I’ve noticed over the past couple of weeks a growing cynicism in my public expressions. I’m currently on holiday, so you’d hardly expect it. That Cameron wishes to limit our access to the Internet even as his mates in the security services are increasing theirs may have nothing – or everything – to do with it.
This morning, however, I felt I outdid even my most recent outpourings in this radically unhappy tweet:
So fracker corps will end up poisoning our water table in order that water corps may hike the price of the bottled stuff. #symbiosis
What’s behind such gross bad faith on my part? What drives me to make such wearisome connections? Where’s the good in even trying?
Interesting questions, all.
And I am reminded of an experience I had a couple of years before I left the banking corporation I previously worked for. In 2008, it was forcibly taken over by another banking corporation of similar size, as a result of the broader financial crisis which assailed us all that year. Whilst our corporation had spent a lot of time and energy implementing the concept of leadership at all levels, the one which took us over had a far more traditionally American view (as I think befitted its CEO of the time) of how hierarchies should be organised. In this case, the index they used to measure employee satisfaction was termed “engagement”.
Essentially, how closely identified employees were with everything the company allegedly stood for.
So it was that engagement surveys became the flavour of the quarter. Everyone had to do them. In some cases (not my department’s I hasten to add), it was said that bosses looked over employee shoulders to ensure the right answers were given. In other cases (yes, here my department was guilty), chocolate bars were strategically located next to the workstations in question in order to encourage buen rollo. Of course, the reason for all this dysfunctional behaviour was because the results of the surveys were tied to our bosses’ KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) – and therefore, inevitably, to their yearly bonuses. Who wouldn’t, under such circumstances, try to influence the aforementioned surveys?
Bosses, after all, are only human.
Even where mere Level 1 workers must strive (robotically) not to be.
Anyhow, in the first year or so of the new regime’s existence, engagement ratings went quickly through the roof. Whilst the trades unions transmitted one kind of message from the grapevine and grassroots, management got quite another impression of what was happening. They, quite naturally, were delighted with their data – and promptly proceeded to ignore the perceptions of the unions.
It took another year or so before the misfit between survey-land and reality became even moderately clear to the executives.
So why do I mention all the above today? Because it’s a clear example of the slow but sure extinction of engagement. And it’s a dangerous extinction to boot. Partly because the people best placed to resolve the issues are the people most blind to them. Partly because the damage done to worker morale, trust and good faith is so difficult and costly to repair.
Looked at more widely, then, it seems to me that our society is going through a similar process. While popular acquiescence to government diktat and corporate imposition makes those at the top believe they can get away with anything, and whilst sales figures and opinion polls show little dramatic change, deep down under the surface of public perception, not even publicly commented on any more, a desultory resignation is taking hold.
A huge and destructively long-term process of disengagement has been initiated. Only an omniscient figure of economically God-like proportions can predict, right now, where it will lead us in the end.
I am not that figure.
But I can tell you, right now, that if banking corporations are anything to go by, society’s spying on the answers we give on the one hand and the cheeky provision of branded bribes on the other can only lead our shakers and makers to a place of massive misunderstanding.
The slow but sure extinction of engagement leaves behind it little DNA to recover the species.
Engagement isn’t a woolly mammoth but, rather, a thoughtful and fragile indicator of human interaction.
And no amount of chocolate bars will make such interaction any more real – even as they may serve, for a while, to soften the sorry blow of societal deception.