A Personnel Revolution

“In an industrial society which confuses work and productivity, the necessity of producing has always been an enemy of the desire to create.”
Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life, 1967.

I am currently reading The East End of London by Millicent Rose (1951), which is a very interesting book about the history of London’s East End. In the chapter on the construction of the docks, she writes:

With the building of the docks, the Industrial Revolution came to the East End and transformed it. When work is done upon such a scale as Mayhew describes, the employers (not individuals now but a company) and those whom they employ exist together without either acquaintance or mutual responsibility. The works of Rennie, Alexander, Telford, with all their grandeur, have an oppressive and terrible impersonality that fits the new relation of man to man. Alexander looked back to the glories of Rome, but his creation inaugurated the pitiless anarchy of the nineteenth century.

What a shame that the industrial revolution had this effect on personal relationships. It’s legacy is still a problem today. My wife recently received an incredibly impersonal e-mail from the Chief Executive of the company that has employed her for more than a decade, a man she has met many times and with whom she is on a first name basis. His generic form letter was not addressed to anyone (it just arrived in her inbox without any recipients listed), and asked her to participate in a collective exercise intended to identify the company’s values!

How about uncaring, careless and lazy, for starters? The CEO’s message probably reveals more honest information about the corporate value system than any collective exercise will unearth. It is particularly worrying when you consider that this exercise is almost certainly an initiative of the Human Resources department, which should care more about the employees and how they are treated than any other part of the company. When will they learn that everything the company does is an expression of its values? When will they realise that their values are therefore plain for all to see in everything they do?