What does this work devil phenomenon tell us about the modern workplace? It tells us that in spite of the rhetoric about caring for staff, the reality is that as long a manager is seen as delivering results it does not matter what damage is done to the human beings involved in the process.
If the well being of staff members were important to companies then work devil behaviour by managers would be completely unacceptable. Instead, the damaging behaviour is often rewarded (as long as it is accompanied by good financial results) and results in disempowering and discouraging those suffering under the reign of terror. Sometimes, when a staff member tries to speak out about the work devil‘s behaviour, it is made clear that they should just keep quiet and not rock the boat. This has happened to colleagues and to me over the years. During these encounters with other managers (either senior managers to the work devil or human resources managers), it becomes clear that these people are afraid of confronting the bad behaviour of the work devil. It would be very interesting to know if this fear is simply a fear of confrontation or if they too are terrified of the work devil?
Another interesting question: Is there something inherent in the way workplaces are organised that makes it easier or possible for people to display work devil behaviours? Obviously, the scale of the bad behaviour is not the same as in the concentration camps, but the pattern is similar. In the work devil phenomenon individuals demonstrate a disconnect between their private and public behavioural personas. Is the connecting emotion between the two (i.e. workplaces and concentration camps) the emotion of fear?
Is fear what drives a person to disconnect from the private mode of being – which is kind and loving – to display a special work mode of being?
What Can Be Done About a Work Devil? If you work for a work devil then there is a decision to be made. Either you stay and put up with the behaviour and consequent feelings of stress, or leave and take the chance that you will not be unlucky two times in a row.
If you are a manager, the best thing that you can do is to stop the behaviour at inception. As soon as you see or hear of any of your team members displaying work devil behaviours counsel them. Make the ground rules for behaviour in your team clear to everyone. Usually upon taking over a new team I hold an introductory meeting – laying out the ground rules – and these usually include statements like:
“I do not care what you think about each other or how you feel about each other. We are here to do a job. In this team, we treat each other with courtesy. We treat our colleagues with courtesy (even if you happen to hate one of them). We always treat our customers with courtesy as well. We do this because we are professionals and we act like it. We are all on the same team and it is important that we act like it. Our team will do well if we all work together. Together we can achieve more together than individually – that’s why we build teams.”
Of course, if this is just rhetoric, the staff see right through it very quickly and become cynical. If you model the behaviour and ensure that all other management staff model the behaviour then the rest of the staff will follow on. However, if you allow even one manager to get away with not modeling the behaviours, then you lose the trust of the staff, look insincere AND you become complicit in the work devil‘s bad behaviour. This is a moral issue for managers. We must ask ourselves if we are willing to participate in this, after all as the English philosopher Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
It is possible to deliver good results for your organisation and to treat the people that deliver those results as human beings. In fact, it is easier to sustain good results if there is lower staff turnover and staff are not anxious or stressed.
Work Devils in Comedy & Drama: The following are entertaining examples of what not to do:
- David Brent – the boss in The Office (BBC)
- Gordon Gecko – in the film Wall Street (Oliver Stone 1986)
- Any boss in Dilbert – http://www.dilbert.com/
- Franklin M. Hart Jr. – the boss in the film Nine To Five (Colin Higgins 1980)
- Katharine Parker – the boss in the film Working Girl (Mike Nichols, 1988)