It was an ironic, sardonic joke back in the 70’s when a co-ed, co-editor of a high school year book, shouted in the room designated for that purpose, “I am surrounded by incompetence!” Liz pasted an ear-to-ear grin on her face, as the others joined in her humour.
A half-century later, it seems, no matter whom you listen to, or where you go, employers are having a very difficult time finding “competence” and commitment and dependability, at least with new hires.
A significant segment of a generation of young people, between 25 and 40 have erupted into the workforce, on a “me first” graduation diploma. Whether that stems from sycophantic parenting, or even more cheer-leading schooling, or a culture so obsessed with new purchases or some combination of these and other factors, there is a sense of “entitlement” or perhaps a sense of desperation….Have we looked carefully at the kind of world we have painted, and built, for this next generation or two?
Defining epithets include:
· everyone for himself,
· everyone in competition with friends and neighbours, crass materialism as the new brass ring for which everyone is clambering and
· entrepreneurialism as the halo that crowns every “successful” career.
The business model, the corporate, the private sector model, in which profits and investment dividends rule, has razed the perceived value of the public good in what is effectively a scorched-earth approach, virtually decimating a shared and balanced economy in which both public and private sectors collaborate. Removing the notion of “public good” from the consciousness of the culture has also removed it from the mind-set of each student, parent, teacher and certainly all employers.
That is until we see an ambulance go past, carrying another potentially dying person; or until we visit something called a library, or a hockey arena (paid for with public funds) or a public hospital or a civic park along a waterfront….when suddenly, what happens to public dollars and public consciousness takes on a very different meaning. Then it suddenly becomes an integral and highly welcome component in all of our lives. Yet, it is primarily old folks who pay attention to such public aardvarks. And, more and more private money is being solicited and more and creative measures to “honour” benefactors to universities and hospitals…as governments fail to collect those revenues to which they are entitled and also fail to monitor the mountains of laundered money that is sloshing around in the underground economy.
(Just this week, CBC reported that Canada Revenue faces a shortfall of $44 BILLION in unpaid taxes, taxes which both individuals and corporations have already agreed they owe. Unfortunately, under the Harper government, staffing was cut, leaving the CRA understaffed, and these taxes uncollected. Imagine what $44 billion would do to the national deficit and debt. Also this week, CBC reported that the B.C. government has known since 2011 of the millions of dollars of laundered money that flows in and through the casinos in that province, contributing significantly to the opioid crisis in that province.)
Call all of this mere “water-cooler” talk, without any chance of change in the near or medium-term future. And wonder, just how do these public omissions of responsibility contribute to the “me-first” attitude of many?
Negligence, insouciance, detachment, “living in a bubble”….these are all attitudes that prevail in the culture….Failures to bring “truth to power,” for example, has resulted in such a massive and tragic debacle in the payment of federal publicly servants, under the Phoenix pay system. The Auditor General has laid much of the responsibility for this failure, seriously impacting the private lives of thousands, through no pay, inaccurate pay and over-pay for more than two years, at the feet of civil servants who knew the system would not work, but refused to bring that “truth” to their superiors. The cost to human lives and families is exorbitant; and the cost to the public purse is also unconscionable given the conscious awareness that could and should have prevented the debacle.
So, there is not only a “me-first” rush to the front of the line, but also a “turtling” from speaking up and risking exposure as a whistle-blower if the public/private power structure needs correction, or even prevention of its own self-sabotage. “None of my business” has become another mantra of this culture, in which if and when there happens to be an incipient conflict in the workplace, everyone near runs from whichever “person” seems to be the most worthy target of the venom of avoidance.
You see, bullying is and must not be restricted to “overt” negative actions like threatening, exposure on social media or actual physical or verbal confrontation; alienation, ostracizing and dismissal also qualifies as bullying, only in these cases, it has complete impunity for its perpetrator. “That’s their business,” is the escape valve excuse most people hide behind, and so management, especially middle management, effectively eunuchs itself into the servitude of silence, withdrawal and escapism. By that “turtling” middle managers avoid the risk of making a bad judgement, a judgement that might be questioned. And of course, that fosters and enables the heinous and totally ineffectual “zero tolerance” policy so preferred by perfectionist leaders, seeking to burnish their public image, in the short term, without taking full account of the long-term implications of the policy. It cannot, must not work, and it eviscerates the need for human judgement on the part of those in leadership positions of responsibility and accountability.
“We” are telling our young people things that, if we were fully confronted with ourselves, we would be ashamed, embarrassed and depressed to listen to. It used to be that forbidden topics were “religion and party politics.” Now, forbidden topics are anything that smacks of “whistle-blowing” or addressing authentic issues in ways that bring people to a local table to talk frankly, openly and courageously to resolve them.
Now, too often it seems we turn those functions over to an “outside” consulting company, under the hypocritical banner of “objectivity” and distance and detachment. Whatever decision is rendered by such a “referee” does not cling to his or her neck, for the simple reason that they do not “live and work” in the workplace. Complaints about the decision, usually without an appeal process or if there is one it is hardly worth the time and effort to mount, rumble around that proverbial water cooler, and then die. Meanwhile, the “management class” has pre-emptively eliminated any stain on their resume and reputation…when it may well have been their failure to mediate that in part caused the issue in the first place.
So this “CYA” and “don’t get me involved” and “that’s none of my business” and “that’s YOUR business” and “I’m not having anything to do with this raging bullying conflict that has been going on for decades”….kind of attitude prevails. And young people are neither stupid nor uninformed. They know that gutlessness prevails among people with management titles; so too do the very people in those offices!
And that model, the self-eunuched leader (how is that for an oxymoron?), less visible on the public radar screen, “instructs” young people. Young people do see athletic and television “stars” as role models in some cases; however, they also see what passes as “acceptable” and normative at the grass roots wherever they live. And what they are witnessing is a deplorable and avoidable vacuum of leadership.
Former Vermont Governor, Dr. Howard Dean, used to complain that the Democratic Party has “lost its spine” in failing to mount effective opposition to Republican chicanery and obstructionism in Congress. The “disease” is not only evident among his party; it is also fully evident in most bureaucracies, sycophancies really, in servitude to their current “head” on the surface and in the short term, and long-term, their own careers and reputations.
And, in that scenario, competence is hardly high on the list of “values” preferred in public leaders: so long as aspirants for public office serve a menu of “fast-food” policies that serve the immediate narcissistic needs of the voter, they are likely to be successful: witness the last presidential election in the United States. If I were a young university graduate entering the workforce soon, I would be appalled at the “games people play” to seek and secure favour in order to get that first job and later to move up the ladder. It is not that any of the “players” (leaders or hires) are unconscious about how they are operating; in fact they know full well that they are primarily, if not exclusively, tendering to their own career, professional, resume padding needs, and the needs of the organization, (their most direct public) matter not a wit…leaving those matters to the “imbeciles” in the corner offices.
Top and bottom, it seems we have a public culture that is imploding in short-term vision, self-serving, and insouciant and quite literally irresponsible about the long-term implications of our attitudes, perceptions and that oxymoron, “values”.
We are debasing our planet, including our rivers, our land, and our “public air. And we are also demonstrating a degree of contempt for all things living, as we are in a headlong, headstrong race to the “black-Friday WalMart Sale” to the bottom, every day in every way.
Sad! And unlikely to change any time soon.