Your Employer is Manipulating You. Are You OK With That?

Call me a cynic; I’ll accept the tag. But the truth is that you are a manipulated commercial resource, unless you decide you’re not.

Image of workers working in an open plan office for article by Larry G. Maguire

Photo by LYCS Architecture on Unsplash

Call me a cynic; I’ll accept the tag. But the truth is that you are a manipulated commercial resource, unless you decide you’re not.

In the 1950s, Peter Drucker addressed a symposium at the American Psychological Association, saying that an investigation of workers’ job attitudes was immoral and unjustified. It was his view that it was nobody’s business, except that of the worker, how they felt about their job.

Around this time, there was a wave of psychological research underway into workers attitudes and the possible psychological and environmental influences on human resource productivity.

What Druker and others at the time identified was the distinct risk that data gathered from the study of people at work could be used by corporations to manipulate their employees towards commercial ends.

Surely not?

In his 1957 book, The Motivation to Work [1], Frederick Herzberg and colleagues countered Drucker’s argument with the following assertion;

“Although the danger that discoveries about the determinants of job attitudes could be used as a device for the manipulation of people was obvious, it was also obvious that men of ill will already had a plentitude of techniques for manipulating people…To discover and then reinforce the kinds of things that make people happier — to discover and then diminish the kinds of things that make people unhappy — is indeed a worthy end”.

Herzberg goes on to cite the multitude of generous corporations that provided financial support and other resources towards the carrying out of his work.

Was he cognisant and perhaps fearful of Drucker’s prediction, gently cautioning his financial backers against the misuse of data? Or was he justifying his position while denying the dark reality that lies within the structure of corporate America and further afield?

I want to think it was the former.

It’s a very sterile term, isn’t it? “Human Resource”

I don’t know about you, but I regard myself as a valid and legitimate, thinking, feeling, creative, conscious being endowed with inalienable rights. If there is one thing I am not, it is a resource from which productivity can be coerced and extracted by corporations for commercial ends. I am not dead mineral ore that can be mined from the ground and sold or furniture that can be put to good use.

Neither are you.

I am an individual who values, above all else, the integrity of self-direction, self-motivation and freedom from entities that would dictate their agenda to me.

So I work for myself.

Despite the official protocols, directives and positively spun HR department statements, what your employers say they want for you and what they really want from you [2] is a universe apart.

Be not mistaken; corporations want first your productivity. They are motivated by aims that are not yours and to get you on-side, they must assimilate you into the culture of the organisation. You must become boxed into a particular frame of mind — you must become not just an employee, but their employee.

Now, ok, I’ll pull back from the dark side for just a second and admit that it’s not all bad. However, there is a trade-off.

There are lots of perks to be had working for an international corporate[3] — perks like free gourmet lunches, unlimited coffee and snacks. There are games rooms and meditation rooms and even creches where you can leave your young children while you work hard to make them bazillions of dollars. There are medical staff available, and there are gyms. Christ, there’s even death benefit!

It can be very attractive and hard to refuse for any well trained young person just out of college and laden with a couple of hundred grand student debt. So you take it, and in return, you give them your soul.

But hold on. Surely your employer is not this cynical? Surely they care, after all, they go all-out to keep you.

Why?

Because employee churn costs money. Sometimes up to 20k per voluntary resignation [4]. It costs them less to put bright shiny perks under your nose than it does to lose you to the competition.

Listen, you can call me a cynic if you like, I’ll accept that. But the fact of the matter is that you and your peers who occupy the centre space within the global corporate ecosystem, have little choice.

If you can’t see how your skills and knowledge are being manipulated, then it’s because you are standing amongst it. And from there, it’s impossible from within the system to see the full scope of your conditions.

But that’s alright, right?

If you’re comfortable and your needs are met, then isn’t it a fair trade?

Yeah, [shrugs shoulders] maybe it is.

I’m going to leave things pretty much there. But before I go, I want to add a couple of notes.

Firstly, I admit I have never worked for a global tech company. However, I have been delving into the available research on work satisfaction, and the general theme seems to lean towards finding a commercial advantage for businesses from studying its workers, not in an effort to make employees happy.

Secondly, I have spoken recently about this topic at length with a family member who has worked in the corporate sector for their entire professional career. A PhD who occupies a senior position in a multi-billion dollar company, and they recognise that what I have outlined here is truthful.

Thirdly, in my short time directly employed as a project manager in 2016, I spoke to others in management about the inherent problems I saw with work. The theme of their reports was similar — they saw what I saw and just put up with it.

Finally, I was an employer at one time. The business was small, perhaps 25 people at its height, and my primary aim was to get as much productivity from my staff as possible. As is the case with large corporates, staff efficiency was vital for me. It likely one of the reasons things didn’t work out very well.

So what are you going to do?

If you’re genuinely happy in your job, do nothing. Climb the ladder, make more money, get that promotion, pay off those debts, build a career. I hope you get what you want.

If you want more — things like feeling the freedom of self-direction and living life on your own terms — develop an exit strategy. And in the meantime, make peace with conditions.

After all, it’s so damn plush in there it probably won’t be too hard.

Article References

  1. Herzberg, F., Mausner, B., & Snyderman, B. (1959). Motivation to Work. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

  2. Grant Halvorson, H. (2019). How To Give Employees A Sense of Autonomy (When You Are Really Calling The Shots). Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/heidigranthalvorson/2011/09/15/how-to-give-employees-a-sense-of-autonomy-when-you-are-really-calling-the-shots

  3. Yang, L. (2017). 13 incredible perks of working at Google, according to employees. Retrieved 6 September 2019, from https://www.insider.com/coolest-perks-of-working-at-google-in-2017-2017-7

  4. O’Connell, M., & Kung, M. (2017). Employee Turnover & Retention: Understanding the True Costs and Reducing them through Improved Selection Processes. Industrial Management. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/211392097_The_Cost_of_Employee_Turnover

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