THE BOTTOM LINE

Sharing the anger

Managers have no business bringing New Age spirituality to the workplace

DEIRDRE McMURDY September 18 1995
THE BOTTOM LINE

Sharing the anger

Managers have no business bringing New Age spirituality to the workplace

DEIRDRE McMURDY September 18 1995

Sharing the anger

THE BOTTOM LINE

Managers have no business bringing New Age spirituality to the workplace

DEIRDRE McMURDY

It used to be a wellestablished tradition: after an argument with the boss, a frustrated employee would stomp home, bark at the dog, mix a highball and get over it. But in 1995, such repressed behavior is no longer tolerated. When companies restructured and streamlined their operations during the economic recession, there was great fanfare about “de-layering” the traditional hierarchy, “empowering” employees and levelling the “playing field.” According to modern theory, managers are no longer supposed to manage. Instead, they are encouraged to be the team coach, enhancing productivity and unlocking creativity among the ranks through motivation and inspiration, rather than direct commands. It has also become the height of corporate chic for all the team players to explore their feelings and to share them openly with their colleagues.

In fact, self-expression is becoming a growth industry in North America. And there has recently been a proliferation of seminars and programs designed to enhance the quality of emotional life in the New Economy workplace. From its home base just outside Kansas City, Kan., Pryor Resources Inc. offers a oneday anger-management seminar to corporations in Canada and the United States. It’s a mighty impressive program: the brochure pledges that it will teach you and your co-workers how to identify “hidden resentments,” how to distinguish between a put-down and constructive criticism, how to express anger without losing composure. Of special importance, it will help to “stop the resentment, envy and retaliation fantasies that are eating you alive.” All of this costs only $105.93—including GST— per person.

Of course, anger-management programs would be obsolete if more executives participated in the business seminars offered by Martin Rutte, a Canadian psychologist and “vision coach.” Rutte, originally from Hamilton, is now based in Santa Fe, N.M. He is an ardent proponent of introducing spiritual values into the workplace to unlock creativity and maximize career fulfilment. According to Rutte’s construct, spirituality is the spark that is still missing from corporate North America’s efforts to restructure. And on his frequent pilgrimages to corporate conference rooms—he made a presentation to PetroCanada staff in Toronto earlier this year—Rutte advocates a more intuitive, visionary approach to internal problem-solving and communication.

Then, there is anger management and dispute resolution Bay Street-style. Money managers Ira Gluskin and Gerry Sheff, principal partners at Gluskin Sheff & Associates Inc., invest a portfolio of more than $1 billion on behalf of their numerous clients. To ensure that everyone on staff feels nurtured—and that they all remain at peace with one another in such a stressful business—Gluskin and Sheff have retained a psychologist to offer regular counselling sessions.

In many camps, this heightened focus on workplace spirituality and emotional well-being is considered as the ultimate achievement of a postindustrial economy. But in fact, it is potentially destructive to erode discipline and blur the traditional chain of command and authority. Fussing about participatory management and shared vision fosters the false impression that all employees have an equal voice. Ifs the same misguided rationale that has led to the proliferation of “casual days”: with everyone dressed in ragged jeans and Disney sweatshirts on Friday, the illusion of greater equality is encouraged.

The reality, however, is that everyone has—and needs—a boss to set agendas and to enforce performance targets. Even the chief executive officer of a company is ultimately accountable to directors and shareholders. But when the time comes for a senior manager to pull rank and make a tough decision that runs counter to “team” consensus, it can create an unnecessary sense of grievance or betrayal in the ranks.

There is no earthly way for any business to maximize productivity unless all employees have a crystal-clear understanding of their relationship to others involved in the process. At the end of the day, it doesn’t actually matter how a worker feels about cutting overhead costs or delivering goods to clients on time. Not even in the New Economy.