Can't We All Get Along?

By Manley, Will | American Libraries, December 1998 | Go to article overview

Can't We All Get Along?


Manley, Will, American Libraries


For the last three months I have aimed my poisoned pen at bad bosses. This has made many people very happy to see those in the upper echelons of our libraries be skewered (all in a spirit of fun, of course). But before you relish these attacks upon bosses with too much glee, the underside of the issue needs a fair and open airing. A growing body of evidence suggests that the root cause for the epidemic of bad bosses is the growing number of problematic employees.

Once characterized by its strong work ethic, the American work force now seems to be made up of a whining bunch of litigious, greedy, disloyal, backstabbing, uncooperative, complaining, ungrateful, and lazy procrastinators. While Dilbert is always poking fun at his company's supervisors and managers, maybe it's time to turn the tables. Ask yourself some questions: Is Dilbert someone you would want in the cubicle next to yours? Aren't we all getting sick of the annoying passive-aggressiveness that he so richly represents? Have you ever seen Dilbert actually doing any work? That's precisely the problem. He's an unproductive, sniveling little malcontent.

In his book The Culture of Complaint (Oxford University, 1993), illustrious art critic Robert Hughes bemoans the fact that America has become a nation of victims. Victimhood, he claims, gives people the right to complain and "complaint gives you power - even when it's only the power of emotional bribery - of creating previously unnoticed levels of social guilt." The great irony of Robert Hughes is that he turns out to be the biggest complainer of all. You get to the end of his book completely exasperated because you wonder if there is anything about America that this transplanted Aussie approves of.

In the workplace, of course, complaints transcend the mere therapeutical process of bellyaching about real or imagined slights. Workplace complaints turn into grievances that turn into lawsuits. This is serious, expensive, painful stuff.

It was roughly 15 years ago when bosses began to realize that they were just as likely to be sued for hurting an employee's feelings as for violating the growing body of employment law. In the past, employees would gather at Friday night happy hour to rag about their supervisors and their working conditions. This was called "attitude adjustment. …

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