Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

Are We, Social Scientists, Neglecting Humanness in Organisation? A Manifesto

Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

Are We, Social Scientists, Neglecting Humanness in Organisation? A Manifesto

Article excerpt

The impetus of this article lies in my direct experiences in organisations and confrontations with depressing reports on corporate criminality, fraud, mental problems, loneliness, burnouts, violence, bullying, or more generally "harm to others", and the widening gap between the rich and poor. Too easily they become considered as "inevitabilities" of economic and technological progress. The language already reveals current priorities. They are in line with the deregulation mode. Despite some laudable efforts, not much has been achieved to stem the entailing erosion of our "Weltethos" or culture of humanity.

Küng and Kuschel (1998)-in an international study sponsored by the United Nations-specified a culture of humanity in its four basic tasks: a culture of a) non-violence and respect for life; b) of solidarity and a just economical order; c) of tolerance and life in dignity; and d) a culture of equality and partnership between men and women. The content of these broad tasks become specified in implicit and explicit socio-political and ethical discussions about what is fair and what cannot be tolerated. They form a ground on which people come to an appreciation of what is human and what does not lead to a desirable human future. For some, appreciation is expressed in their behaviour. Others must be given time to reflect. In organisations a human culture inspires and reveals itself in three interrelated domains: how people interact and relate with their work and with one another; how the demands and benefits (rewards) are distributed; and what the corporate and organisational objectives are actively aiming to contribute to the well-being of society. Where do we stand?

From all the recent developments in organisations and society, I have chosen three major trends that touched me because of their corrosive impact on humanness and well-being: the increase of virtual worlds, the obliteration of relationships, and the ideology of performance. Each one separately and in combination turn human beings into mere instruments in production processes.

The gratifying benefits of these developments, however, cover the negative consequences. The first results figure brightly in statistics of organisational and economic performances. The latter appear in other domains like mental disturbances and the other "inevitabilities" referred to above.

The purpose of this article is twofold. First, I wish to stimulate our critical thinking, and second, I would like to present some ideas and practices about what can be done, or is already done, to enable humanness to develop in organisations. As such, the article contributes to the growing awareness of the negative impact of our dominant socioeconomical mental frames and the laudable efforts to integrate humanness, ethics, and sustainability in our entrepreneurial and professional practices.

Let us first take a closer look at what is happening around us and in us. Not just how these major developments affect us, but also how we, social scientists may, perhaps unknowingly, contribute or even take a ride on these trends.


Virtual worlds are on the increase

Some twenty years ago, when I was teaching at the International Management School in St Petersburg, a Russian journalist wrote in "The Press": "We know that our leaders are lying and they know that we know. But, they just go on deceiving us!"

Many Russians hoped that "Glasnost" would open a free-minded search for truth and sincerity. But becoming honest in facing daily realities is very difficult, not only in Russia. Deception does not necessarily mean that our leaders, managers, social scientists are lying, but they may deceive us by deflecting, by carefully selecting or distorting the facts to make them fit in their locked in views, in other words by holding up "half-truths" as the truth. Others take the lead with one-liners, or get on the market with partial or dubious, research evidence, or-as the French say with "les mots à la mode". …

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