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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

The Psycho-social Analysis of Employee Commitment: How Organizations Induce and Destroy Commitment

The paper presentation will begin with an explanation of employee commitment from a psychodynamic perspective. Then drawing upon the influence of culture on the psychodynamics of employee commitment (Czander and Lee, 2001). I will explain the dynamics that support or destroy organizational commitment. I will attempt to offer an understanding of how the larger societal culture influences the organization as well as the employee's capacity to form attachments. These capacities can contribute or destroy an employee's commitment to the organization. To support this argument I will present a case analysis of the psychodynamics associated with an organization that intentionally seeks to destroy commitment. We maintain that this phenomenon of eliminating commitment is widespread among American corporations and supported by management consultants/gurus. In addition, I will assess how managers and management gurus actually reduce commitment among employees and their unconscious motivations for embracing contemporary culture and the trends away from commitment.At this point in time it is unclear if commitment less organizations are prone to decay or whether they are part of the trend toward the innovative, entrepreneurial corporations hailed as the ideal in Western business literature. The author will invite participants to speculate on this trend.This presentation will begin with an observation. In the early 1980's I was asked to teach an MBA course in Business Strategy. While looking over several textbooks on the subject I was horrified to notice that several authors had recommended large scale terminations as a strategy. They offered this strategy with little or no details concerning the negative consequences of such an act. The downsizing phenomena was born in these textbooks, suggested by scholars and quickly embraced by practicing managers. Managers began to think of their personnel (in masse) as accordions, expanding in times of growth and contracting in bad times. The metaphor 'Work Smart' and be 'Lean and Mean' meant do not waste time, and design jobs so that the organization operates in a barebones manner. 'Lean' came to mean if an employee X could do the job of more than one, then fire employee Y and let X pick up the slack. 'Mean' meant simply do not care about feelings, emotions and other soft issues, they only get in the way of 'rational' decision making.In the Unites States in the month of April 223,000 jobs were terminated. The largest loss of jobs in more than ten years. No one blinked. These job losses were called variable costs and it was suggested that CEO's could cut their variable costs much easier than their fixed costs. Again, no response to the consequences. Why focus on job loss? Because if we are to think about the demise of commitment to an organization it begins here. Ask any employee about commitment and they will tell you its a two way street. How does an organization destroy commitment? By firing employees.But why is large scale dismissals permissible now? There was a time when if a CEO terminated large numbers of employee they would be criticized as being the corporate equivalent of Iago. Now, we can witness, not only the flourishing practice of large scale terminations, but CEO's who commit such acts as being treated by stockholders and their corporate executive constellations as heroes. They even are capable of celebrating their acts. In 1996 the head of IBM in Armonk, New York announced the termination of 10,000 employees before Christmas and shortly after Gerstner and his executive constellation voted themselves handsome Christmas bonuses for a job well-done. In a separate news article they also asked the police to close the locale gun shop where IBM Executive Headquarters was located. What goes on where CEO's are now capable of committing these acts and how does it become acceptable practice, even preferred practice in corporate America? I maintain that the larger culture establishes the framework for defining acceptable behaviours in the corporation, and consultants, scholars and popular corporate writers and gurus are purveyors of this popular culture. Think about it this way. For many years I had treated corporate executives who were burned out, depressed, unhappy, and unable to ascertain why. I would ask them the following question-During your career how many employees did you think you fired, laid off, etc.? They would think and quickly grasp what I was getting at. They were capable of assessing the guilt associated with their acts and 'crimes' committed in office and could then explore the relationship between these acts and their unhappiness. Today I am struck by the absence of guilt associated with acts against employees. Today executives seek me out not because they are depressed or worried or anguished about the consequences of their acts but because they want to be charismatic leaders. They want to motivate their employees, they want a polished image and they are convinced that with the correct image they will inspire their subordinates to gleefully follow, be inspired and work harder without complaint. The commitment they seek is not a commitment to the corporation but a commitment to them, the charismatic leader. They want to be the type of leaders Lasch, Peters, Maccobby write about-the so-called narcissistic leader. This has created a multibillion-dollar industry-the motivation industry where gurus commanding up to $65,000 for a motivational speech and consultants design corporate reward systems where everything from T-shirts- to exotic vacations- to sky diving- to walking across hot coals are used to motivate employees. Despite little or no research suggesting that motivational spending works, CEO's are committed to the spending of billions to try to get employees to demonstrate commitment. Lately we have witnessed some corporations aware of the failure of motivational spending and they have returned to the type of thinking that destroyed motivation and commitment in the 1980's. These corporate executives have returned to wholesale terminations. General Electric states its good business to stop trying to gain commitment from these 'unmotivated' employees and they suggest that it is wise to 'give up' on these uncommitted employees. GE's retired CEO, Jack Welch writes 'a company that bets its future on its people must remove that lower 10 percent and keep removing it every year.' How's that for scare tactics. Welch does not realize that he destroys motivation and commitment and all he gets is the appearance of commitment. Do his 'people' work hard? Of course they do. Are they committed? Of course not. Does he care? No. And the surprising thing is neither do his employees.Consider the following example of the superficial nature of commitment. Medtronic a medical electronic company resorts to gimmicks to create commitment. At their holiday parties customers are invited in to speak and they tell tearful tales about how the Medtronic equipment saved their lives. Heart felt stories are in continuous use at Medtronic. Management believes that these stories create commitment 'getting more' for oneself, even it is at the expense of others. They do not have a committed organizational community instead they create or fortify what is referred to as a narcissistic community, and the organization becomes an arena of instant gratification. This 'work hard, play hard, me first attitude', has been prevalent for such a long time that managers are resigned to them. They readily accept employees who cannot demonstrate anything more than minimal commitment, are quite mobile, and have an exceedingly low tolerance for delaying gratification. Managers in conjunction with consultants have learned to exploit this attitude. For example, a young, just out of college, employee will change jobs three times in their first five years of employment. Many corporations actually encourage job changing, in fact changing jobs is rewarded as indicated by the data suggesting that job changing is a critical factor in increasing an employee's income. In America with every job change the average compensation increase is 12%, while the average per annum increase is only 4%. Employment agencies, so-called head-hunters, and recruiters are considered a major industry, suggesting that more and more employees are on the move. This is reinforced by the trend in corporations that value: temporary employees, outsourcing, consulting, downsizing, and the recent proliferation of the 'start-ups,' or extraordinary high risk endeavours.Organizational and management theorists rely exclusively on leadership when putting forth ways to induce commitment in employees. They typically propose five ways to induce commitment.(1) Through hierarchical arrangements, authority structure and role requirements, and task arrangements. Durkin (1964) and Halpern and Halpern, 1983, claim that in organizations, transference reactions are precipitated by the structure, and it is structure, which provides communicative channels (status differential, proximity, and roles).(2) Through the organization's culture, history, rituals, customs and norms, and its inanimate objects, like computers, office space, furniture, the architecture, and technology, etc.. For example, re-engineering writers (Hammer and Champy, 1995) and cultural writers Peters and Waterman (1982) believe that commitment can be created by manipulating these cultural artefacts. (3) Through the organization's demands for performance, duty, and task requirements, and through dispensing of rewards and punishments (Komaki,, 1996 and Mowday, 1996). (4) By communicating a company's shared vision and establishing a shared mission with employees are important means of enhancing the employee commitment (e.g., the vision statement and the mission statement). (5) Finally, the most consistently popular method of inducing commitment (as suggested in the military example) suggests that it will evolve when the employees identify with their leaders. Therefore, employees must see their leaders as all powerful, consequently, the corporation's leadership surrounds themselves with an array of symbols associated with power (large salaries, staff, opulent offices, home, furnishings, limousines, etc.).From a psychodynamic perspective for genuine commitment to occur the corporation must be able to provide the following: (1) Gratification of aspects or derivatives of the employee's core or golden fantasy. This is accomplished when fantasies associated with authority are gratified and these fantasies collectively evolve when shared by a group. When this occurs, these employees in a group have an increased capacity to control their own behaviour and wishes, utilize moral restraint and engage in self-punishment. (2) Through the promotion of a comfort zone within the corporation where employee(s) can create their own reality or fantasy to adapt to difficult realities just as their family does. This allows the corporation and their formal and informal work groups to maintain and/or restore precarious, disintegration-prone self and object imagoes. (3) By strengthening necessary defences to ward off configurations of experience, which are felt to be conflictual or dangerous. (4) Instilling in the employee a hope that he/she will be valued and that the corporation will provide the same haven and sense of community in an ideal sense as is experienced within the family. The organization is seen as capable of buffering the employee from the dangers associated with the external world, and their own internal reality, just as their family and community had done in the past. To do this the organization must function as maternal haven by being constant, reliable, noncritical, and empathic, and at the same time showing patience and setting limits. (5) Establishing leader-followers relations that are not feared and criticized, not harsh and punitive, but held in high esteem, respected and valued.When the corporation fails to provide a holding environment, as many corporations do, and at the same time demands that the employee abandon real and wished for attachments by creating a competitive and judgment environment, it will diminish the motivation for commitment and instead promote depressive and persecutory responses (Czander and Lee, 2001). On the other hand, when the organization provides an 'empathic net', the employee responds to the organization as a positive object with a heightened sense of commitment. When this occurs, the organization takes on a force in the employee's life similar to that of the family, and the wish for this commitment continues over his/her life course (Ingber, 1981). These employees do not wish to be away from the organization and even when they are separated, they find ways to engage in a relationship with the organization. Their identification with the organization is symbolically communicated through their dress (wearing company logos), and their proud display of membership. When they meet strangers they introduce themselves with their company card which is not only a way of communicating and confirming their identity, but expresses the wish of potential continued cooperation with the stranger in their protected role as a corporate representative. Commitment to an organization, as we have been lead to believe, is not exclusively a function of the attributes of the organization or its executive constellation. It is a function of the larger culture. The larger culture will either support or negate support of the activities associated with commitment. Specifically, it is suggested- that practicing managers do not create commitment they merely support the established attitudes and values towards commitment that already exists in the larger culture and family (Czander and Lee, 2001). For a copy of the full paper, contact REFERENCES Czander, W. and Lee, D.H. (2001). Employee Commitment: A Psycho-Social Perspective on Asian and American Culture and Businesses. In: John Kidd, Li Xue and Frank-Jurgen Richter (Eds.) Maximizing Human Intelligence Deployment in Asian Business. Durkin, H. 1964. The group in depth. New York: International University Press. Halpern, J. & Halpern, I. (1983). Projections. New York: Seaview/Putnam Press. Hammer, M. & Champy, J. (1995). Reengineering the Corporation. New York: Harper. Ingber, D. 1981. Computer addicts. Science Digest, July 114-121.Komaki, J.L., Coombs, T. & Schepman, S. 1996. Motivational implications of reinforcement theory. In: Motivation and Leadership at Work 6th Ed. Eds: R.M. Steers, L.W. Porter and G.A. Bigley. 35-52. Mowday, R.T. Equity theory predictions of behaviour. In: Motivation and Leadership at Work 6th Ed. Eds: R.M Steers, L.W. Porter and G.A.Bigley. 1996, 53-72.Peters, T.J. & Waterman, R.H. 1982. In Search of Excellence. New York: Harper & Row."