusiastically banning people who they suspect might be upsetting groups they like.

One thing is certain, if this is how they are running the parts of the business which are in full public view, those bits which remain hidden won’t be any better. And they’re not alone in this: ZMan frequently points out that Facebook’s algorithm which generates the data they provide to advertisers is often found to be faulty – but always, coincidentally, in a manner which favours Facebook – and that if they weren’t a current darling of the political establishment they’d have been raked over the coals by now.

Sooner or later, one of these tech giants is going to run into serious trouble and they’ll wish they’d put some serious adults in charge.

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More on Unfair Dismissal

My views as expressed in yesterday’s post appear to put me, unusually, at considerable odds with most of my readers. Perhaps I should start banning people? Or maybe change my views? Instead, I’ll do what I do best: waffle some more.

Firstly, I get that an employer needs to ensure the private actions of an employee don’t damage the company’s reputation or its bottom line. That is sensible enough: if an employee is actively speaking out against their company or protesting a company’s actions then this ought to be grounds for disciplinary action. But I suspect this clause was inserted into contracts in the days when people had some common sense, and that ship sailed so long ago its prow is now prodding us in the back. Being a reasonable chap, I would expect the onus is on the employer to demonstrate exactly how the company’s reputation is being damaged, citing specifics. By that, I mean if the words “could” and “if” appear two or three times in the same sentence, then they’re probably engaged in woolly speculation. If a genuine customer or client has complained, then they are on firm ground; if they’re a Danish company making farm machinery and they’ve received a thousand angry emails from hippy academics in Brooklyn and Berkeley, they’re not.

Anyway, let’s suppose companies should be permitted to fire people for expressing political views outside of working hours. Where do you think this will end up? Well, we already know. The most unusual thing about this latest story was that it was a demented lefty being fired over an anti-Trump gesture, but this goes against the grain. A few years back a rodeo clown was fired for wearing an Obama mask, and since then “doxing” – the practice of identifying people online and publishing their real name, address, and employer’s details – has become popular. In the past year there have been several instances of Twitter mobs forming, encouraging people to bombard the employer of some hapless individual who upset progressives. If companies are going to cave in at the first sign an employee might upset someone over a political view, it’s the centre-right who are going to be in for a rough ride. I’ve written before about service providers such as web and email hosts being pressured by mobs into ditching paying customers who don’t toe the progressive line, and this is simply a variation on a theme. So this latest case sets a dangerous precedent, and the ones who will take full advantage are the headcases in Antifa and BLM, not sensible people. If a person can be fired for flipping off Trump, can someone be fired for showing up at Charlottesville? What about a pro-Trump rally? Or wearing a MAGA hat? It will be rather easy for HR to cite a couple of hundred angry tweets and emails from unemployed headcases in response to a carefully edited video clip, and fire the person concerned. HR departments take the easy route every single time – unless the law prevents them.

Now perhaps there’s an argument that because this woman worked for a government contractor, she might cost them business. Well, who doesn’t work indirectly for the government these days? With the size and scope of the state growing steadily each year, and accounting for an ever-larger slice of economic activity, an awful lot of people fall under its umbrella. Taking things over to my side of the Atlantic, should someone working for an IT firm which is occasionally contracted by an arm of the NHS refrain from making any political gestures towards the British government? Bear in mind that in today’s climate, voting Tory means you are hell-bent on destroying the NHS in the eyes of many. And do we really think UKIP – or even Brexit – voters should be hounded from their jobs, because this will surely happen once the Twitter mobs get wind that companies consider it their business what employees say and do in their spare time.

I get where my readers are coming from. Employers and employees are free-agents contracting with one another and are at liberty to impose any conditions they like. But in practice, it doesn’t work quite like that. As I said earlier, in a time when proper, professional managers ran things rather than power-skirts in HR, and managers didn’t think they owned their employees’ souls 24/7, this wouldn’t be a problem. Then again, employees cowering in silence through sheer terror of what their manager might say or do appears to be the norm these days: that’s exactly what I wrote about here. I can’t help wondering if employees stood up for themselves a bit more and grew some balls, HR wouldn’t feel so empowered they can fire someone over a rude gesture on Facebook. But here we are.

The issue of anonymity always comes up in these discussions. In hindsight it may have been more sensible to write this blog anonymously, but the stubborn side of me never saw why I should. I always thought I ought to be able to defend anything I say on here, and if I need to hide behind a pseudonym perhaps I shouldn’t be saying those things in the first place. Secondly, anonymity doesn’t always work. There have been enough instances of bloggers being outed as it’s extremely difficult to cover your tracks all the time, and if you got tangled up in a major controversy someone would likely find out who you really were in short order. Even though writing under my real name might be more risky, I at least don’t have to worry about suddenly being outed, and I know I can stand by anything I’ve said on here (more or less).

So, to summarise: this woman was an idiot, but if we’re heading into an era where employers can fire people for political gestures made in their spare time with such decisions made by HR and not operational management, sensible people on the centre-right are going to come off worst. And if an employee’s best defence is to shun social media and avoid any political subject at a time when everything is political, and cower in silence or anonymity in order to pay the bills, we might as well give up all delusions of individual liberty now.

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Unfair Dismissal

You don’t need to agree with this woman’s actions or political beliefs to think she’s been harshly treated here:

In a Saturday interview with HuffPost, Briskman, a 50-year-old mother of two, said she was stunned that someone had taken a picture of her giving Trump the middle finger.
As the photo circulated online, Briskman decided to tell Akima’s HR department what was happening when she went to work on Monday. By Tuesday, her bosses called her into a meeting and said she had violated the company’s social media policy by using the photo as her profile picture on Twitter and Facebook.

Management can stipulate what you put on social media, eh?

“They said, ‘We’re separating from you,‘” said Briskman. “Basically, you cannot have ‘lewd’ or ‘obscene’ things in your social media. So they were calling flipping him off ‘obscene.’”

Would this apply to a gay man at a Pride event?

Briskman, who worked in marketing and communications at Akima for just over six months, said she emphasized to the executives that she wasn’t on the job when the incident happened and that her social media pages don’t mention her employer. They told her that because Akima was a government contractor, the photo could hurt their business, she said.

Was she the marketing and communications director, the public face of the business? If not, then what’s the problem? Perhaps a picture of her going hunting might hurt their business, or a pic of her at a political rally, or at a gay club? What’s this got to do with her employer?

Virginia is an employment-at-will state, meaning employers can fire people anytime and for any reason.

Still, I expect she has grounds to sue under First Amendment rights here. Worth watching, I think. If she does, I hope she wins.

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Twitter Troubles

Thanks to this, Twitter is in full-on damage control:

US President Donald Trump’s Twitter account briefly vanished on Thursday but has since been restored, the social media company said.

An employee deactivated the @realdonaldtrump account, it said, clarifying that it had been their last day in the job.

The account was down for 11 minutes and Twitter is now investigating.

Now part of this is quite amusing, and I confess had someone done it to Obama I’d be chuckling away. But it’s actually quite serious:

Firstly, the employee is an idiot. Sure, he might gain some street cred with his lefty mates and have liberals fawning over him for a day or two, but Twitter could (and probably should) clobber him for this. “But it’s my last day!” doesn’t provide immunity from sabotage or malicious acts; sure, you can bare your arse on the way out the door but if you were to start interfering with a customer’s account in any other business you’d be in deep shit. Of course, there is also a reasonable argument that perhaps Trump shouldn’t be on Twitter at 3am shooting his mouth off and all presidential communications ought to go through proper, secured channels – but this is Trump, and I can understand why he wants to bypass the mainstream media that openly colluded with his opponent during the election.

But despite all this, and despite Twitter on some measures being little more than a giant playground, it is still a large and influential public company and this latest incident says a lot about how it’s run. One would have thought that anyone with admin rights over accounts – particularly those belonging to people like Trump – would be put on gardening leave the moment they submit their resignation. At the very least, they should have their admin rights pulled. There’s also the question over who is given these admin rights; it appears Twitter doesn’t distinguish between the accounts of high-profile and ordinary people, and a lowly administrator can make changes on everyone’s accounts. I bank with NatWest, but I’d hazard a guess the person who picks up the phone to unblock my card or help me set up a direct debit wouldn’t be able to access the accounts of any celebrities or billionaires who banked with them; they’d have their own account administrators, who would be vetted more thoroughly.

Unfortunately for the Twitter management, this isn’t the only time they’ve been accused of running the company like a students’ union rather than a blue-chip tech corporation. Last week they made the decision to pull all adverts from accounts owned by Russia Today, thus endorsing the rather wild view that such adverts may have swung the election for Donald Trump. Not only is this ludicrous political posturing – Twitter is full of adverts from dodgy regimes, the latest I am seeing is from Saudi Arabia attacking Qatar over Yemen – but RT has responded by saying they were approached by Twitter in the run-up to the election:

RT was thereby forced to reveal some details of the 2016 negotiations during which Twitter representatives made an exclusive multi-million dollar advertising proposal to spend big during the US presidential election, which was turned down.

Do I believe RT unconditionally? Hell no. Do I think it plausible, even likely, that Twitter approached RT at that time in order to secure millions in advertising funds? Yes I do. Do I think the Twitter management would cynically ban RT a year later in order to pander to Democrat politicians? Yes, I do. Even if the Russians are making this up, it doesn’t make Twitter look good.

This has not come out of a clear blue sky, of course. During the election campaign Twitter stood accused, with good reason, of shadow-banning conservative or pro-Trump accounts, i.e. hiding them from people’s news feeds without telling them. Many people believe, again with good reason, that Twitter’s enthusiasm for banning people tends to be directed mainly at those whose views don’t align with prevailing progressive orthodoxy, and liberals are free to hurl abuse with gay abandon in a manner which would get a conservative suspended. As ZMan pointed out in one of his podcasts, Twitter and other social media sites actually brag about how many people they’ve silenced, how many accounts they’ve shut down, and how they are committed to protecting people from the wrong sort of opinions. This sounds very unlike a business interested in making money and a lot more like a bunch of people with an aim to control narratives for political and social purposes.

Finally, you have the farce which is the blue check-mark. Originally it was a good idea, used to verify that an account appearing to belong to someone famous was actually administered by that person. Anyone can sign up to Twitter claiming to be Ryan Giggs, but by verifying accounts with a blue tick users would know which one was officially his. But somehow this morphed into a system whereby even obscure people whose views align with Twitter staff get a blue check mark while world-famous people they don’t like are denied. Julian Assange, for example, has not been verified even though it is clearly him (he puts a blue diamond after his name to highlight this). Now you might not like Assange or agree with him, but he’s definitely someone whose account ought to be verified as belonging to him. Contrast this with a chap called Ben Spielberg who I picked at random: he has less than 10k followers (Assange has over 500k) and seems to be known mainly for running a blog focussing on civil rights and occasionally writing for the Huffington Post.

Equally controversially, Milo Yiannopoulos was unverified by Twitter, i.e. they removed his blue check-mark for reasons unknown back in January, before he got booted off altogether. If the verification was genuinely an indicator of an account-holder’s identity as Twitter claimed, they would not threaten to withdraw it as punishment for expressing forbidden views. I suppose if you inhabit an ultra-liberal Silicon Valley bubble then all of this might seem perfectly acceptable and give you a sense of smug satisfaction you’re improving the world. But when all this is added up, it is clear Twitter is not run by adults nor managed in the vein of a serious, multinational corporation. Their increasingly opaque policies, particularly those to do with breaches of code of conduct and suspension of accounts, are more akin to those of an off-topic message board on a gaming forum or a personal blog than a tech giant with the ear of governments.

What Twitter’s investors make of this is anyone’s guess but I’m with ZMan on this: the smart money got out of there a long time ago. How long Twitter can keep this up will be interesting to watch.

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Sexism at Work

Some time ago I worked in an office with limited space, so the coffee machine was put in the same room as the printer. This meant you’d often find someone getting themselves coffee when you went to the printer and vice versa. The room was small so you’d have to squeeze past one another, which involved a bit of cooperation.

There were quite a few people on the floor: engineers, managers, admin staff, etc. with the last group being mainly middle-aged women. Usually when a dashing young man like me walked into this room, any women present would respectfully make way for me and say a polite “hello”. The men would too, but they’d move a fraction more slowly. I notice these things.

Then one day I walked in to pick something off the printer and I found the way blocked by three or four of the secretary/admin ladies. One of them saw me in her peripheral vision, glanced at me, and didn’t move. Nor did any of the others.

“Ey up,” I thought. “What’s going on here?”

I politely said “excuse me” and they shifted aside, just enough to let me past. As they did I saw they were all chatting with a man, who so happened to be one of the big bosses on the floor. As I waited for the printer to rumble into action I listened to them, clucking like hens around this high-status male in their midst. Had he not been there, I would have held the high status and they’d have stepped aside, but with this chap there I was just a pleb who could be ignored while they gave him their full attention. Once I’d worked out what was going on I couldn’t stop myself from grinning. If any of them noticed it on my way out, they ignored it.

I suspect the women’s behaviour was subconscious, and none would have had any recollection of it afterwards. In other words, it was quite natural. Now men arse-lick bosses all the time, more so than women in my experience, but this wasn’t quite arse-licking. It was more an adjustment of body-language to reflect the relative status of the two men in the room and if you weren’t looking for it you’d miss it.

I’ve been thinking of this incident in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the tidal wave of women who’ve come forward claiming they’ve been sexually harassed at work, usually by a man in a position of power over them. I turned on the news this morning to find the British Defence Secretary has resigned for having placed his hand on the knee of a journalist some 15 years ago, despite the woman in question not thinking it any big deal and appearing rather uhappy about what’s happened:

The resignation comes a day after a spokesman for Sir Michael confirmed that he was once rebuked by a journalist, Julia Hartley-Brewer, for putting his hand on her knee during a dinner in 2002.

The spokesman said Sir Michael apologised when it happened.

Ms Hartley-Brewer, a former political editor of the Sunday Express and regular political commentator, told BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight: “If he has gone because he touched my knee 15 years ago, that is genuinely the most absurd reason for anyone to have lost their job in the history of the universe, so I hope it is not because of that.”

If a knee-touch 15 years ago is enough to bring down a cabinet minister, then we’re going to be in for interesting times. For while the world and its dog are demanding men change their behaviour in the workplace (or at boozy parties vaguely connected with work and, going off one example I heard on the BBC, company ski holidays), they are refusing to even discuss whether women’s behaviour plays any part in all this. A couple of months back I said:

It could be that when a woman acts like a “lad” and engages in alcohol-fuelled banter of an insulting or sexual nature – even in jest – it brings out the worst behaviour in the men around her.

So there’s that. Of course, there are plenty of women who’ve not behaved like this but nevertheless been sleazed over at work, because there is the odd lecherous man everywhere and these guys need to be thinned out. Then there is the vast majority of women who behave well and so do the men around them, but they don’t make good headlines.

But what’s interesting is at the margins you’re going to find men behaving well until, almost subconsciously, they make the wrong move or say the wrong thing. It might even be too subtle to notice, unless there is an entire HR and grievance industry forcing women to spot anything that may look like harassment and lodge an immediate complaint. If a bunch of women can subconsciously modify their body-language when a high-status male is in their presence, and change their approach to male co-workers depending on which other men are in the room, then it’s likely men are acting in similar fashion – only for now it’s just one party that’s getting in trouble for it.

What we’re seeing here, at the margins, is human nature working as it’s supposed to. Merely designating a territory a workplace is not going to eliminate all non-professional interactions between men and women, any more than you can stop men making fun of each other in the office. Was Weinstein acting at the margins? No he wasn’t. Was Fallon? Maybe not, but it’s less clear-cut. If things carry on like this, there is only one solution and it’s simple: segregate men and women in the workplace.

Now big companies won’t get on board with this, because the hardcore feminists have other plans, which is to take over the major organisations and ensure any men working in them are cowering with fear of the sexual harassment sword of Damocles hanging over them. But I can see a drift towards segregation in the overall job market. I’ve written before about how smart young men might begin to shun the major organisations and set up in bunches of twos and threes and scoop up the work the big players have rendered themselves incapable of doing. Men being branded sexist pigs from the outset by power-skirts in HR is only going to speed this process up, and with Tinder and other apps it’s not like they need to work among women to meet anyone anyway. Fast forward ten years and we’ll be seeing a lot of tiny outfits working the gig economy made up of men who treat women they meet online like disposable napkins, while women sit in giant organisations holding meetings to find new ways of torturing the grovelling betas who report to them. And complain bitterly they can’t meet any decent men who want to settle down.

How this is a future any sane woman wants is beyond me, but that’s what third-wave feminism will give them.

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What happens when the robots come?

On Saturday I was at a party and got chatting to a nice French chap who was involved somehow in environmental management. We had good fun bickering over climate change and pollution, but there was something else we discussed which is worth expanding on. He raised the question that many others are asking, which is what we’ll all do for work as technology makes jobs obsolete and there isn’t enough work to go around. What was interesting is he, like others, spoke as though this was something coming in the future whereas I replied that I can answer his question because the situation has already arisen.

Rather than look to a future in which robots do all the work, we can look backwards to the closure of the factories and mills and the decline of labour-intensive industries and blue-collar jobs and see what happened. From what I can tell, we’ve simply replaced those jobs with mass bureaucracy. Governments everywhere have made it central policy to get more women into the professional workforce, and for more people to go to university. Vast numbers of these new graduates entered jobs in government created largely to provide work for otherwise unemployable people, and they set about creating more work for themselves, i.e. expanding government. One method of doing this was to dramatically increase regulations with which private businesses and individuals must comply, thus forcing them to create their own bureaucracies in order to avoid non-conformity and prosecution. Thankfully, companies had no problem filling these positions thanks to hordes of new graduates with soft-skill degrees seeking cushy process-driven roles in air-conditioned metropolitan offices.

Every year the government bureaucracies grow, the number and complexity of regulations increase, and companies respond by employing ever-more people in roles related to “compliance”. This has been going on so long that it’s obvious many departments in large organisations – public, private, or third sector – exist purely to provide jobs for middle-class graduates. In other words, they’re part of a giant welfare system that few seem willing to recognise. I’d love to know, as a percentage, how many overhead jobs in modern organisations didn’t exist thirty years ago. You’d expect some jobs to change – especially those related to new technologies – but I’d be willing to bet most of these new positions are a result of ballooning government departments and whole armies of people necessary to navigate the current thicket of rules, regulations, and requirements.

It beats me why people are currently wringing their hands at the prospect of robots taking all the jobs, and worrying over how the work will be shared around when we’ve already found the answer: we’ll invent jobs, and pretend it’s real work.

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“Get Stuffed” Funds

Under yesterday’s post about moral cowardice in the workplace, dearieme makes the following comment:

People should build up a “get stuffed” fund so that they can afford to tell a boss to go to hell.

To which bobby b responded:

It’s been my experience that the Eff You Money myth is just that – a myth.

If you ask ten people how much money it takes, the answer is almost always something like ([what I have right now] X 2.5.) It’s like the “Free Beer Tomorrow” signs in bars – tomorrow never comes.

Those who can truly say Eff You to a boss or a job can say it no matter how much they have put away.

The rest can salt away a million or two and still be waiting to hit that magic number. They’ll never actually catch up to it. Most people just aren’t the Eff You type.

Both deariem and bobby b make good points.

One of the most depressing things I heard during my career was a remark made by a friend and former colleague who I love dearly. I was complaining, as I often do, about the lack of moral courage in modern organisations, particularly how almost nobody will speak up against bad management decisions, poor practice, or a lack of clarity, consistency, or professionalism. I described how I’d sat through a meeting where a visiting boss failed to address any of the employees’ long-standing complaints, and instead delivered an upbeat monologue that bore no resemblance to reality. I questioned why nobody, even those quite senior, had the balls to speak up, and she replied:

Because it would be pretty irresponsible for a guy to come home to his kids and say “Sorry, I’ve lost my job because I told my boss to fuck off.”

I found it depressing because it confirmed what I have long suspected: the slightest push-back against management these days is interpreted as “telling the boss to fuck off”. The fact that there is a yawning chasm between raising valid objections and telling the boss to fuck off seems to be absent in the minds of modern corporate employees.

If anyone at work calls you a brown-noser or a suck-up, ask them how many times they’ve been fired. I’ve found this normally shuts them up. Me, I’ve been booted from one job for repeatedly and vociferously denouncing the utter incompetence of my boss and his boss above him, and hoofed off another for being overly outspoken in a quite different sense. But there have been times when I’ve held my tongue because I couldn’t afford to lose my job.

I learned the lesson early in my career that you need to make yourself as financially independent from your employer as possible. Honestly speaking, this is one of the main reasons why I didn’t want kids: once you have kids, your boss has you by the balls, and he or she knows it. They then treat you accordingly. Most people are happy to nod their heads and stay silent but I’m incapable of doing that indefinitely (family trait) and I knew if I had children there would be a good chance I’d either let them down, die of stress, or die of shame and misery. I think it’s a sad reflection on modern corporate life that a good portion of employees are thoroughly miserable and humiliated, but are trapped because of their decision to have children. Among all the talk of why Europeans are no longer breeding, this factor never comes up. Perhaps it should?

Anyway, it took me a few years but eventually I got to a point where it wouldn’t be a disaster if I lost my job. Of course it wouldn’t be ideal either, but I’d not be totally screwed. Now that didn’t mean I immediately started telling managers to fuck off, because that would be stupid. But what it did mean is I could sail closer to the wind and stand up for myself a bit more, and speak out if I’m not happy with something. This has made me a pariah in some circles as absolute, unwavering obedience to management is a requirement in modern industry, but it’s probably made me happier than most people around me. For a start, the stress relief that comes from not having to grovel on a daily basis just to pay the bills is unmeasurable. Secondly, not much actually happens. For all the times I’ve been pulled aside after a meeting by someone whispering “But you need to be careful!”, and the number of dark warnings I’ve received about how this “will impact you career”, I’m still not noticeably worse off than anyone else. Firing people isn’t that easy, and 90% of employees won’t have high-flying careers no matter how much they believe it and how late they work trying to achieve it. Contrary to the universal belief in major corporations, a less-than-perfect annual appraisal is not the end of the world. By contrast, it barely matters a jot. So if you’re middle-aged and not rubbing shoulders with the top bananas on a daily basis, you might as well stop sucking up, relax, and enjoy life a little.

So bobby b is right, most people just aren’t the “fuck you” type. The problem is, with today’s financial pressures most people aren’t anything other than the “yes, sir” type. Rather than building up a “get stuffed” fund, employees should first start working towards a “well, hang on a minute” fund. I’m convinced both employees and shareholders will be better off if they did.

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The Modern CEO

This interview with YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki is illuminating:

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki was on vacation when Silicon Valley suddenly plunged into a bitter debate over sexism.

The now-infamous “Google memo,” written by engineer James Damore, argued against diversity initiatives at Google and said that female engineers were less capable of leading others.

That’s not what he said, but go on.

Wojcicki, who was part of the team at Google that decided to fire Damore, recalled talking about it over dinner with her children, to whom she had always tried to promote diversity and equality.

I grew up eating dinners in absolute silence while my mother listened to Gardeners’ Question Time. Compared to family mealtimes in the Wojcicki household, I think I got off lightly.

“The first question they had about it [was], ‘Is that true?’”

Were they asking about what Damore actually wrote, or the version you told them?

That really, really surprised me, because here I am — I’ve spent so much time, so much of my career, to try to overcome stereotypes, and then here was this letter that was somehow convincing my kids and many other women in the industry, and men in the industry, convincing them that they were less capable.

Either your kids can’t read, or you lied to them. Which is it?

That really upset me.

You’re a CEO, yet you get upset by someone writing an internal memo that gets leaked because it confuses your kids?

In response to the backlash to Damore’s firing by self-styled “free speech” advocates, Wojcicki said there’s an important difference between free speech on platforms like Google and YouTube, and free speech inside the companies’ offices.

That’s a handy confirmation that absolute obedience and conformity is a requirement of working in Google. I mean it’s pretty obvious, but rarely do you hear it stated so boldly.

In fact, James Damore did his first interview with a YouTube creator,” she said. “That’s fine to have on the platform. We have lots of rules, but we tolerate — we enable a broad, broad range of topics to be discussed, from all different points of view.”

But…

What did Ned Stark say? “Everything before the word “but” is horse shit.” A wise man, that Sean Bean:

“But it’s different if you’re within a company trying to promote more women,” she added.

Of course it’s different. It always is.

“Think about if you were a woman and James Damore was on your promotion committee, or to just see that the company was enabling this type of harmful stereotype to persist and perpetuate within the company.”

Alternatively, think about if you were a male programmer – or indeed an investor – and you were reading this interview. Wojcicki sounds less like a blue-chip CEO than a whining schoolgirl who can’t work the projector. It’s hard to believe she’s been at Google from the start, but she seems determined she’ll be there at the end.

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The Ubiquity of Moral Cowardice

Via Twitter, Damian Counsell links to this piece on Harvey Weinstein by screenwriter Scott Rosenburg:

Not to mention, most of the victims chose not to speak out.
Aside from sharing the grimy details with a close girlfriend or confidante.
And if they discussed it with their representatives?
Agents and managers, who themselves feared The Wrath Of The Big Man?
The agents and managers would tell them to keep it to themselves.
Because who knew the repercussions?
That old saw “You’ll Never Work In This Town Again” came crawling back to putrid life like a re-animated cadaver in a late-night zombie flick.
But, yes, everyone knew someone who had been on the receiving end of lewd advances by him.
Or knew someone who knew someone.

And here’s where the slither meets the slime:
Harvey was showing us the best of times.
He was making our movies.
Throwing the biggest parties.
Taking us to The Golden Globes!
Introducing us to the most amazing people (Meetings with Vice President Gore! Clubbing with Quentin and Uma! Drinks with Salman Rushdie and Ralph Fiennes! Dinners with Mick Jagger and Warren-freaking-Beatty!).

In short, nobody spoke out about the mistreatment of their colleagues because they were doing fine. A certain Edmund Burke had something to say about this:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

To borrow a phrase from the feminists, this is not a problem restricted to Hollywood. Only I’m not talking about sexual assaults on women workers, I’m talking about moral cowardice.

I defy anyone who has worked the last ten years in the modern workplace to tell me they haven’t seen a time when a decent, conscientious, competent worker was treated like dirt or hounded out of their position by a self-serving, cowardly management who should never have been put in charge of guarding a pile of wet dog shit, let alone the lives of human beings.

Similarly, I defy anyone who has worked the last ten years in the modern workplace to cite more than three occasions when a colleague of somebody who’s been fucked over has stuck his neck out and openly criticised the management responsible for the mistreatment. I don’t mean expressing sympathy with the guy, nor do I mean making generic remarks about how terrible it all is. I mean marching into the manager’s office and saying:

“Just to let you know, I am seriously unhappy with what you are doing to Fred over there. It is unethical, immoral, and probably illegal, and ought to have no place in a modern business.”

Hands up who has done that? Hands up who has seen anyone do that? Anyone? Nobody? Bueller? Bueller?!

There are reasons for this, of course. People are individuals, and usually have kids to feed and a mortgage to pay. Achieving these two things are usually their top priorities in life, and anything else is secondary – including being happy at work. So colleagues of a mistreated employee may sympathise and want to say something, but will judge it to be in their personal interests just to keep quiet. Why antagonise the management and put yourself on a hit-list when it probably isn’t going to help your colleague anyway? Better  to remain silent.

Only as Mr Burke realised, speaking out against injustice matters for two reasons:

1. Many managers, especially weak ones who want their subordinates cowed and compliant, interpret silence as contentment. Believing their actions are being met with approval, they are emboldened to continue in the same manner. Keeping silent allows bad managers to justify shitty behaviour to themselves and keep their consciences clear. It allows them to go home at night and look their wives and kids in the eyes instead of hanging their heads in shame. I would prefer a manager who has mistreated somebody to be the subject of a short, sharp, and unpleasant confrontation with an unrelated third party which has him unable to sleep that night through realisation that he is, in this instance, a complete c*nt. Speak out and you make them uncomfortable, far more than they let on. Subordinates are under no obligation to give their superiors a comfy ride at their expense.

2. There is an appalling habit of managers, when confronted with an unfavorable situation over which they have presided, to claim “we didn’t know” followed by “if we had known, we would have done something” and followed further by “you should have communicated this to us through the proper channels”. Speaking out at the time robs them of the opportunity to pull this excuse in the future, and forces them to attempt to justify the situation or commit to a demonstrable lie. Again, it will make them uncomfortable. Good.

Of course, if you try to intervene the manager in question is likely to say that it is none of your business, at which point you can fire back that your colleague being subject to shitty treatment is everyone’s business, and it is. Sooner or later, it will be you wishing others had spoken out.

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