It was almost worth getting summarily laid off this summer from my 37-year career in corporate America just to escape the witless presentations by "management".

While our supervisers were the ones who delivered the bad news about our lagging performance and the constant exhortations to work harder and smarter (or else), the "big shots" were the ones delivering the happy talk, waving their arms expansively and trying to convince us that, all daily evidence to the contrary, this was an awesome place to work. Our business prospects were bright, our clients loved us, and the company was providing us with world-class jobs and benefits. More importantly, the company was committed to its "core values" of ethics, integrity, diversity, teamwork, innovation, and just about any other value-du-jour that you can think of.

Whether addressing us in person (after flying into town and staying at a high-end hotel and enjoying lavish meals) or speaking to us by teleconference, these managers painted a picture of a company utterly at odds with our vision.

To hear them tell it, we had landed in some sort of employment nirvana, where benevolent executives worked every day to provide us with challenging work, lucrative compensation, and limitless opportunity. In this professional paradise, everyone - regardless of their background - was treated with respect, surrounded by like-minded colleagues, valued by their supervisor, and invited to share their ideas for the good of all.

In reality, the core values that permeated our daily lives were fear (of being laid off), resentment (for being overworked with impunity), disgust (at the daily ethical breaches of those in power), and despair (at the prospect of things getting worse, rather than better).  

Being torn between the vision you're told to believe, and the reality in which you spend 8, 10, or 12 hours a day, the latter will almost always win out. We don't realize the toll that this takes on us, mentally and physically. We don't do well when we live in a state of constant conflict. We want to believe what authority figures tell us, and when we realize that they're feeding us a line of total crap, we try to reconcile their vision with the world as we know it. It's an impossible scenario.

We trudge through our days, wondering what happened to our sense of professional pride, our energy, our dedication to doing our best. When these core values of our true lives are beaten out of us, we look in the mirror and wonder: who the hell is this person? How can we return home at the end of our long and wearying day to inspire anyone, when it takes every bit of our resolve to keep ourselves from succumbing to our emotional distress?

Perhaps Mitt's guileless ability to lie was born (or nurtured) in this corporate world. When someone ascends to the corner office or the "C" suite, they're increasingly surrounded by "yes" people. It's hard to picture any of Mitt's minions saying much to him beyond "yes, sir", "sorry, sir", or "right away, sir". Maybe the executives really believe their own bullsh*t, and discount all evidence to the contrary.

Maybe, despite the employee engagement survey results that were too toxic to release,  they believe that all those little people really are happy in their jobs, grateful to work for such visionary leaders. Maybe, despite the mass voluntary departures of good people leaving to work for competitors, they believe that all is well. Maybe, despite the company's lagging performance and the continuing rounds of layoffs, they believe that these are just the necessary growing pains of being a "major player" in the corporate world. If so, that's a small price to pay.

As each side becomes further entrenched, the anguish of the workers grows. Perhaps we were viewed with the same disdain that Mitt holds for the 47%. Workers are just disenchanted; that's the way it is. They're always destined to be the "managed", incapable of rising above their current situation. Whether they leave on their own or whether they're tossed into the volcano in yet another layoff, it Just Doesn't Matter. They're replacable, and the company will move on, with or without them.

Looking at this pervasive dysfunction in the rearview mirror, and hearing from my friends still on the "inside", I'm grateful to be out, even if it meant being laid off at age 59, making it unlikely that I'd find employment anytime soon. I've started my own business, where my core values pervade everything I do, even without daily reminders and mindless platitudes. All the energy I previously spent simply trying to "feel okay" to be able to get through my day can now be focused on my customers. There is life beyond the anguish of corporate "disconnects."

Originally posted to cassandracarolina's fossil record on Wed Oct 10, 2012 at 09:26 AM PDT.

Also republished by Retail and Workplace Pragmatists - Members and Editors and Community Spotlight.


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