Toxic Workspace or CIA Sabotage?
November 21, 2015 10:19 AM   Subscribe

 
6. refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision

confirmed. Dave in marketing is an enemy agent.
posted by philip-random at 10:29 AM on November 21, 2015 [52 favorites]


(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.

My SFDC Admin is one of them!
posted by elwoodwiles at 10:45 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


5. Tell important callers the boss is busy or talking on another telephone.

THEY HAVE MACHINES TO DO THAT NOW. Enemy agents are everywhere!
posted by SisterHavana at 10:47 AM on November 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hmmmm. I'm not sure about #1 under "Organizations and Conferences." While doing everything by channels may seem to delay decisions slightly, it will cause less havoc than "taking shortcuts" where people who really need to know about the decision get missed. The worst situations are when there are formal and informal channels and situations where using one or the other might get you into trouble. There's paralysis, right there.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:47 AM on November 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Cry and sob repeatedly when confronted with government officials"

oh no I'm a sleeper agent
posted by The Whelk at 10:47 AM on November 21, 2015 [30 favorites]


More like, How To Get Your Ass Shot Real Quick As A Civilian During Times Of War (Or Simply Get Thrown In Jail In Peacetime).
posted by 2N2222 at 10:57 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I swear a group of newspaper editors wrote that. Sounds like every budget meeting I ever had the displeasure of sitting through.
posted by photoslob at 11:06 AM on November 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


This definitely sounds like the very incompetent part of my student government, wow. I should probably send this to the competent Senators and have them print it out everytime there's a meeting now.
posted by yueliang at 11:13 AM on November 21, 2015


I suspect they mistakenly evaluated their workplace behavior as government employees, and documented that. Turns out that it is really good at shutting down productive work, even outside federal offices.
posted by chaotic at 11:48 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


2N2222: "More like, How To Get Your Ass Shot Real Quick As A Civilian During Times Of War (Or Simply Get Thrown In Jail In Peacetime)."

or How to Get Beaten With Bars of Soap in the Middle of the Night at the Next Corporate Retreat
posted by Splunge at 12:17 PM on November 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


'A Beginner's Guide of Running a Republican Presidential Campaign'.
posted by ZaneJ. at 12:17 PM on November 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


There is one big problem with the framing of this article. And it shows up right in the headline:

The CIA’s WWII Guide to Creating Organizational Dysfunction Perfectly Describes Your Toxic Workplace

Do you see the word that's wrong there? It's "your." "Your" workplace is not toxic, because (for most of you) you don't have a workplace. You may have a place where you work. That place may or may not be toxic. But unless you own the company, the sentence fragment "perfectly describes your toxic workplace" is, in this fiddly, technical, but crucially important way, completely wrong. It's not your workplace. It's the owners' workplace.

What is the key defining aspect of work performed by US-aligned workers in Axis industries? It's pretty obvious: these workers are laboring under conditions where they must pretend as if their interests and the interests of their employers were aligned, even though the interests of the workers and the interests of the employers do not meaningfully align, and frequently directly contradict each other.

Obviously the thing I'm getting at here is the idea that as workers in for-profits (and even some non-profits), we are in a position where our interests and the interests of our employers don't necessarily align, and frequently directly contradict each other. There are a pair of irreconcilable ideas in the American worldview. On the one hand, we must have faith in the idea that if everyone simply acts in their own self-interest, the self-interest of all will naturally be seen to. This is the idea behind laissez faire economics and behind market liberalism on the whole. But on the other hand, we have the idea that we must diligently act for our employers' interests rather than our own. Despite our idea that although the interests of all will be taken care of if everyone takes care of their own interests, we also know that we must never be seen to act in our own interests rather than the interests of the people to whom we sell our labor time.

The way we resolve this is typically in taking pride in our work in and of itself, making a better product and providing better services than we necessarily have to, solely because we are decent people, want to be decent to each other, and take satisfaction in seeing order where there once was disorder. The best description that I've seen of our tendency to want to do a good job even when it's not in our interests to do a good job is given in this post from Slacktivist.1 Here's the payoff paragraphs. For context: although he's talking about chairs, he's not actually talking about chairs. He wrote this post shortly before the paper he worked for laid him off, after said paper had declined drastically in quality after wave after wave of layoffs and budget cuts. Anyway, the payoff paragraphs:
The remarkable and astonishing thing — at my paper, in my industry and across the board in the American economy — is that so many millions of workers have continued to work their hardest and to do their best despite every incentive not to. Those workers continue to do the very best they can despite their employers all-but ordering them to reject care and craft and concern for their customers. They have continued to do such work because care, craft, customer and character still seem to matter to them more than any memo from the CEO's office — explicit or implicit.

Some lady working on the assembly line at the Acme Rocking Chair Co. hasn't seen a raise in eight years and her boss keeps telling her that she's got to increase the product-units-per-hour beyond all reasonable expectation of quality. Every incentive, every instruction Acme Rocking Chair is giving her demands that she lower her standards for quality and accept that it is now her job to crank out crappy chairs.

But somehow she has got it in her head that she doesn't really work for the Acme Rocking Chair Co. The way she thinks of it, she works for the person who will one day sit in that chair she's making. And unlike the Acme Rocking Chair Co., that person has never treated her badly. It strikes her as wrong somehow — morally wrong — to provide a crappy chair for that person.

So she works twice as hard for the same pay and bites her lip. And whenever she gets another memo from Mr. Acme informing her that product-units-per-hour must yet again be increased, she thinks, "Screw you — I'm going to keep making good chairs, the best chairs I can, no matter what you tell me, you dim-witted, overpaid moron." And exactly that — her perverse, rebellious commitment to doing good work as a way of doing justice for the customer and simultaneously flipping off the bosses — that's pretty much all that's keeping corporate America afloat.
We have to stop keeping them afloat. We have to start organizing for our own interests instead of theirs. And, sadly, this means that we have to think in terms that resemble theirs. We are not working to make things or provide services. We are working to sell the least labor time and the least energy for the most money. This is because it is, in short, not our workplace. It's their workplace; they own it, we just happen to work there.

Some of this stuff doesn't immediately apply to us, because unlike Allied saboteurs we don't have a powerful organization backing us up. It was enough for these workers to simply sabotage the interests of their employers without looking out for their own interests, because they could count on the Allied governments eventually coming in to set up its own organizations after the Axis organizations were gone. As such, all these workers needed to do was oppose employer interest rather than supporting their own, because Uncle Sam was going to look out for their interests for them. We don't have Uncle Sam, or Uncle Fidel, or whoever to rescue us. We have to rescue ourselves.

This means lying to our bosses. This means stealing back our time any way we can. This means falsifying our timecards. This is something we already know how to do, since we're used to falsifying timecards — we just have to start falsifying them in our favor instead of our employers' favor. This means establishing organizations to militate for worker's rights, it means raising grievances often and loudly, and it means using organized (wildcat, when necessary) slowdown and work-to-rule techniques to drive down productivity and thereby drive up the cost of labor. It means recognizing that the workplace is not a friendly, healthy environment; it's war by other means. Find your comrades,2 coordinate with your comrades, and fight together with your comrades. Stop thinking of it as your toxic workplace; think of it as the toxic place you work at. And divert the poison back up the chain instead of drinking it all yourself.

Solidarity.

1: I just realized that now that Johnny Cash and Fred Rogers are no longer with us, Slacktivist is now my favorite Christian. I mean, aside from Christians who I know personally.
2: How do you find your comrades? Look for the people whose material interests match yours, and who also seem to actually know what their material interests are. Those are your comrades.

posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:18 PM on November 21, 2015 [134 favorites]


If we work together it turns out you can tip a Buick - excellent comment, and I look forward to seeing you on the barricades, brother!
posted by Meatbomb at 12:29 PM on November 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


But unless you own the company, the sentence fragment "perfectly describes your toxic workplace" is, in this fiddly, technical, but crucially important way, completely wrong. It's not your workplace. It's the owners' workplace.

That's bunk. This is a perfectly normal usage of the word "your". You don't in any sense own your parents, for example, but I hope you don't quibble like this when people refer to them as "your parents". Same goes for your hometown, your congressional district, your first language, etc. And if your boss tells you to do your job, it's just as valid as when your jailer tells you to get back in your cell, or your kidnapper warns you not to try to take off your handcuffs.
posted by baf at 12:43 PM on November 21, 2015 [16 favorites]


So the point about "your" isn't really about the word "your," which maybe was too tweaky a framing device to use in this context. The point of the stuff about "your" is that the article on the whole invites the reader to identify with the interests of employers rather than employees, despite the fact that most of the readership consists of employees rather than business owners. Of course the word "your" fills multiple grammatical roles in English. The point is that the multiple roles that "your" plays can be used to illustrate how the language we typically use invites us to identify with employers even when we're not employers. Note how the article described a "toxic" workplace and the symptoms of that "toxicity." A toxic workplace isn't defined as a workplace that is miserable to work in, or that doesn't serve the interests of the employees. It is defined as a workplace that is inefficient at producing products. This has in practical terms no direct connection whatsoever with what we're thinking about when we think about a "toxic" workplace.

(Am I still speaking bunk? You'll note that the goal of these "toxic" strategies isn't making workers more unhappy. It's about making workplaces less productive. It's not about sabotaging the interests of workers. It's about sabotaging the interests of employers. The ambiguity of the word "toxic," much like the ambiguity of the word "your," functions to mask the differing definitions of what "toxic" means.)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:54 PM on November 21, 2015 [18 favorites]


* Long speeches
* Haggle over precise wordings

Hey, it works for message boards too! :)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:34 PM on November 21, 2015 [36 favorites]


I've had this page taped to my monitor for years. It's from Q.A. Confidential.
posted by lagomorphius at 1:52 PM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


RobotVoodooPower: Yep! The things that combat a toxic workplace in the sense of "a place that's bad to work" are precisely those things that establish a toxic workplace in the sense of "a place that does not produce exchange value as efficiently as possible." One of the tips offered in the OSS document was to focus on "irrelevant details." From an employer perspective, the aspects of our lives outside of our ability to produce value for the company are irrelevant details. From our perspective, those things are life.

If one reads this article from an employee-centric viewpoint rather than an employer-centric one, it makes literally no sense.

Isn't it telling by itself that when C-suite executives act for their interests without regard for the interests of the workers it's seen as good business, but when we suggest that we should likewise work for our own interests, it's seen as a radical rallying call to man the barricades?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:11 PM on November 21, 2015 [18 favorites]


This sounds like an instruction manual for Toronto city council.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 4:48 PM on November 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


The things that combat a toxic workplace in the sense of "a place that's bad to work" are precisely those things that establish a toxic workplace in the sense of "a place that does not produce exchange value as efficiently as possible."

I really, really get your point about the actual focus of this list (disrupting production) versus what makes a "toxic workplace" but those categories aren't actually diametrically opposed and there are a number of behaviors on the list (not all) that fit in both.
posted by atoxyl at 5:35 PM on November 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


I just realized I've been living, I mean working, by Buick's ideology since day one.... But never have I seen it expressed so well and succinctly.

Thank you for that.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:58 PM on November 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


All this sounds exactly like what happens at activist nonprofits. I now get to wonder if this is accidental or on purpose because infiltration.
posted by corb at 7:44 PM on November 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't think the CIA was trying to make anybody happy with this.
posted by carping demon at 9:18 PM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Office Space 2: The Two Spy Bobs
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:32 PM on November 21, 2015


While that is indeed my stapler... I will let you have it for as long as it takes to foment strife. And then I will blow the fucking building up. Why? Because I really didn't have any attachment to the stapler. Let's face it, staplers are a dime a dozen. But my apparent attachment to the device allowed you to ignore the fact that I am indeed the person that you all fear. I can be anyone that I want to be. I am the guy with thick glasses that you all ignore. Until it's too late. I am the true legion. I am the guy that makes the copies. I am the guy that complains in a whiny voice. I am everywhere. I eat your lunch. I take all the good candy from your desk jar. I am the person that takes the stall right next to you. And I fart loudly. You hate me. But you have no idea what to do about me. And that makes me laugh. Because I am a CIA plant. And I get paid to annoy the fuck out of you.

Paid for by the Assholes for Donald Trump
posted by Splunge at 9:52 PM on November 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


6. refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision

Pikers. The true ninjas at this don't refer back to previous meetings; they bring it up as though it had never been decided, usually proposing taking actions opposite to that decision.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:27 AM on November 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm amazed that someone had to write this down, since these tactics come so naturally to many. Are we sure this isn't from the Onion?
posted by Sheydem-tants at 4:50 AM on November 22, 2015


MeFi's Own™ accordionguy wrote about this better and earlier: How to sabotage your workplace, WWII-style.
posted by scruss at 6:19 AM on November 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm amazed that someone had to write this down, since these tactics come so naturally to many.

I've got to wonder if the committee who wrote this didn't spend half their conversations laughing through their tears.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 5:57 AM on November 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


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