Where "Passing" Fails

Thursday, April 30, 2015

If this article from Harvard Business Review is any indication, there are serious problems with what many organizations expect from their employees:

One man who passed was Lloyd (a pseudonym), a Senior Manager. Lloyd was deeply skeptical about the necessity of being an ideal worker, and was unwilling to fully comply with this expectation. He described to me how, by using local clients, telecommuting, and controlling information about his whereabouts, he found ways to work and travel less, without being found out. He told me: "I skied five days last week. I took calls in the morning and in the evening but I was able to be there for my son when he needed me to be, and I was able to ski five days in a row." He clarified that these were work days, not vacation days: "No, no one knows where I am... Those boundaries are only practical with my local client base... Especially because we're mobile, there are no boundaries." Despite his deviance from the ideal worker expectation, however, senior colleagues viewed him as a star; indeed, one Partner described him to me as a "rising star," who worked "much harder than" he himself did. This assessment -- in combination with Lloyd's top performance rating and his promotion to Partner that year -- suggests he had successfully passed in the eyes of senior members of the firm as an ideal worker.
Among other things, the "ideal worker" in this story unnecessarily works very long hours, travels often and on short notice, and is practically always on call. The story, intentionally or not, reminds me a little of the Jim Crow-era dilemma people of fractional African ancestry often faced: "Pass" as "white" to escape discrimination and enjoy professional success -- or fight against overwhelming odds. Interestingly, the article provides examples of both strategies -- and correctly points out that the "passing" strategy serves to perpetuate the dysfunctional myth it is an attempt to cope with.

The article provides examples of typical real-word consequences for those who try to challenge these expectations. I nevertheless remain astonished at the widespread (and short-sighted) adulation of inefficiency and subservience, and the equally common resignation to the same by its victims,

-- CAV

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