Charlie's Blog: The Workplace Kool-Aid


The Workplace Kool-Aid

. . .cursed is the earth in thy work; with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herbs of the earth. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.

The Jonestown Massacre of 1978 didn't do a whole lot of good for the Kool-Aid brand. The members of the Jonestown cult killed themselves by drinking Kool-Aid laced with cyanide. The drink mix covered over the bitter flavor of the cyanide and made it more palatable. Those who refused to drink were murdered. Since that incident, "drinking the Kool-Aid" has entered the vernacular as a way to describe when people subscribe to a set of beliefs that are untrue and harmful. They should know better, but they choose to not know better because they intend to profit from the delusion, want to be self-deluded for the sake of conscience, or remain silent for fear of reprisal and punishment. Today, the place where people drink the Kool-Aid the hardest is the corporate workplace.

Over the years, I have read article after article that are merely variations on the same theme. Blue collar workers enjoy their jobs more than white collar workers. This was the shocking conclusion of Mike Rowe when he made the TV series Dirty Jobs for Discovery Channel. Why is this? Why are the people doing the dirty work happier than the the people with the ties and the clean fingernails? I think it comes down to expectations.

Blue collar people have low expectations of their work. They know the work is hard. It isn't glamorous. They may or may not achieve satisfaction from the completion of a task. But they do the work because they expect to be paid. Work is basic. We work to provide for our needs and the needs of others. There is nothing more higher level to blue collar work than that.

White collar work is different. People in white collar work pursue careers and career satisfaction. They speak in fuzzy terms of achievement and fulfillment. It gets rather nauseating especially when you consider that fulfillment would vanish the moment their paychecks bounced. So, where does this fulfillment crap come from? It comes from one man--Abraham Maslow.

Abraham Maslow lived from 1908 to 1970 and worked in psychology. He gave the world his famous hierarchy of needs with self-actualization at the top of this pyramid of needs. Maslow was a leading light in what is known as "positive psychology." The problem with positive psychology is that it is more philosophical than empirical. The basic gist of the hierarchy is that as baser needs for survival are met then higher needs for emotional, spiritual, and psychological fulfillment become more important. This is where you get that grape flavored workplace Kool-Aid.

Management types are supposed to be above the basic physiological needs of food and money that seem to preoccupy the wage slaves. So, they spend their days crafting the perfect email, deciding on mission statements, finding ways to "empower" and "motivate," and other variations of corporate psychobabble that amount to absolute squat. And why do companies indulge in this psychobabble horsecrap? Because it is cheaper than giving workers a living wage.

People who work for a living as opposed to people who "manage" just want to earn their pay and go home. They may or may not want to fulfill the higher needs on Maslow's hierarchy, but they certainly don't expect to fulfill them on the job. A job is where you endure misery and suffering for money. Once the money is earned, you go home and spend time with the people you love, pursue your real interests, worship your God, and get some well-deserved rest. It has always been this way for the working man and woman and will always be this way. Naturally, this infuriates the management in the workplace who cannot fathom why anyone would have a life outside of work, or why they seem to only care about getting paid. But managers are idiots. Maslow was an idiot, too.

The reason managers are so frustrated in their pursuit of this higher need for fulfillment is because it doesn't exist. You can find fulfillment in art, music, writing a poem, attending a worship service, prayer, or what have you. But work is work. The trick is to try and convince workers that they aren't working but actually playing. But this would require workers to be as stupid as managers, and they aren't. The managers try and convince themselves that this falsehood is true, but they are always disappointed. No amount of pyschobabble perfume will disguise the pungent aroma coming from that steaming pile of crap.

Work is suffering. The Christian can take comfort in the fact that this suffering can be offered up to the Lord, and he will be rewarded for his faithful service to the Almighty. In this regard, work is fulfilling. But it doesn't make it cease to be suffering. Work is a cross to be borne daily in a ritual of corporal mortification. By doing this, the work is sanctified. St. Paul writes,
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.
Colossians 3:23-24 NAS
The Christian is to work and not loaf. If you're not working, you're stealing. Though work may be suffering, the fact that it is sanctified should encourage us to do it with vigor, skill, enthusiasm, and excellence. Management finds this unfathomable since they tend to do their own work with the least amount of effort possible. Motivation of workers is nothing more than a clever trick pulled on hapless dupes who were either too unlucky or too dumb to get out of working. The workers are not stupid. They see that the laziest employees in their organizations are the ones in charge. The reason workers have no desire to be in management is because they want to be moral people, and corporate middle management is inherently immoral.

The common worker is happier than the manager because of this moral aspect of the work. People who do honest work have clean consciences and sleep well at night. People who are dishonest are always denied happiness because you can't be happy and evil. Evil is never satisfied. If you look at Maslow's hierarchy, self-actualization at the top involves morality, direction, and a higher purpose. The worker who sanctifies his work and offers it to the Lord experiences this self-actualization in spite of low pay and lousy work conditions. This is irony. Those who seek self-actualization are denied it. Those who embrace suffering for the sake of the Lord find self-actualization. Blue collar wins. White collar loses.

Nothing is ever going to change the fact that work is suffering. Managers try to escape it. Workers try to endure it. But the worker who does it for the Lord finds the true path of fulfillment. Work is never going to be easy, and the job of management seems to be to make it more difficult while cheating you out of pay. But this, too, is part of the cross of working. If you want to be happy in your work, take up that cross and bear it. You will see that Maslow got it wrong, but Jesus got it right. Remember, Jesus could have come as anyone, but He chose to be a humble carpenter. Jesus was blue collar.