The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions

(c) quicheisinsane

It needs to be said: those who manage to maintain a positive attitude in the workplace are either simpletons or part of an emotional super race. Work is designed to bring people together in a restricted physical space, away from their family, friends and home comforts. It is therefore inevitable that workplaces bring out the worst in people. Familiarity breeds not only contempt, but resentment, envy and frustration over wasted emotional energy. People don’t like going to work for a number of reasons, but chief among them is they have to work with people who drive them to the point of insanity.

[One of the ‘benefits’ of school is that it prepares you for the realities of working life – discipline, deference, drudgery. This kind of socialising process is rightly said to be one of the key functions of education, but I’ve yet to hear a sociologist talk about how the claustrophobia of school prepares you for a life of interpersonal disappointment – you know, the part of the ‘hidden’ curriculum so well hidden that no one can find it].

Of course, people would rather it wasn’t so: they travel to work with the best of intentions, hoping that the desire to achieve their potential triumphs over the failing of others. Unfortunately this is the exception rather than the rule. Harmonious workplaces are rare. Most working environments are populated by an office version of the seven dwarfs: Bitchy, Moany, Martyr, Backstabber, Creepy, Eager-to-please and Screw You. When faced with this onslaught of human misery, what hope has positivity got?

For some reason, however, studies of work tend to avoid this relational world, as if people are some kind of irrelevant sideshow to the real action of governance and workplace organisation. But the fact is you can’t make people go away. The intellectual chatter of institutional ‘culture’, professional ‘identity’ and the like, seems to go out of its way to avoid what is staring us right in the face. Work itself is ok; more often than not, it’s people that are the problem.

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Mark Murphy is a Reader in Education and Public Policy at the University of Glasgow. He previously worked as an academic at King’s College, London, University of Chester, University of Stirling, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, University College Dublin and Northern Illinois University. Mark is an active researcher in the fields of education and public policy. His research interests include educational sociology, critical theory, accountability in higher education, and public sector reform.