The Corporate Culture Reconsidered:
by David Arredondo
Over the years, as a clinician, I have noticed a syndrome that has emerged in persons of both genders and all levels of the corporate ladder.
This syndrome is of gradual onset and is barely perceptible at first. It is only at middle age and beyond that its signs and symptoms begin to emerge. There seems to be a gradual process by which the employee of the modern American corporation gradually assimilates and acculturates to the workplace, which may oftentimes become the center of their life, psychologically and emotionally.
Whether or not this is true in terms of a number of hours spent is beside the point. The syndrome is difficult to classify as maladaptive because of the way we define success in America. Success often means gradually assuming more and more levels of responsibility, power, authority, and control over a larger and larger budget. It’s also measured in terms of profit margins and overall growth in size, as is true for the corporation in general is true for the microculture for the individual employee as well. Because of its equation with success, it is difficult to see.
It is also difficult to see because, for many people, their interpersonal life (their social life) is centered at the corporation at which they work, and this is seen as desirable. In fact, many people consider their coworkers among their closest friends, in and outside of work. It is difficult to see anything wrong with this, per se.
Furthermore, many of the roles that were traditionally assumed by the nuclear and extended family are assumed by co-personnel at the corporation. For example, an elderly senior male takes on the role of a fatherly advisor. The HR Department becomes a “Dutch uncle.” People slightly senior become like older siblings and colleagues become like siblings, engendering sibling rivalry, with which we are all familiar. Subordinates become like younger brothers and sisters we have to look after (what a pain).
The point is, in both social and familial life, the corporation has assumed an outsized role larger than is typically imagined. This occurs gradually, across time, and oftentimes without conscious knowledge or consent. There might not be anything to discuss if corporations themselves had not changed. But those of us (who are old enough) remember a time when corporations were known for beneficence, not just their potential for growth and profit margin. When the corporation evolved along with the modern-day economy, they too (perhaps unknowingly) bought in to an unexamined assumption. That assumption is that growth is always good and more is always better. Even this by itself would not be worth remarking upon except that the employee as a benefactor role has been diminished, if not outright disregarded. Since geographic employment and migration has become the norm rather than the exception. Employees are considered akin to “disposable assets,” it appears. Everyone is replaceable.
Without the welfare of the employee as an explicitly valued, nurtured, protected, and nourished as a cared-for living human resource, the consequences have often played out to the detriment of those thus employed over the long haul (more than ten years).
Because the explicit goals of the modern corporation are financial and the welfare of the employee is often not given any more priority than can be financially justified by retraining and rehiring expenses. Hence, a long-term employee of the large, publicly traded corporation may be buying in to more than he bargained for. What I have observed is that unwittingly they begin to absorb the values of the corporation. This is at the price of cultivating and nourishing values of their own. The tragic scenario of an aging corporate cog becomes more clearly in view towards the end of life when the person looks back and asks, “Is this all there is?” Death of a Salesman and Glengarry Glen Ross come to mind.
The true development and growth of humans (such that they flourish) require more than the goals of getting bigger, stronger, and richer. There are dimensions, which will be discussed in later blogs that need to be cultivated as well. Much too often, in my opinion, these other dimensions are relatively neglected in the context of an ipso-factor social and pseudo-family life that centers on the values of the modern corporate world.
The fact is, nobody can be replaced, and everyone is a precious and unique individual.