A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
July 28th, 2013 by William

Rode Hard and Put Away Wet

The expression “rode hard and put away wet” has been a favorite of mine for a long time. It refers to a person who looks worn out. The expression originates from the southern and western United States and its first use is uncertain. The phrase itself is derived from horseback riding. When a horse is exercised it works up a sweat and before being put back into the stable, it should be allowed to cool down by walking–just as joggers will walk after a good run. Thus a horse not afforded this cool-down period is literally “put away wet.”

Apparently horses not afforded this treatment can suffer from a number of problems: chills and muscle stiffness for example and, apparently it can also cause some mental distress for the horse. They become bad-tempered and resentful.

How many of you have ever felt that way work–metaphorically speaking of course–after an especially grueling day at work? Unfortunately this can be how you feel every day if you work in a dysfunctional organization. Just like a horse that’s been rode hard and put away wet you, too, become bad tempered and resentful of your situation.

This phrase reminds me of one of my favorite Dilbert comics. In the comic Dilbert is out on a walk with his mother when she asks an innocuous question: “How was work Dilbert?” Dilbert’s response is classic:

“I’m like a fly stuck in the thick tar of despair

Incompetence hangs in the air like the cold stench of death

I’m drowning and monkeys dressed as lifeguards are throwing me anvils

My job has convinced me that life is a stale joke with no punch line

I long for the comfort of the grave.”

His Mom responds with “Next time just say it’s fine.”

You’ll find a reprint of this comic in my book Puttin’ Cologne on the Rickshaw because it provided a perfect segue into the subject of abusive dysfunctional workplaces–places where every day you’re left feeling “rode hard and put away wet.”

There are many reasons why you start to feel this way even if you work in a supposedly well run organization. Why? Because it’s a rat race out there and this rat-race is called “The Red Queen Effect.” The Red Queen Effect is based on a comment the Red Queen made to Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. The comment: “In this place it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place” explains why as employees try to better themselves (raise, promotion, boss’s favor, etc.) their colleagues must in turn attempt to “better” themselves or they’ll be left at the bottom of the performance review ranking. And we all know what happens when you’re at the bottom of the performance review ranking–ultimate extinction.

Since its human nature that we all want better our own situation (in relation to our colleagues) it explains why The Red Queen Effect becomes a better motivator for individual change than all the performance review regimes in the world could ever hope to accomplish.

So if you work in a dysfunctional organization, that leaves you daily feeling rode hard and put away wet, what’s to do? That’s the question I wrestle with in my book; how do people adapt to abusive, dysfunctional workplaces?

Most workers remain in abusive work settings because the abuse has left them feeling inferior and afraid to go find another job. To cope, people will actually change their own behavior to align with the standard accepted behavior prevalent in the organization. That’s because an organization’s culture, even if dysfunctional, is infectious. The culture then enforces the bad behaviors–i.e., enforcing the norms–on other employees.

People stay in abusive, dysfunctional organizations by adapting to the organizational norms–no matter how absurd they are when viewed with an objective mind. When you feel inferior and afraid you lose all objectivity about your situation. In fact in dysfunctional organizations all objectivity has been destroyed. The dysfunctional behaviors, which are all negative by definition, become the norm–it’s hard to be positive in an organization such as this. As Marv Albert once said “It’s impossible to work under conditions where they confused negativity with objectivity.”

To cope, you find yourself muttering that now famous Friedrich Nietzsche quote: “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” In other words you resign yourself to your miserable fate. However cleverly you’ve talked yourself into sticking it out in a dysfunctional workplace it has negative effects on your well-being. People who work in abusive, dysfunctional workplaces experience a range of effects. These reactions include:

  • You feel like throwing up the night before the start of your work week
  • You can’t sleep because you’re worrying about what you’ll face at work the next day
  • Your frustrated family wonders why you act so depressed all the time
  • You try to deny the reality and rationalize your situation
  • You have skyrocketing blood pressure
  • You feel ashamed because you’re being controlled by another person and you don’t know how to stop it
  • You can’t enjoy your time off, and days off are spent exhausted and lifeless; your desire to do anything is gone
  • You begin to believe that you actually are inferior and have lost your self-respect
  • You constantly feel agitated and anxious, and experience a sense of impending doom

This leads to:

  • Anger
  • Frustration and/or Helplessness
  • A Sense of Vulnerability
  • A Loss of Self Confidence
  • Physical Symptoms
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Drinking More
  • Psychosomatic Symptoms
  • Panic or Anxiety
  • Home life Tensions and Stress
  • An Inability to Concentrate
  • Low Morale and Low Productivity

In other words you’re burnt-out–i.e., “rode hard and put away wet.”

Why am I talking about this? “Because when you understand what and why this is happening to you, then you can let go of needing to fool yourself and stay in a dysfunctional workplace. You can muster the courage to find another job–which is really the only cure for a dysfunctional work environment.



2 Responses to “Rode Hard and Put Away Wet”
  1. Kevin Soward says

    Hi, I read your blog regularly. Your writing style is witty, keep it up!

  2. Ilene Mcclintock says

    This website was… how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I’ve found something that helped me. Appreciate it!

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