Friday, April 27, 2018

Systemic organizational dishonesty

Modern workplaces are often characterized by their runaway bureaucracy and obsessive need for control and micromanagement of employees by the bureaucrats who have been given an immense amount of power. I don’t think it’s ever been as bad as it is now. We work for the bureaucrats, not the other way around. They were once there to serve us in capacities ranging from secretary to administrative assistant to middle-manager to accountant. They were once there to support their organization's important professional activities. Now it is the regular employees who serve the bureaucrats and who use massive amounts of time and effort trying to coddle them and their whims. Another reorganization for the umpteenth time during the past five years? No problem, we’re on it. We’re adjusting, changing, and evolving—all the time, 24/7. We’re flexible and adaptable. Our budgets are non-existent but hey, we’re smiling. We try our best to accommodate the administrative gurus over us in the system—the ones you never get to know until they decide to get to know you. And usually when they notice you, it won’t be a pleasant experience.

The more nameless and faceless bureaucrats there are, the more systemic dishonesty permeates a workplace. It's that nameless and faceless aspect that allows for it and even encourages it. When you know that you can never be taken for your bad behavior, procedures and routines, you help to construct and defend systemic dishonesty. It goes something like this--take a research institute as a typical example. A scientist receives funding from an external foundation for a project that he has designed, written and applied for. He receives said funding from this foundation. He is informed by email and letter that he has received this funding, and he contacts the accounting department to inform them that it needs to set up an account for him so that the money can be transferred from the foundation to this account so that he can use it to buy consumables for his research project. The money from the foundation is transferred into this newly-created account in mid-November. He looks forward to being able to use it once the new fiscal year starts. January arrives, and he starts to buy needed items for his research project. The orders are processed and he receives the items. April arrives and he suddenly receives a rude and aggressive email from the accounting department saying that his account is in the red and that he needs to cover the deficit with other funds (of which there are none because this is one of those scientists that modern workplaces consider to be non-existent and unimportant because they don’t drag in tons of funding). In other words, he owes his institute money. He checks this new account to make sure that he hasn’t overspent, and he hasn’t. He calls the accounting department, and finds out the following. The accounting department did set up an account for this money; but it was an account that couldn't be transferred into 2018, so as of January 1st, the money just 'disappeared'. The account was in other words zeroed out, and there was no way to find out what happened to the money (no possibility to track it). His institute used it for something else and will not inform the scientist what became of the money. Neither the foundation that granted the money nor the scientist whose money was taken from him understands this accounting practice. It is explained to the scientist in glowing terms—that this is something the accounting department must do to balance the budget. Of course the institute hasn’t stolen the money—it just got placed in another account, one that cannot be accessed by the scientist in question. The scientist continues to insist that this is an unethical practice—that this is stealing money from scientists. But the accounting department does not listen, nor does it care. These types of practices are built into an organization, and they facilitate the systemic dishonesty that I am talking about.

Every time a department or departments within an organization explain away bad behavior, unethical routines and processes, mobbing, harassment, and abuse of employees, they further systemic dishonesty. It grows like a vine, insinuating itself into all aspects of an organization. It is defended by the nameless and faceless bureaucrats who are unable to stand up to an unethical system, to call a spade a spade, and to fight to abolish this system. Such a system will destroy those who try to destroy it. That is almost a given.

But this scientist did not back down. He continued to call what the accounting department did, stealing. He told other scientists in his organization about what had happened. They called it stealing too. He threatened to report the entire incident to the foundation that had granted him the money. And then the accounting department woke up. They became alarmed. A rebel in their system. A resister. A potential destroyer of their carefully-built systemic dishonesty. A rabble-rouser who was going to force them to take responsibility, to be accountable for their behavior. That couldn’t be allowed. So they told this scientist that he couldn’t and shouldn’t contact this foundation, that it would have an unfortunate signal effect. They’re true diplomats when they need to be. The scientist replied that unless they gave him back his money, that he would make the report. And within a few hours, the accounting department caved. And suddenly they were pleasant and accommodating to this scientist. Willing to help him in whatever way they could when he needed to order items for his research. The scientist won this round, and systemic dishonesty lost one round. But the latter continues in the form of banal corruption, unethical practices, cushy seminars for administrative leaders, useless leadership courses, and a host of other useless and non-science related activities that don’t benefit ordinary employees in the least.

Systemically dishonest organizations are full of sycophants, liars, cheats, and unethical individuals. Their boardrooms contain cowards, blowhards, aggressors, harassers, and morally-relative individuals. These systemically-dishonest people envy others who are intellectually inspired by their work (because they themselves are not). They envy scientists who believe in putting their research first and themselves second, who believe in something good in this world. Systemically-dishonest people must destroy that which they cannot embrace or understand. They are the moral nihilists of this world.

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