Corporate Mentality? Or Just Mental?

Corporate mentality…  Being a curious sort, interested in business, I watched with interest a program called “Undercover Boss”.  I originally enjoyed the show.  It was a way for the typical head-honcho to get in with the average man or woman and see what real life is like…  You know the one… where they are outside of the rich-bitch bubble and have to see and hear what is going on in their company for real. They are moved to “reward” some individuals and to retrain or even fire others.

Friends, there is fear out there.  Serious, for real, fear.  That fear is not healthy for a company, nor for the employees that work there.  What is all this fear about and what can one do about it?

What Is “At-Will” And Why Is It Scary?

Most American states are “at-will”, and companies can hire, discipline and fire whenever they want to as long as it isn’t as a result of discrimination.  The employee also is “at-will” and can quit at any time, for any reason.  

This process goes back to an 1877 treatise on master-servant relations by a gent named Horace Gray Wood.  Basically, (unlike contemporary law where the accused presumed innocent until proven guilty and prosecution has the burden of proof) the employee (or servant) required to prove the terms of employment and whether or not there was a contract, either written or implied.

How Did That Work Out?

Labor and trade unions came into being to protect the average worker, stimulate business and encourage productivity.  I have in my life, seen union employees with a slim grievance be rehired when, with appropriate documentation, I would permanently fire them.   And I have seen unscrupulous managers degrade, manipulate and bully their employees into quitting, transferring or submitting to more of the same.  

Power corrupts, indeed, and it matters not whether the collective-bargaining unit wields that power or corporate management does.  Unions are weaker every day even as they grow more powerful in politics, buying votes and paying off management to acquiesce.  Corporate big-wigs suck up their golden parachutes and leave the company and its’ employee with fewer and fewer options. Small business is getting killed by taxes and then has to step back into private industry, letting go the American dream.  Corporate mentality, indeed!

And John and Joan Q. Public is left wondering why they are holding the bag.  Again.  Seems like Europe, circa the 1760’s…

What Then, Are We To Do About It?

We have to learn how to protect ourselves as best we can when we are at work.  The best way to do this is to know your company policies inside and out.  You’re given a handbook for a reason and should keep it with you or close by for reference whenever a question comes up.  You have the right to go on the record if a policy in that book is not upheld, if used against you or if it countermanded some other policy, state or federal law.  

If you want to protect yourself, you have to know the rules.  Get a recorder and use it appropriately. Make notes before, during or after any meeting.  Date them.  Make a copy and keep them in a lock box. Or don’t bother with the paranoia and let things keep going the way they are.  Right now, your responsibility to yourself and your family is to protect yourselves.  If you aren’t going to, no one else will.

You can’t expect a lawyer to stand up with you if you have nothing to show for yourself.  So try this on for size…

When To Choose A Battle

If a manager docks you, writes you up for any reason or verbally abuses you, you must confront.  By this I don’t mean go and beat them up!  Respond as a professional, and do it right.  Tell them you want a meeting right now or you will go to their supervisor for a meeting.  Then DO it.  

If they retaliate, you have reason to go to your human resources department.  Then follow the procedures in place because retaliation is against the law.  Ask the HR manager to guide you, because they are there for just these types of situations.  Don’t be fooled, they work FOR the company, not you. They may try to talk you out of taking action.

Your Privacy Should Be Respected, Not Ridiculed

When you confront, request that YOUR comments about the situation be put in writing.  Anytime management writes you up, they should do so privately and with your option to comment. In other words, they should take you into a private office, not write you up in private without you there!  So, comment.  Don’t sign anything you don’t agree with.

The more you comment about the situation and address the specifics of your complaint, the better your chances to be heard.  They should  give you a copy of the write-up with your managers comments, signature and dated.  

Protect yourself!  If you live in fear, you will stay at the bottom.  Managers get frustrated, they make mistakes, they fail to follow procedures, and they also have their own fears.  If you follow procedure, you will be the one to succeed as long as you are willing to see it through.  If you don’t, you will stay where you are — or you might even lose your job.

Want An Example?

A while back, I wrote about a group of employees at a Florida corporation and what was happening to the people there.  I also followed up with the company’s own response to my article and interviews. Their corporate mentality was to wait until people made a big stink and news people took notice before it got to a critical stage.

There are hotlines for the discriminated at every large company dedicated to answer the hard ethical question — is someone being abused?  Many small and mid-size companies have effective Human Resources as well.  But the employee must read the policies, follow the rules for recording and reporting if they feel they are in a hostile environment.

If the answer is yes, then there is an even bigger problem that needs addressed: namely, what are we doing to root out the issue and fix the problem?  Results start with training individuals — both management and staff — and proper company responses to complaints.

It Takes Big Kahunas Though

Corporate mentality is not just about business ethic, not just about bullying or discrimination.  It’s not about being green or offering flex-time to employees. It isn’t about scholarship programs that go to the lowest rung on the totem pole.  1877 is not 2010, and significant revision to the treatise is more of a requirement than ever.  

We need to rewrite the book on employment law to fit what America really needs today.  We need to change corporate mentality permanently.  Master-servant hardly seems applicable — and yet, here we are.

Follow through with the practices your company has in place.  It take stones, and if you have them, if you are bold enough to follow the rules all the way, you may come out on top.


(This is a repost with revisions of my old blog, dated 12 Oct 2010, but I still feel it is relevant and worthy of reprint… Feel free to comment.)