Thursday, June 22, 2006

Barbara Ehrenreich: Bosses and Bossism; Working America's "Bad Boss Contest"

(A nod to Okir for mentioning Ehrenreich's blog)

Bosses and Bossism
Barbara Ehrenreich


The problem isn’t particular bosses, but what I call Bossism-- the hierarchical system which governs all known bureaucracies, both public and private. Giving one person huge power over others is like a giving a three-year-old a hose: not everyone will get soaked but the chances of coming out dry are slender.

But, you may be wondering, how would anything get done without bosses and Bossism? Well, a surprising amount gets done that way all the time, as I saw in my Nickel and Dimed jobs. If the restaurant gets swamped or the nursing home residents start tossing their food around, don’t count on a manager to tell you what to do – if, indeed, there is a manager within hailing distance. In crisis situations, I again and again saw low-paid workers organize themselves, more or less spontaneously, everyone pitching in and helping each other, with no one playing the role of “boss.” As for any real boss on the scene, the best he or she could do in a crisis was to pitch in – or get out of the way.

What I was witnessing was workplace democracy in action, or, more fancily put, what French sociologists call “autogestion,” or workers’ self-determination. It may sound exotic, but it’s not just an attribute of the rare anarchist collective. In fact, it’s a notion revered in contemporary corporate culture as the team.

The rhetoric of teams, employing some sort of equality among the players, is everywhere today. You’re not an employee of Whole Foods, you’re a “team member.” You don’t work for Wal-Mart, you’re an “associate,” theoretically as capable of making a creative contribution as the Regional Manager. According to Wal-Mart folklore, for example, it was a lowly associate who came up with the brilliant idea of “people greeters.” (But whenever I, in my brief stint as a Wal-Mart associate, made a useful suggestion –like why stack so many of the women’s plus-size clothes at floor-level, where they were accessible only to the young and agile? – I was always told that such decisions were made by the big bosses in Bentonville.)

When corporations uphold the idea of “teams,” they’re grasping for the kind of ingenuity and creativity people naturally bring to a challenging situation – if they’re allowed to, i.e., if they’re treated like participants instead of like servants or subordinates. So why isn’t the team rhetoric taken more seriously, at all levels of bureaucratic endeavor?

To Read the Entire Post

Also check out Working America's:

Bad Boss Contest


Robert said...

thanks so much for sharing that, Thivai :)

Thivai Abhor said...

Your welcome Robert,

I have been exploring anarchist ideas through the CrimethInc publications and website, do you have any other suggestions?

Anonymous said...

Well from a large corporate management viewpoint, you have to have accountability. I can place all the trust and faith in my teams that I desire but when the shit hits the fan, and in my position this is almost a daily occurrence someone has to be held accountable. That would be the specific business reason for bosses. I doubt you will hear this espoused in any biz classes or MBA programs though...

To give a specific example, I allow one of my teams the luxury of negotiating pricing with some but not all of our vendors. When I then go to that vendors website and check pricing on specific products and our "special bid" pricing is higher than what is offered over the internet by the same company I have to intervene. When this unfortunate situation is brought to the directors attention, and trust me when talking pricing it ALWAYS makes it that high, I am held accountable for the discrepency even though I allowed the team to do the negotiating. I take the heat and then work with that selected team member to learn how to negotiate, leverage and basically weasel the other vendors to lower their pricing again. It's a learning process for all involved but ultimately it is the "boss" who has to take the blame.