Nanomanagement: A Rant


The distrust of wit is the beginning of tyranny.

— Edward Abbey

I guess I was OK with micromanagement. At least, I was able to allow myself to be conditioned to a business lifestyle of conformity to pointless nitpickery. It’s humiliating, no doubt about that. But humanity has this ill-advised ability to adapt itself, for a time at least, to the most inhumane conditions, so long as there is a pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow. Or at least direct deposit. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it.” Cubicles, a complete lack of privacy, accommodation of unrealistic expectations, demoralizing conformity to mindless busywork — all these are recipes for stressed-out humans and mediocrity instead of quality. Come to think of it, this all sounds a bit like we “work” in a concentration camp!

Think about it! Corporate USAmerica has convinced us to work in small boxes called cubicles, like veal. They number us to keep track of us. They measure us to ensure maximum efficiency in the name of Quality Assurance. They expect us to be at work at an exact specified hour and typically expect us to drop everything and work mandatory overtime based on Company needs. They monitor every single bit of time we are on the clock. We must account for washroom time, breaks, meals, everything. This information is sifted and verified for the sake of maximum output. We must, of course, be monitored in this way, because we cannot be trusted. If left to our own devices, we might cheat the Company out of a ridiculous amount of potential labor. While they offer us health insurance [sometimes], they are clearly not interested in our health. Otherwise, we would be able to stay home when we are sick and recover, instead of being forced to come to work and spread the sickness to my fellow laborers, thereby decreasing the overall health of the Company as a whole.

Of course, this brings up the whole problem of compensation for these deplorable conditions. Fortunately, Corporate USAmerica has learned the dirty, dirty trick of trading trinkets for land. Instead of giving us more money, they give us “recognition,” in such a manner that it means absolutely nothing. I call it the Minion of the Month. It goes by better names. Said recognition will not result in less responsibility, special consideration when we err or contribute to possible promotion in the future. And it will be given to someone else tomorrow, or next week or next month. Or instead of recognition, maybe they’ll reward you with “benefits” like health insurance, pet insurance, health club memberships or daycare, all of which you could afford to purchase [if YOU chose to] if only they gave you the money in the first place. Of course, benefits are usually the first thing to go when the Company makes necessary cutbacks to pad its quarterly earnings reports. Many companies find that providing actual benefits cuts too much into their potential profits, so they come up with “perks” that don’t cost money: things like extra breaks, closer parking spaces and the like. Keep the closer parking spot; I’m only parking so that I can hurry off to sit in a box all day. Maybe I’d rather enjoy my long walk away from freedom. As for the extra breaks, why the break rations to begin with? The answer is that employees cannot be trusted. If there is the possibility of misuse of company time, they will take full advantage of it.

I might have tolerated micromanagement, but I abhor the new nanomanagement.

A company that crams employees into cubicles, monitors their every action [or inaction], calibrates their calls on the basis of minutia and bases the tenure of their employment on a blind rule-mongering program cannot be said to have quality as its goal. Rather, these are the hallmarks of the pursuit of efficiency. Not humanity.

Efficiency, in the corporate sense, is the elimination of waste and superfluity to the intent that potential labor or gain becomes actual labor or gain. The fly in the ointment is that corporate efficiency models are unrealistic when applied to human beings. Efficiency models only work well on machines and processes [and in the case of machinery, entropy forbids the concept of maximum efficiency!]. Human beings don’t make good cogs. We think. We feel. We must be motivated. We make mistakes. Stapp’s Ironical Paradox states: “The universal aptitude for ineptitude makes any human accomplishment an incredible miracle.” This reality is a flat negation of the trendy corporate motivational guru spiel; if we didn’t want to believe their get-fixed-quick schemes, we’d call them optimistic idiots.

Corporations have this vision where we transform living flesh into all-efficient automata who think what and when we tell them to think and labor at prime capacity in the specified niche and to the specified purpose that we think might maximize our profit potential. Human beings aren’t automata. Ants are a good approximation of the concept. They work tirelessly. They instinctively know their purpose. They spend their entire lives to that end. They never complain. They fill their niche perfectly. If necessary, they would give up their very lives for the colony. Ants feel no sense of loyalty, pride, joy, fulfillment, success or accomplishment, but neither is there any need to recognize, reward, promote or improve their morale. They don’t have labor unions, benefits, days off, vacations, sick leave, day care issues, transportation issues or any of the other things that human workers mewl over. I can hear the Management machine drooling now.

Is this what we really want? After all, this modern efficiency model that treats men and women like automata is neither humane [as previously expressed] nor particularly USAmerican. We’d better be careful when we drape capitalism in Old Glory. There is a dark side to the system which, if not acknowledged, tends to grow to monstrous proportions. It was prophesied in Metropolis. It is upon us.

Our Constitution’s Preamble recognizes that we humans have been endowed with inalienable rights, chiefly, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Current corporate models stand in direct defiance of the latter two rights, unless you happen to be at the very, tippy-top of the proverbial ladder.

Before I set about proving my statements, I should mention that I am loathe to coin a new term like “nanomanagement,” specifically because I can’t trust corporations and corporate buzzword gurus in particular to keep its intended meaning. I fear some idiot will run with the term and attempt to sell it as a good thing. Corporations will, of course, pay through the nose to hear validation of what they want to do in the first place. In the hopes of preserving the negative implication in the term I’ve coined, I define it thus: nanomanagement is anal retentive micromanagement of Orwellian proportions. As governments are capable of becoming a dystopian Big Brother, so corporations are capable of becoming Weird Uncle.

Weird Uncle is already becoming a reality. There are even companies that require employees to wear locator badges so that their movements on the company dime can be tracked. [God bless Japan.] To what end? Why, to make sure they’re not wasting valuable company time by pretending to go to the bathroom, of course. And to make sure their washroom visits are of a reasonable length. They might even be taking unauthorized breaks to get their heads straight. The corporate machine recognizes no rights to liberty or privacy. The attitude is: we pay you, we own you. It is no surprise then that they also believe employees are up continually to no good and that if left to their own devices they would do nothing at all. They are guilty until proven otherwise. Those they catch validate their claim, never mind Thoreau’s admonition, “We are always paid for our suspicion by finding what we suspect.” As to those we don’t catch, they have only escaped being guilty of gross misuse of company time by our constant vigilance. The Management Machine likens them to criminals who are innocent of robbing your house only because they are incarcerated at the time of the actual crime. Surely, were they free, they would have been caught! As a result of this paranoid philosophy, constant vigilance becomes the corporate norm, which is borne out with near-omnipresent supervision, stifling surveillance, gross lack of privacy and mandatory inquisitions at the hint of non-compliance. All because Weird Uncle does not trust those it employs [Trust being the basis of all healthy relationships].

Weird Uncle doesn’t even trust employees enough to know when they are actually [perhaps sufficiently?] sick. The Management Machine makes its minions go to a doctor, who, ironically, will typically tell the afflicted that they should have stayed home and gotten plenty of rest and fluids! Uncle isn’t actually concerned with their physical well-being, of course; he just wants to make sure he isn’t being cheated out of potential profit. He has sent the hapless afflicted to a professional [the doctor] to get a doctor’s excuse [i.e. – proof that he was ill] so that the corporate conscience might be satisfied. The truth of the matter is that the doctor is usually not necessary and that doctors do not work for free, so when the miserable minion considers his options, they will usually forgo the inconvenience, expense and interminable waits associated with a medical examination. Either the employee will play hooky and accept the consequences or he show up at work. The latter is what the policy is designed to achieve. Never mind that the afflicted will inevitably spread his illness to the entire work populace, who will, in turn, have to make their own choices between employment and recovery.

Some employers actually give their employees sick days and personal days, typically a miserly allotment not exceeding a week. For the entire year. This is like saying that no reasonable person should be ill more than 7 work days per year. Obviously, the responsible thing to do is to schedule any inconvenience, traffic mishap, death in the family or illness on our days off. It has escaped Uncle that no one schedules these things because no one wants these things. This is likely why they “allow” us to cover any unauthorized days off with vacation time. Who doesn’t like to vacation from work by taking a trip to bed with the flu? It should be mentioned that we have not yet taken into consideration that parents sometimes call off because children are sick. Automata with families.

Corporate machines do not realize that most people do not like to miss work if they can help it, especially if they have families, because they have bills to pay. No mon’ no fun, mon. Heresy, I’m sure.

It gets even more anal.

Corporate machines are obsessed with numbers, graphs and statistics. They’ve created a mathematician’s dystopia. Instead of solving the riddles of the universe, math is employed for the sole purpose of nanomanagement. Take for example a call center. The machine will calculate the exact percentages an employee is on the clock versus the amount of time he is on the phone, and even the amount of time spent speaking on the phone versus the amount of time spent not speaking on the phone. This is bean counting on an exponential level. When telecommuting becomes the norm, labor unions will be hard-pressed to prevent employers from only paying minions for the amount of time spent on the phone talking to a customer. Inevitably, human nature will cause someone to rebel against this tightwaddery by dallying on the phone in the hopes of eking out enough time to make a living. Nanomanagement controls will discover the problem [customers will complain about the wait time], so an average number of calls per hour will be expected in order to maintain employment. Why do I think this will happen? Need you ask?

Attendance policies, already noted in brief, also get this sort of treatment. Many companies make use of a point-based discipline system to curtail performance and attendance issues. This is almost reasonable if latitude is given. Humans are not cogs, so they must be some ability to take circumstances into account and grant the employees grace. If a blind rule-mongering program keeps track of demerits and belches out disciplinary warnings and pink slips arbitrarily, well, that company cannot be said to be trying to retain employees. The fundamental rule of humanity is that we make mistakes [Stapp’s Ironical Paradox!]. In fact, the human spirit cannot abide clockwork perfection. We’ve been made in the image of God, but only God can wield perfection comfortably; the weight is too much for mere men to bear. The best we can hope for is that we will make the best possible decisions given our circumstances, our environment, our capacities, our understanding of the situation, the resources available and the bias filters we process everything through. Yet our best will not be perfection. Men are not automata, so we should not be subject to policies that treat us like rebellious machinery.

At the very least, the corporate machines should remember that the Golden Rule [the real one, not the cynical perversion] is the optimum philosophy is dealings with human beings. The Golden Rule is based on the principle of reaping what we sow. If corporations seek to nanomanage employees, they should not be surprised when Big Brother gives Weird Uncle the same treatment. Corporations should also consider that the philosophy behind nanomanagement is flawed and pernicious. It’s pessimistic. It lacks trust and deserves none in return. It sees surveillance as control, and control as the power to increase its profit potential. Odd that omnipotent God, who certainly understands both power and human potential, chooses to give His creations free will. Certainly, this omniscient and all-wise God doesn’t feel the need to nanomanage us. It appears He values liberty more than the corporations.

With that thought, we abandon our exploration of how corporations, in their finite wisdom, stifle the self-evident endowment of liberty in their pursuit of the false god of profit.

Now we turn to the pursuit of happiness.

To be fair, don’t corporations provide money by which to pursue happiness [on our days off]? Money doesn’t buy happiness. In fact, it’s not even necessary. Rich people are never quite sure what to make of the happiness of poor people. In their arrogance, they’ve taken a page from Charles Darwin and come up with an unsupportable philosophy. Social Darwinism believes the rich are somehow more fit to survive than the poor. Their affluence is said to be a result of superior genes, intellect or what-have-you. This philosophy implies that the poor are poor because they are inferior, stupider or somehow less fit than the opportunistic rich. They believe that the poor must be happy only because they are too stupid to realize they should be miserable [which only, to their mind, proves their unfitness for riches]. Ignorance is bliss. The poor are likened to trusting sheep or children in that Elfland that does not yet know the truth about the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. This brought to you by the same folks whose philosophy also endorses eugenics, apartheid, ethnic “cleansing” and sweatshops, when it comes down to it, and spawned the Nazis. Corporations take this idea of Social Darwinism and adapt it.

Corporate Darwinism posits that upper management is somehow imbued with right to rule as they see fit. [We’d call it a divine right to rule if only it weren’t such a godless enterprise. The Puritan work ethic may have been spawned by Christian faith, but God Himself is not much interested in capitalism, imperialism, monarchism, socialism or whatever you like. The love of money is the root of all evil; it matters little which system by which you acquire, manage and distribute it.] Back to the point, Weird Uncle would have us believe he knows best, but he never truly has our best interests at heart. He has forgotten to requirements of noblesse oblige for which he will not fail to answer for when he stands before the One who commanded him to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Golden Rule again.

Most men aren’t much interested in money, so much as making a living. This is especially true these days. The reason men see their jobs as a means to an end, a necessary evil, is because they search for meaning. Meaning does not exist in the corporate workplace because corporations treat men as if they were flesh machines, not fellow human beings. Men treat jobs as a means to an end because their employers view them in the same light, rather than seeing them as partners in the same glorious enterprise. Often employees are given the dictates of company with little explanation as to their reason. This is a loss of integrity. A company cuts benefits because it is entering a potentially lucrative but costly and perhaps even risky venture. The employees know nothing or little of the risks or possible benefits. In many cases, there isn’t even a benefit to anyone beyond upper management! They only know their benefits are being slashed and they will have to pay more out of pocket. Corporate gurus call this buy-in. Buy-in is meaningless without substance. For example, if you buy-in to the wrong salesman’s pitch, you drive home a lemon. P.T. Barnum lived on the principle of buy-in: “A sucker is born every minute.” I mention this because companies use the principle of buy-in much the same as Barnum did, but you can’t fake meaning any more than you can fake integrity. Both meaning and integrity required unfeigned responsibility to the people who work for you. Unfortunately, this and not merely the bottom line must be the primary consideration. Are you in it to make money? Certainly. Are you in it to make money at any cost? Only if you lack a soul. Faust has kindred spirits in the corporate world. Doubtless, he will enjoy the same company in the burning hereafter.

On the other hand, genuine quality appears when employees buy in to something with substance, where they are valued for their abilities and contributions, where they are treated as team members with a common vision and treated as human instead of flesh machine units for corporate benefit. Yet Weird Uncle seems unable to have buy-in when it comes to its employees, though it expects employees to buy in to its madness. Hypocrisy.

I indict Corporate USAmerica as being both antithetical to USAmerica and humanity in general. This indictment does not come from me alone. In literature, the inimitable but shrewd Dr. Seuss has written a subversive children’s book, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?, which contains some rather clever satire on Corporate America, especially its reference to Hawtch-Watchers. The comic strip Dilbert by Scott Adams daily plumbs the depths of the soul-less corporate condition. Interestingly enough, Dilbert isn’t so much funny anymore as it is ironic. Movies such as Office Space and television shows such as The Office parody the state of the industry with scathing wit. In the arts, Blue Man Group’s entrancing and entertaining show, How to Be a Megastar 2.0, relates the inescapable message that corporations dehumanize. It begs us to come back to life, to buck against the machine. Humanity is intrinsically linked to our happiness. A search for meaning [happiness] is a quest for humanity. The corporate world makes noises that meaning can be found in one’s work, but the work they have for us is often pointless and repetitive. It is a soul-less carrot offered without warmth or sincerity. They do not believe it; they only want us to, so that we will comply with their demands of absolute control and so we will submit to their dehumanizing nanomanagement. Defectors from their ranks have warned us that success in business is often a distraction from the real quest for meaning and happiness. In this endeavor [the pursuit of happiness], Weird Uncle deserves not our trust but our most explicit xenophobia. Its extreme “capitalism” is neither patriotic nor resonant with basic humanity. It lacks trust, integrity, liberty and meaning.

Back to nanomanagement. It cannot long continue to work. Metropolis’ climactic ending warns us that humanity will not be lorded over long. The more pressure that is applied the less corporation will be able to maintain the system and the bigger the explosion will be. Men are not frogs in a pot. Frogs may acclimatize themselves to slowly increased heat until they placidly allow themselves to be cooked. Warm-blooded humanity will take some abuse, but will ultimately attempt to escape their destruction. As William Hazlitt said, “There is a secret pride in every human heart that revolts at tyranny. You may order and drive an individual, but you cannot make him respect you.“ And again, Thomas Jefferson: “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.” We are not automata. We are your fellow humanity.

The protest has already begun. The revolution cannot be far behind.

–Sirius Knott

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