Herbert Simon
Herbert Simon; drawing by David Levine

At the end of 1984, Winston, the protagonist, is threatened with a device strapped on to his face so that rats can eat out his eyes. He collapses, betrays his lover, and gives himself over whole-heartedly to the wishes of the leaders. 1984 then concludes, “He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.” In Brave New World Aldous Huxley feared the same desperate, infantile, hopeless, and, above all, mute dependence. For both writers, the power of the state had to be reflected in the worship of it, an understandable view for anyone who had lived through the Nazi era.

Yet in the last thirty years, worship of our masters has not come into being. Centralized power grows, both in large corporations and in government, but the loyalty and discipline this power can command from its subjects is uncertain. While control is ever more centralized, it is more and more difficult for the masters to make that control seem legitimate. This problem has appeared most strikingly in work, especially since the 1960s. Laborers now show their dislike for the institutions in which they work in ways that are affecting productivity, discipline in plants and offices, and orderly planning.

There is a difference between extreme disaffection in work and the tolerable, normal frustration of making a living, a difference that Robert S. Gilmour and Robert B. Lamb skillfully analyze in their book Political Alienation in Contemporary America. They find, for instance, that while fewer than a tenth of the craftsmen, professionals, and technical workers they interviewed for their study were highly discontented—strongly suspicious of the powerful and antipathetic to their own work—as many as 40 percent of the service workers and a third of the industrial laborers felt this way.1

The latter two categories make up most of the workers in industrial society. People who deeply dislike the ways they are living and working can express themselves in a number of ways: they can find scapegoats to blame, they can blow up their plants or take to drink. Much depends on whom they hold responsible. Today workers who find the conditions of their work responsible for their discontents, and challenge the legitimacy of the institutions of work, do so in ways which have little to do with organized protest. Unions, now mainly large bureaucracies themselves, are seen increasingly as distant organizations that collaborate with the enemy. Disaffection is expressed in ways that are more spontaneous, isolated, and pathetic.

Voluntary absenteeism has become, for example, a great worry to both public and private bureaucracies. Workers often pretend to be sick so they can take paid sick-leave. White-collar employees simply disappear for the day or lie about things they need to do outside the office. As the scale of the problem has grown, the perception of it has changed. Personnel experts no longer regard it as simple delinquency but rather as a tactic of resistance—to pressure at the office, to tedium on the assembly line. The corollary, however unpalatable to the managers, has also become unavoidable to them: there must be something wrong at work if so many people are trying to get away from it.2

During the last decade, the number of wildcat strikes has risen—strikes as much against the union bureaucracy, for example that of the United Mine Workers, as against the managerial bureaucracy. What is called, politely, “voluntary inefficiency,” or, more ominously, “efficiency resistance,” plagues large organizations not only in the US but in England and France.3 This behavior ranges from sabotaging the schemes of efficiency planners to “working to rule,” in which the worker simply obeys rules of work agreed on between management and union leaders. These rules are usually so far from the realities of work that obeying them scrupulously will drastically slow down the production process.4 In the midst of tight economic periods as well as prosperous ones, what industrial sociologists call “unmotivated resignations” have been steadily on the rise. These occur when workers quit their jobs simply because they are restless or bored—not because they have another job in prospect. 5

Such expressions of dissatisfaction appear in white-collar work as well as in manual labor. In management circles it used to be said that such signs of disaffection as an auto worker gumming up the line or a salesman playing hooky from the office came mainly from people who failed to make something of themselves. Now the rising volume of these practices has made it untenable to view such workers simply as isolated misfits.

A newer explanation of these troubles is that the work ethic is breaking down. And, of course, if people don’t want to work hard, they will treat their employers as having no legitimate authority to make them work. I went to a corporate board meeting a few months ago in which this theory about the reasons for a crisis of legitimacy in late capitalism was advanced with gloomy relish: the system works, it was said, but the workers have lost their will to do the jobs. Ten years ago, there were a good many articles in the Wall Street Journal on the “crisis of legitimacy” in capitalism. But the managers had a different crisis in mind: the challenges came from outside the corporation and were in large part from people—minorities, women—who could not get work. The new crisis comes from within; as managers see it, when they talk frankly, “we gave them the jobs and now they don’t want to do the work.”

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Both parts of this statement are untrue. Unemployment of “them”—urban, young, male blacks and hispanics, for instance—remains very high; in New York City, the estimates range from 35 to 55 percent. While some corporations like ATT have made a real effort to employ members of poor minorities, on the whole the economy is failing to absorb them. And for those who wanted work and managed to find it, there is little evidence that their work habits or productivity differ much from those of other workers, except for the lowest paid unskilled laborers.6

A number of recent studies show, moreover, that people of all ages, races, and classes claim to believe in the inherent moral value of hard work. The meaning of this morality, however, is changing. Hard work is coming to be seen by many workers as a means to another end, that of “self-enrichment,” rather than as morally worthwhile in itself. In an interesting article in a new book called Work in America, Daniel Yankelovich observes that this “new breed” of workers,

often start a job willing to work hard and be productive. But if the job fails to meet their expectations—if it doesn’t give them the incentives they are looking for—then they lose interest…. The preoccupation with self that is the hallmark of New Breed values places the burden of providing incentives for hard work more squarely on the employer than under the old value system.7

The demand of employees that work be made worthwhile if they are going to work hard confuses many employers. They ask, aren’t security and money enough? Evidently not, as Work in America makes clear. During the last ten years, many workers have acquired a sharper sense of what Keynes called the aimlessness and futility of much bureaucratic activity. These workers are asking a question which employers do not, and perhaps cannot, answer: is work worth it?

It is important to be clear about what phrases like “disillusion” and a “feeling of illegitimacy” mean when they are applied to voluntary absentees or laborers slowing down the assembly line. Such dissatisfaction with work does not have the consequences socialists used to think it would; it does not become translated into political action. Workers resist the demands of managers, and even union leaders, for discipline and self-sacrifice. But for the most part they have no idea of what authorities they would want instead. When the sense of legitimacy weakens in the peculiar ways now appearing, the established order does not explode; the sources of its human energy simply wind down.

One response modern corporations are making to the problem of motivating their workers and making their authority believable is to meet the psychological problem head-on. Many corporations are attempting to put into practice a new ideology of work, an ideology of “communication,” “cooperation,” and “personal growth” for the employee. Work comes close to being a form of psychotherapy, and bosses become like analysts. This ideology has changed in turn the relation of corporations to universities, and it affects what is taught in the university business schools. Once devoted mainly to accounting, marketing, and finance, business schools now teach group therapy, Gestalt psychology, and Skinnerian conditioning as well. A new branch of knowledge has come into being, “administrative science,” which claims in part to study the human relationships in organizations. Administrative scientists of various kinds—psychological, sociological, and the like—now frequently serve as advisers to business.

The intellectual origins of administrative science can be traced back in the nineteenth century to Jeremy Bentham, who wanted to condition men “to do better and more obligingly what they must do in any case.” The excellent survey of ideas of management in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Reinhard Bendix’s Work and Authority in Industry8 shows how the psychological ideology of managers took form. The academic origins of the ideology lie in work done in the 1940s and 1950s by Herbert Simon, the recent winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics; yet Herbert Simon’s views of administrative science are, as we shall see, now much at odds with the management theorists who came after him.

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The intellectual style of this new managerial ideology is typified by the work of James J. Cribbin, whose Effective Managerial Leadership is a well-known textbook. About the “collaborative manager,” he writes,

He does not hesitate to be forceful when circumstances require, but he does not resort to directiveness as a matter of course. He prizes self-discipline over imposed discipline and constructive suggestions over submissive conformity. Viewing authority as based on competence rather than position, this leader interacts with his followers in a process of mutual influence. As a team builder, he realizes that his objective is to help employees satisfy some of their needs while achieving the goals of the group and the firm. Communication is free flowing, constructive, and directed to the purposes for which the groups exist. Finally, if possible, conflict is resolved by the synthesis of diverse views.9

This is a fair specimen of the ordinary prose of administrative science; it is by no means the worst. Drawing on the jargon and the simplistic thinking of much American psychology, with its emphasis on smooth adjustment and on resolving conflicts, this literature has no place for the hard truths Freud told about human limitations.

Yet it would be a great mistake to deduce from the language of administrative science that its practical efforts are equally vacuous. These new psychological concepts of management become working formulas for human manipulation—the point is not simply for the employee to develop him or herself, but for the employee to become more loyal and productive in the process. And, in practice, this manipulation can be subtle.

It is essential to this effort to “motivate” employees that it disguise domination. The boss of the heroic age of capitalism, the man who expected people to obey orders if they wanted to be paid, now appears as a threat to the corporate order. In a recent article in Business Horizons, for example, the authors argue that most displays of force in an organization, and of punishment in particular, merely waste time; you may fire an employee, but, as in a recurring nightmare, the one who takes his place will repeat his errors until the position is “resocialized.”10 Nor must the new leader appear as an Orwellian Big Brother who draws attention to himself as an embodiment of a social ideal. Instead the bosses act as middlemen, helping the employee to develop occupational skills, “career goals,” and providing, as one young business school graduate recently put it to me, “a meaningful matrix for interpersonal association.” The code words for those who give commands, in this disguise of domination, are “coordinators” and “facilitators”—this last word being a current favorite among government bureaucrats.

By now, three distinct ways of making labor psychologically rewarding have emerged. I think the best guide to these schools is a book of readings complied by Victor H. Vroom and Edward L. Deci, called Management and Motivation.11 It is valuable because it connects the thinking of administrative scientists about manipulating workers to the actual experiments managers are making in factories and offices. And that connection is the point; no matter how vapid the ideas, an immense amount of time and money is being spent now to put them into practice.

The first approach is the most obvious. It attempts to make work intrinsically satisfying; the employer simply hopes that someone happy in a job will do it well. The sources of this hope are to be found in a particularly American optimistic psychology, most recently expressed in the “human potential” movement, of which the late Abraham Maslow was the leader.12 Administrators concerned with making work satisfying have in the past undoubtedly done some good things. They have experimented with variable-speed assembly lines in American electronics plants, so that manual laborers can go at their own pace. “Job contentment” experts also tinker with such matters as how to light an office or when to pipe canned music into a shop. Recently, however, their advice has become more spiritual: they speak of “self-realization” on the assembly line, of using the cafeteria as an “intimacy forum.”

The second school is based on what the trade calls “Theory X,” an attempt to apply Skinnerian psychology to industrial management. Its main proponents are E.E. Lawler III, Richard Beatty, and C.E. Schneider, all of them psychologists who give advice to businessmen. 13 According to this school, managers should not worry about the intrinsic satisfactions of a job; rather, they should design rewards and penalties for doing the work well or poorly. As a sensible critic of Skinnerian management, Douglas McGregor, has observed, Theory X is founded on a rather glum view of human nature: human beings are not much concerned with the quality of their experiences at work; they are more interested in the rewards they get from it. The practitioners of Theory X are further convinced that since most people are inherently weak or stupid, their capacity to reap rewards is limited no matter how much they may want them.14

Thus the follower of Theory X has to create a set of rewards which the “normal” labor market will not provide for the worker. In the past administrators adhering to this view have simply increased wages during the days or hours a worker is especially productive. But this creates so much resentment among other workers that it does not increase overall productivity. Following the ideas of Frederick W. Taylor, the proponents of Theory X have therefore sought to design other rewards. For instance, they have experimented with such concepts as “reward clocks.” If a worker does a job in five minutes which normally takes ten, he gets five minutes of paid rest; if he does the job in three minutes, he gets a bonus—eight rather than seven minutes of paid rest—and so on. This school of administrative science also experiments with incentives for management teams, and designs “penalty structures” for whole departments in a corporation. Recently, this school too has become more spiritual: it attempts to design more intangible rewards like recognition and “access to reassurance.” Although Theory X is generally associated with the name of B.F. Skinner, the author of Walden Two had a much more generous view of human beings than the one being applied by proponents of this theory.15

The third school is currently the most fashionable. It emphasizes the idea of cooperation. Its major figures are Professor Chris Argyris of Yale16 and Warren Bennis, president of the University of Cincinnati. Tangible industrial results like productivity, this school maintains, depend on the process by which goals are set and tasks defined. If the workers participate in these decisions they will work hard, even if the work is intrinsically not to their taste, and even if the extrinsic rewards are not great. The reason they will do so is that they come to feel responsible for what they are doing.

This approach on its face seems close to the European socialist experiments in workers’ control called autogestion. But the practices of this school are trapped in capitalist realities. US corporations engage in cooperative practices because they see them as a means to such ends as greater profit and productivity. The experiments in autogestion in Sweden and Yugoslavia, as the Yugoslav socialist Rudi Supek has pointed out, claim to treat cooperation as an important end in itself, one for which economic return may be sacrificed. Those who took autogestion seriously in Yugoslavia made a conscious effort to divorce cooperative decision-making from the economics of productivity. Whether this divorce actually occurs under Party rule, or could occur, is another matter; the point is that the aim is different from that of a General Motors supervisor who consults with his employees.

Secondly, corporate cooperation must take place under sharply unequal conditions. The experiments in cooperative decision-making make use of employee questionnaires to find out how workers want to do a job, and they set up conferences with workers on the job site. All these techniques try to create a feeling of mutual interest and good will between those who, in the end, will give the orders and those who must obey them.

All three methods aim at psychological gratification, not freedom. Those who emphasize “job satisfaction” seldom think of the worker as designing the tasks that would most interest him: the expense would be excessive, with no guarantee that the worker would design for himself a job useful to the bureaucracy. The authorities themselves decide what the worker would most likely be interested in by using tests and interviews. The Theory X people don’t let the worker have much of a voice in setting the terms of his own conditioning; the rewards and punishments are set for him because the Theory X people assume no one would “play fair” by assigning real punishments for himself. The realities of control in the third, “cooperative school” have been rather ruefully described by a psychologist working for a large chemical firm:

Too often we ask for employees’ attitudes and opinions in great detail, but in most cases, once we have the data, nothing is done with it. And this is because the employees are telling management what it doesn’t want to hear, so management ignores the findings. Then they wonder why we continue to have discontent, grievances, and strikes. It would be better not to ask the employees what they believe and feel than to ask them and do nothing.17

Few of the younger administrative scientists would admit that their ideas substitute controlled gratification for freedom. The reason is that the notion of power has largely been eliminated in these industrial psychologies. Power does not exist in itself. Recently a Polish friend of mine began reading a book by Abraham Maslow; after the first chapter, he remarked, “But this is all a fairy-tale; no one is suffering.” After finishing the book, he changed his view: “It is very subtle; the boss is a deus absconditus.” Power is conceived only as the capacity to influence another person. Once power is seen as a matter of influence over someone else, for the sake of a goal like productivity, the actual conditions of power tend to disappear from view. Employees, the objects of power, are minutely analyzed to see how they can be influenced; the subject doing the influencing is treated as neutral. This view of power as influence we owe largely to Herbert Simon.18

The major works of Herbert Simon are Administrative Behavior and Models of Man.19 In these books, he is concerned to show that corporations take decisions, not only according to external market conditions, but according also to how the corporation is internally organized. This internal organization he conceives of as a network of influences, the influence of each person determined by his position and function in the corporation.

The concept of “influence” in Simon’s work is morally chaste. Manipulation, deception, and self-protection seem to play a negligible part in the process of influencing others and so arriving at decisions. The insights of Machiavelli, Marx, or Gramsci about the nature of power are absent from Simon’s work, as they are from the works of his progeny, since for him the concept of domination does not exist. Simon’s most influential book, Administrative Behavior, first published in 1947 and now in its third edition, had therefore the same relation to the struggle for existence in corporations as Henri Murger’s Scènes de la Vie de Bohème had to the actual life of the poor in nineteenth-century Paris.

In Simon’s work the corporation is a world unto itself. He has attempted to divorce how decisions are made from the nature of decisions to be made about competition, capital expansion, merger, and the like. The attempt is not entirely irrational. His original purpose was to show that internal bureaucratic positions and structures matter in how decisions are made. He saw, for instance, that while a corporation might on paper be arranged as a neat chain of command, in actual practice a corporation is a maze of lines of influence, with most people subject to many conflicting pressures. The problem with this seemingly sensible position is that Simon has gone to the extreme in trying to avoid the mistake of viewing corporate decision-making as determined by the market. He has cut the corporation off from the outside world.

One result of this overreaction is that he has created a version of corporate life in which economic history plays no role. It is very difficult, in reading his work, to understand where and when a pattern of influence operates and where and when it does not. Common sense tells us that a family firm with twenty employees in the late eighteenth century would have made very different decisions than a similar family firm today, but Herbert Simon does not. To take account of when and where corporations take decisions could lead to all sorts of unpleasant issues—the character of class relations, the way corporations create demand, the way they control markets. These matters are subjected to a sort of benign neglect in Simon’s writings.

Over the years Simon has felt increasingly beleaguered by the younger administrative scientists. He cannot understand why they are so concerned about psychology in general, and about the creation of psychological gratifications for workers in particular. To exclude the inner feelings of the employees from the decision-making process itself seems quite natural to him. Discussing the concept of bureaucratic authority, for instance, he defines authority as the expectation of obedience on the part of a boss and the willingness to obey on the part of a subordinate. He then asserts:

…in so far as a person is obedient to the decisions of another, his psychology has nothing to do with his behavior. Hence, psychological propositions are important for determining the area within which authority will be respected, but have no significance for determining what behavior will be within this area.20

This statement apparently means you may be willing to obey your boss because you fear him, but that how you obey him has nothing to do with your fear. Illogical as the proposition may be, it is, certainly, comforting. Simon can simply speak about patterns of influence without worrying about what effect an employee’s fear of his boss will have on how he behaves. Even better, a boss’s need for flattery or reassurance is not part of the decision-making process. Best of all, that is most neutral, Simon does not examine the connection between the commands given and the consequences of the emotions they arouse when they must be obeyed. This is an ostrich-eye view of the world. If a manager speeds up an assembly line and the workers get angry, surely the anger he causes is part of his influence. Or doesn’t it matter until the workers go on strike?

In the early 1960s, Simon, bemused by research into “computer and heuristic programming,” wrote, “We can predict that in the world of 1985 we shall have psychological theories that are as successful as the theories we have in chemistry and biology today.”21 By 1976, this prediction must have seemed over-optimistic. Defending the position he took thirty years before when Administrative Behavior first appeared, Simon argued that “personality” and “organization” are separate and unequal, and that an executive’s “behavior and its effect on others are functions of his organization’s situation.”22

It is precisely because “personality” and “organization” are not neatly separated compartments that administrative science has left Simon intellectually behind in the last thirty years. Because such emotional matters as restlessness, fear, and discontent in the relations between those who command and those who obey have such a marked effect on productivity and loyalty, the realities of corporate life have left him behind as well. He begs the very question that corporate leaders and administrative scientists are now confronting: how likely are the various attempts at remotivating workers to increase productivity and loyalty to their company?

The evidence is mixed. Each of the current approaches has had some successes and some failures; all experiments with job conditions produce biased results, however, because of what is called the “Hawthorne effect.” In the late 1930s, Elton Mayo conducted a series of experiments on job conditions at the Hawthorne, New Jersey, works of General Electric. He found that no matter what changes he made, in lighting or seating, in parceling out tasks, and the like, performance improved, for the simple reason that workers responded positively to an outsider’s interest in the conditions of their work. Despite this unavoidable distortion, a good deal is known about changes in productivity, less about the effect of these approaches on loyalty.

Making workers’ jobs more satisfying does in many cases improve productivity. But there are important exceptions. Some studies of job enrichment for manual laborers reveal that workers who like their work may do it less efficiently than people who are bored; they may savor the tasks, doing them slowly and concentrating on details of craftsmanship of little economic value. This is not what the productivity planners had in mind. Twenty years ago W.J. Goode and I. Fowler published an influential study showing conditions under which workers with very low morale may be highly efficient; the workers may simply hurry through the tasks, their minds elsewhere. By contrast, an executive really interested in a special line of work may be a problem for his corporation; while his corporation likes to shuffle executives from job to job in order to keep them on their toes, he will resist being moved around.23

Skinnerian conditioning seems no more certain to increase productivity. To make use of Skinnerian techniques, one must first determine the abilities and aptitudes of workers. The well-known difficulties in testing “raw” intelligence were recently and brilliantly analyzed in these pages by Peter Medawar.24 Some years ago Andrew Souerwine pointed out similar problems in measuring applied aptitudes, and thus in calibrating appropriate reward or punishment for a particular worker.25 Moreover, an organization must pay heavy costs to set up a system of rewards and punishments: the costs of monitoring work constantly, of paying for results, and the costs in time and energy that arise when management must deal with the inevitable disruption in a shop when an employee is punished. These costs may easily become greater than the gains made from the productivity of particular employees.

Theory X is inherently a poor recipe for productivity. Once an organization has rewarded a good worker, his expectations rise; the next reward probably has to be better. Carried to an extreme, of course, the ultimate result would be that all the good workers would move on to more highly paid and more interesting work, and only the incompetent would remain to do the nuts-and-bolts labor. This would hardly be the way to increase industrial efficiency. In addition, the emotional rewards people want are far more complicated than those the efficiency planners can provide. A man might feel himself rewarded at work if he has pleasant associates; this might mean more to him than a little extra cash for working harder than his colleagues. In fact, many workers ignore incentive plans because they feel they will be working against people whose good will and comradeship they value.26

When, management uses cooperative techniques, the effects on productivity are more uncertain. Firms like Texas Instruments have indeed made money out of experiments in cooperation. In a study of Autonetics, a division of the North American Rockwell Company, Frederick B. Chaney and Kenneth S. Teal reported on an experiment comparing work done under “cooperative management” with work according to the standard rules laid down by the managers. Two-thirds of the work groups which experimented with participating in decision-making dramatically increased their efficiency. Productivity itself rose an average of 20 to 30 percent: there was a 30 to 50 percent decrease in errors in work that involved inspection.27 Even after discounting for the Hawthorne effect, the results are impressive, and other industries engaged in similar experiments are finding they achieve similar results.

But there are several reasons why cooperative decision-making is a limited strategy for “remotivating” workers. For one thing, these dramatic increases are short-lived; after a while the sense of excitement drops and so does the productivity. The point to which productivity drops varies from case to case; usually it is higher than that which existed before the new system was installed, but it remains an open question whether corporations will find gains in productivity financially worth the time and effort required by the surveys and endless meetings between managers and workers.

Moreover, most cooperative experiments are concerned with how to do work rather than with corporate strategy as a whole. It is far from clear that a company faced with fierce competition from a foreign corporation, with high energy bills, or with capture by another company will feel that its actions will be more effective because workers are represented in the decision-making process. Few executives believe that worker-participation in dealing with such large questions is anything but a distraction. They insist they retain the power to set overall corporate policy.

We know little about the phenomenon of loyalty in general and about the emotional attachments between bosses and employees in particular. However, a case study published some years ago stays in my mind as an example of the kind of emotional attachment the new ideology of work is likely to produce.28 It is supposed to show how a boss ought to deal with a difficult employee according to the new rules. In abridged form it is as follows:

Dr. Richard Dodds, a physics research worker, entered the office and showed his superior, Dr. Blackman, a letter. This letter was from another research institution, offering Dodds a position.

Dodds: “What do you think of that?”

Blackman: “I knew it was coming. He asked me if it would be all right if he sent it. I told him to go ahead, if he wanted to.”

Dodds: “I’m really quite happy here. I don’t want you to get the idea that I’m thinking of leaving, unless, of course, he offers me something extraordinary.”

Blackman: “Why are you telling me all this?”

Dodds: “Because I didn’t want you hearing from somebody else that I was thinking of leaving….”

Blackman: “It’s up to you…. A good man always gets offers. You get a good offer and you move, and as soon as you have moved, you get other good offers. It would throw you into confusion to consider all the good offers you will receive. Isn’t there a factor of how stable you want to be?”

The discussion continued on how it would look if Dodds changed jobs at this point and finally Dodds said:

“Look, I came in here, and I want to be honest with you, but you go and make me feel guilty, and I don’t like that.”

Blackman: “You are being as honest as can be.”

Dodds: “I didn’t come in here to fight. I don’t want to disturb you.”

Blackman: “I’m not disturbed. If you think it is best for you to go somewhere else, that is O.K. with me.”

Finally Dodds blurts out:

“I don’t understand you. All I wanted was to show you this letter, and let you know what I was going to do. What should I have told you?”

Blackman: “That you had read the letter…but that you were happy here, and wanted to stay at least until you had a job of work done.”

Dodds: “I can’t get over it. You think there isn’t a place in the world I’d rather be than here in this lab….”

The interpretation I have heard most often of this case is that Blackman handled the neurotic dependency of an employee sensitively by focusing Dodds on the fact of his need for approval, and helping Dodds to disentangle this need from the concrete question of a job change. But the case can be read in another way. An employee is offered a job. He comes to his employer with the not very devious, if not very clearly expressed, desire to see in what way the employer will match it. The employer succeeds in deflecting this perfectly reasonable economic game into a matter of how stable the employee is, how loyal he is, and how he could have behaved better to the boss.

The therapeutic employer at once establishes his control. The boss says he knew about and, indeed, authorized the competitor’s letter. The sense that he knows what’s best for the employee then shortly appears. But like so many modern parents Blackman will not tell his charge what to do. He will only point out alternatives and implications. He asserts control, but masks himself. As the employee becomes increasingly overwrought at his employer’s unresponsiveness and increasingly uncertain of himself, he blurts out, “I didn’t come in here to fight. I don’t want to disturb you”; the employer hones his own deflective passiveness to a sharp point: “I’m not disturbed.” The subordinate may lose control of himself. The superior will not; if he got worked up how could he be helpful?

By controlling the version of “reality” at issue and putting the burden of response on the employee, the employer shifts the employee’s attention to his own feelings instead of the dollars and benefits he might receive. These devices create a highly charged setting for a discussion of just how loyal the employee might be. At the climax of this discussion the employee declares the employer makes him fell guilty. The employer comments, “You are being as honest as you can be”—both an evasion and a moral judgment. By the end of the interview, the employee has entirely lost the capacity to think rationally about changing jobs; he is furious with his employer yet desperately wants approval from him.

What would Herbert Simon make of this interview? Surely a pattern of “influence” is at work here. But is this not merely a polite word for inducing a feeling of vulnerability? And of powerlessness?

Loyalty as envisioned in the literature of human relations is something more than an idea of obedience. Team loyalty involves taking initiative and the willingness to confront one’s boss when the need arises. It should be safe to do either. What we see in the case of Dr. Dodds is the consequence of acting on such an assumption. The web of dependence and resentment in which he becomes enmeshed is the logical out-come of expressing your feelings when dealing with someone who has power over you but doesn’t want to be dictatorial.

This seems to me the irony about the new ideology of work. Perhaps some combination of the forms of psychological engineering may regularly stimulate people to greater productivity. Perhaps the masking of power which has appeared in the literature of administrative science will take hold of the larger culture, so that workers actually believe their bosses are “facilitators.” If these things happen, then we may well enter an era of corporate manipulation as frightening as that in 1984, although different in kind. But the very nature of this new ideology contains a contradiction which may also be its undoing. It is a system based not on mutual respect but on pseudo-mutuality. Whether that pseudo-mutuality might lead people in Dodds’s position, in their anger and guilt, to challenge the very terms on which their employers treat them I do not know. But I hope so.

It is ironic that our society should just now be struggling with the question of the quality of the experience of work. Some of the competition we face in the world economy comes from countries like Korea, which are able to make use both of high technology and cheap labor—that is, laborers whose struggle for existence is so precarious that the sheer fact of holding a job is all-important to them and any thought about the quality of the work experience an unimaginable luxury. Or we compete with countries like Japan, which have a strict, paternalistic set of values that give work and the relations between employers and employees a meaning. Is discontent about working the ultimate luxury of late capitalism? Many employers believe the money, time, and effort put into responding to this discontent are a diversion of resources when the main task is surviving in an increasingly tough international economy.

One simple answer to these problems would be an authoritarian one. It would consist in disregarding how workers feel about their work, and trying to enforce harsh, punitive measures, like a compulsory ten-hour work day for eight hours pay, to compensate for sluggish work. So far our society has resisted this solution; it is psychological seduction rather than brute coercion which all these managerial strategies aim at. And it remains doubtful whether the shallow psychology of administrative science will really deal with the rising disaffection in American corporations. The question is whether demands will emerge within the American labor force to change the actual conditions of power which govern work. The newspeak of the facilitators attempts to keep us from this; its point is to cloak the realities of power. No one can say what the material consequences would be if American workers were drawn to face them openly and attempt to change them. We might, however, become a more just society.

This Issue

February 22, 1979