A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
January 8th, 2014 by William

Diabolical Ventriloquism

The Screwtape Letters is a satirical novel written by C. S. Lewis, and first published in 1942. The story takes the form of a series of letters from an elderly retired Demon in Hell named Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a young devil who has just started work in the real world. The uncle is mentoring his nephew on his new responsibility for securing the damnation of a British man known only as “the Patient.”

The lead character Screwtape holds an administrative post in the bureaucracy (“Lowerarchy”) of Hell. The Screwtape Letters consists of thirty-one letters from Screwtape to Wormwood. In the body of the letters, Screwtape gives Wormwood detailed advice on various methods of undermining faith and promoting sin in the Patient. Despite the fact the story is written as a comedy, what’s interesting about The Screwtape Letters is that the letters represent very profound observations on human nature.

The “Patient” in the story is a young unmarried man who lives with his mother, gets engaged to a young woman, and has just experienced a conversion to Christianity. Wormwood is given the task of reversing the conversion.Lewis calls the process of Screwtape coaching Wormwood “diabolical ventriloquism.”

While Screwtape and his nephew Wormwood attempt to undo “the Patient” spiritually, the letters also contain some keen psychological insights into human nature. I believe that if we strip away the religious overtones of what’s found in the letters we can see an accurate depiction of the evil (dysfunctional) behaviors we find in the typical workplace.

Lewis, in the story’s foreword, makes this exact point: “The greatest evil is not now done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded and carried) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.  Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern.”

A related metaphor, which Lewis refers to more than once in the piece, is what he calls “spiritual cannibalism” wherein a stronger entity consumes a weaker one and absorbs its will into its own-sort of spiritual hostile takeover. This “spiritual cannibalism” might prove a good metaphor for what happens every day in the typical workplace as the occupants struggle for position in the hierarchy by throwing each other under the bus.

People jockey for position by tossing others aside by metaphorically absorbing them.  With animals in the wild the absorption takes the form of eating their prey. For the typical office worker, it means the sucking of will and freedom out of a weaker person. Thus in the end what one person gains another loses.

Seems Lewis was able to peer into the future and write about the “me” attitudes that permeate our current social mentality−to do whatever’s good for me and all others are damned.

In her article “Sucking Life: The Principle of Hell in Screwtape,” ©2010, Kimberly Moore-Jumonville talks about this: “Screwtape’s training of Wormwood in the art of deception exposes the tempters’ desire to consume “the other” completely into the self. This insatiable appetite to devour is revealed to be the ruling principle of Hell, where one must eat or be eaten.”

In Lewis’s Hell, the demons live by “sucking the will and freedom out of a weaker person into a stronger one.” With the devil being synonymous with evil and, as we learned in last week’s post, the essence of organizational evil is dysfunctional behavior; understanding the Screwtape Letters gives us insight into how the propensity for evil is coached into us all.

While the original letters are written with deep religious overtones I have taken the liberty to edit them with a modern twist. By the way, Wormwood was successful in tempting his “patient” back from Christianity quickly, i.e., between letters one and two. This mirrors how quickly we all can be lulled into the evil behaviors that make the typical workplace a hell.

So here is a one-sentence summary of the Screwtape’s letters as seen from the workplace perspective reflecting the type of advice the devil might make to modern management. In the context of the original letters “him” meant “the Patient,” however for our purposes let in mean “the employee.”

1. Make him preoccupied with the ordinary in life–reduce his expectations for anything better than ordinary–sounds like the prelude to performance review time

2. Encourage him to view his peers from a self-righteous perspective–reinforce that they are inferior–encourage more of the “me’ mentality

3. Annoy him with “daily pinpricks” (this one’s self-explanatory)

4. Keep him from seriously intending to quit, and if that fails, subtly redirect his focus to himself–this is done through the performance review by being so critical of him that he doesn’t believe he’s worthy of a good job

5. Make him suffer, because to support him would be a threat to management’s authority

6. Capitalize on any of his uncertainties about his career and redirect his frustration toward his co-workers–entice him to fight with his peers

7. Keep him ignorant, and make him an extreme pacifist–make him more open to manipulation−explains why training budgets are the first to get cut in rough times

8. Make good use of his emotional troughs and peaks–play on his emotions

9. Capitalize on the trough periods–include his moodiness in the yearly performance review to justify giving him a low raise

10. Convince him to blend in with his colleagues–an underlying reason for the performance review–to make everyone think and act the same

11. When he comes to you with a serious problem use jokes and flippancy to keep from having to actually empathize with him

12. Keep track of his “very small mistakes” because they’ll be needed come review time–the best way to undermine his will is gradually

13. Don’t allow him to experience real workplace pleasure

14. Keep him humble–use both your vanity and false modesty to keep him thinking that management knows best and is completely in charge

15. Make him live in the future rather than the present–at review time tell him “next year can be different if he only changes to meet your expectations”

16. Encourage job-hopping for the ones you don’t want to keep–saves the time needed to justify and document a lay-off

17. Encourage him to think of everything from the “me” perspective–encourage selfishness as it helps keep the employees in competition with each other

18. Convince him that the underlying grounds for his employment is being in love with the job–make him drink the management Kool-Aid

19. Make him believe that the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence−because it’s not

20. Always be critical of any and all decisions that he makes–make sure he fears taking risks–encourage him to come to you for decisions

21. Convince him to use the pronoun “my” in the fully possessive sense of ownership, e.g., “my time,” “my job,” “my office”–this helps set employee against employee–the essence of divide and conquer

22. Understand that outside of work his world may be full of pleasures and you must make sure he spends the least amount of time there–effectively use micromanagement and workaholism to keep him on the job and critical of his capabilities

23. Encourage him to believe that management knows best and is the only means to the organization’s goals

24. Keep him confused about where he really stands in the ranking–keep him believing he’s toward the bottom of the list and could be a ripe target for layoff

25. Increase his fear−this increases his compliance to do what he’s told

26. Sow seeds of “self-consciousness”–make him believe that he’s not performing to the level of his peers and is the weakest link in the organization

27. Twist his thoughts to your advantage

28. Keep him in line until he grows too old to find another job

29. Defeat his courage, and make him a coward−courage is the building block of empowerment and that’s a threat to management

30. Capitalize on his fatigue−use to management’s advantage in the performance review, i.e., he’s not motivated and thus not a team player

31. His end is not your concern−management shouldn’t have any remorse after a lay-off

As I mentioned earlier the term evil is synonymous with the devil. Consider these 31 points as sort of a primer for evil (or if you prefer: dysfunctional) management developed by the devil. Now you know where dysfunctional, evil, management gets its coaching.

George Bernard Shaw once said; “A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: ‘Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.’

“When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, ‘The one I feed the most.’”

Thus anyone in management has the choice to listen to the diabolical ventriloquism and follow the devil’s 31 point prompting or to break from the mold and do exactly the opposite−it’s the old low-road v. high-road decision process.

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