Paying workers with positivity
U of R gets to research more ways on how to avoid giving workers raises
When I think of research labs, I think of chemistry beakers, test tubes, petri dishes and all sorts of other scientific paraphernalia. Imagine my surprise and curiosity when I learned that the U of R Faculty of Business would also be getting a research lab. The name of this lab, according to the Leader-Post, is the Laboratory for Behavioural Business Research. This alone should be of some concern. According to the article’s paraphrasing of U of R business professor Dr. Lisa Watson, the lab will be used to research and study “counterproductive and anti-social behaviour in business settings.” When I read this, my curiosity turned to dread. The most powerful and influential corporations already operate on an unspoken premise to manage their employees without actually improving their conditions; this would just allow them to fleece their employees more efficiently.
If you open a business section in the news today, you’re bound to hear news about how employees are facing precarious futures and how wages and benefits are under attack. What sort of behaviours do you think you could expect from employees in such a climate? Anti-social probably: if your future is precarious, would you really be in a socializing mood? And, would you really be in a place to be productive if you had to survive on low pay? I know I wouldn’t. Given all this, why is the Business Faculty choosing now as the time to invest in a behavioural research facility?
In his book, Empire of Illusion, American commentator and general misanthrope Chris Hedges describes the experience of a FedEx employee at a company retreat in Fresno, California, in 2006. This employee said that a company spokeswoman tried to make the employees feel cheerful about working for FedEx, but veteran employees felt embarrassed that they had worked there for 20 years. However, neither he nor others wanted to speak out for fear of being denied their 25-cent pay raise.
This is an example of the spin and hypocrisy that occupies business circles today. I remember when I attended a business dinner (I had been invited by a former boss during a Co-Op term), the main speaker talked about such business-coping strategies as hiding your problems from your family. Hers was one of the glibbest speeches I have heard, and yet it was very dangerous.
The core message within was that you must suppress all your emotions and focus on your work. Of course, this is important for many places in life outside of work. However, if you have concerns about your workplace, will a smile simply wash all the problems away? I would say no. Try telling the U of T Teaching Assistants that they only need to approach their work more positively and see how far ignoring the rising cost of living in Toronto goes. Even better, try improving the conditions of fast-food workers in the U.S. by studying their “counterproductive behaviours” rather than simply giving them $15 per hour as they want. It’s pretty hard to be happy if you can barely survive.
We are currently living in a time when there is reason for the next generation to fear for their future. And, despite concerns over whether students would even get jobs, the U of R’s business faculty seems set on researching psychological deviances that occur within businesses. Of course, there might be side benefits to the research done at this new business laboratory, but I am not seeing it. Rather, I see another tool that will educate otherwise decent students into the methods of lying and bullshitting others while they cut jobs and restructure companies in the name of profits.
Business has ceased being about entrepreneurship and innovation a long time ago; it’s all about quick and easy profits. The strongest obstacle to profits is the human brain. Wouldn’t it be great for businesses if were temporarily subdued by means of happy thoughts?