Bootleggers and Baptists: Part XI: Workplace Diversity

Diversity awareness programs on their surface appear to be noble endeavors designed to provide equal opportunity employment to historically disadvantaged groups.  Over the years, there has been some controversy over the conclusive impact and application of workplace diversity programs. Due to claims of only marginal success in increasing the diversity of the workforce. One major shift has been to couple diversity with “inclusion”, having a diverse workforce is not enough. The company now needs to also provide a welcoming environment.  This is a profoundly difficult task considering the subjective evaluations of what is defined as “welcoming” may vary wildly depending upon the perspective of the individual employee. There is a growing prevalence of what is known as “diversity fatigue”. Many managers and H.R. personnel succumb to the stress of attempting to fulfill lofty and unstandardized goals.  Making the achieving the goals of diversity and inclusion an ever-present uphill battle. Especially with the hyper-dynamic and ever-changing trends in what is deemed as being politically correct by the intellectual upper crust.

The move for diversity for its very sake is not without adverse consequences. Beyond merely making aimless strides towards an arbitrary and idealistic goal. If mismanaged minority employees may feel alienated or there may be an increase in the incidence of conflicts between employees. Two downsides are often not accounted for in the application of diversity programs. Neglecting these variables not only determines the purported objectives of diversity programs but the inevitable flaws of human nature.  The old expression “… you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink…” comes to mind. Prejudice cannot be eradicated by the edict of corporate policy nor by the stroke of a lawmaker’s pen. Freewill and personal perception have a massive role in fostering and maintain prejudice. A naively wide-eyed and idealistic diversity awareness program provided by an employer will not inculcate the virtue of tolerance into their employees. These are conclusions that the individual must independently arrive at deep introspection.

These lofty expectations mirror the Holier-than-thou virtue signally exposited by contemporary Progressives. Modern Progressive has firm ideological roots dating back to the early 20th century. A careful examination of history will lead any thoughtful observer incredulous of the true aims of the diversity movement. Many of the moral objectives of the Progressive Era were nothing more than circuitous means of rent-seeking. Making the whole notion of workplace diversity truly about diversity dubious at best. Few employees ever question how their employer benefits from promoting diversity programs. A business enterprise exists to provide a product or service not to proliferate the virtues of tolerance. What do they stand to gain through attempting to cultivate a culture of hyper-tolerance?

What emerges from this situation is a potential example of  Bootleggers and Baptist coalition.  An internal coalition between the human resources department and upper-management. Typically, the individual representing the moral argument for a diverse workplace is the “Diversity Ambassador”.  A role within the company that carries quite a bit of prestige, yet how this position direct benefits day-to-day operations is questionable at best. Even when employees who are crucial to daily business are laid-off the Diversity Ambassador gets to keep his job.  Although such a role is nothing more than a luxury. This actor is undoubtedly our Baptist due to his incessant persistence in exalting the values of diversity and inclusion. His rhetoric comes just short of mirroring a political propaganda campaign. Boldly asserting that everyone possesses some degree of prejudice or implicit bias. His obtuse repudiations make countering his claims (regardless of the accuracy of his claims)  a futile endeavor. Below details a scenario witnessed by the author that demonstrates the zero-sum nature of the accusatory discourse of the typical Diversity Ambassador:

Diversity Ambassador:

“ I have conducted this exercise for over twenty years and not once has anyone ever mentioned that I was black. I told you all to list the inferences you can make from just looking at me. No one even mentioned the most obvious characteristic of me. I am black. Why is this? None of you have followed my instructions! Why?!

Audience Member (Attempting to answer his question):

“ Because none of us see color.”

Diversity Ambassador:

“ Don’t ever tell a diversity and inclusion coach that you don’t see color!!”

The above conversation between a corporate Diversity Ambassador and an hourly employee exhibits the perverse quiddity of this wanton advocating for diversity. This is not the tone of a man who wants to educate, but rather who wishes to indoctrinate. Pedagogically and condescendingly force-feeding us the moral imperative of admitting our own biases. Versus attempting to foster understanding or attempting to provide us with the genuine precepts for being more tolerant. The man was simply describing our sins without truly prescribing a means of reconciling them. Paralleling the fervor of an Evangelical preacher, we can do no right. We must fully accept that we are in the wrong with no hope of ever being right. Presenting a situation where the participant can only lose. Generating such a compelling moral narrative for the imperative to proselytize the virtue of diversity that it also doubles as an impenetrable smoke-screen that insulates the company from accusations of discrimination.

The Bootleggers in this dynamic are the individuals in upper-management.  There are two main benefits of this variety of moral rent-seeking are deflecting the possibility of having a hostile work environment and social currency for appearing to be forward-looking. Over the years the United States has become quite a litigious society. Considering the increased sensitivity towards various minority groups, the opportunities for discrimination lawsuits have only become expanded. Providing a sizable incentive for those at the helm of the company to avoid any transgressions against their employees that could be viewed as discriminating in nature. By painting the opposite picture, even if this image is illusory, diverts, or weakens claims of discrimination. Not only does promoting diversity and inclusion have monetary incentives, but it also fosters a positive image for the company. It creates the facade of being open, progressive, modern, and may lead to the company to earn accolades for their culture. All of which will benefit the company and make the jobs of the CEO, CFO, etc. more secure. The reputation of the company for inclusive will attract talented young professionals that will only add value to the organization. One only needs to look at the example of Google to see how company image matters when it comes to acquiring skilled employees. Work culture almost operates as a form of non-monetary compensation. It is another variable that may sway top-notch young professionals towards one company versus another. Merely operating to the benefit of those in the top-tiers of management.

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Workplace Rent- Seeking Honorable Mention

 

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In my previous blog entry, I discussed the topic of rent-seeking in the office. I detailed three common forms of workplace rent-seeking. However, there are several other notable forms that I feel are worth mentioning.

 

Withholding Information:

 

This is more so applicable in the training process.  The specifics of internal procedures are often colloquially referred to in an office setting as “tribal knowledge“.  Individuals who are either paranoid or not confident in their position with the company will withhold information in the training process. They may refuse outright to properly train new hires. They may only provide a portion of the correct information. They may monopolize specific train materials. Through creating artificial information asymmetry they make themselves look more valuable and decrease their chances of being terminated. Making themselves the default team subject matter expert.

 

Candy Bowl: 

 

As the old saying goes you attract more flies with honey than vinegar. There is some validity to this statement. The candy bowl can be seen as either a trap or a peace-offering. Either way, it detracts from the true nature of the individual who maintains it. Typically, they are a very disagreeable and temperamental person. To soften their image they attempt to appear charitable by proving communal bowl filled with sweets.  If your peers like you, you can get away with a lot. More accurately if you can bribe your peers after being nasty to them you can continue to get away with a lot. If your co-workers don’t have any lingering issues with your boss will keep you around. Why? If you aren’t disturbing the group dynamics there isn’t any reason to deliver punitive actions.

 

Plastering Your Cubicle With Positive Quotes: 

 

Anyone plastering their cubicle walls with quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi is someone to avoid like the plague. If you make your workspace a billboard for inspiration quotes you most likely have a few skeletons in your closet. To be so extreme with advertising one’s proclivity towards positivity should be a red flag. An indicator of someone attempting to manipulate human psychology for their gain. It is meant to distract from their overt from their negative behavior. It falls into a similar behavioral category as self-promotion. The objective is to have others focus on what is most salient and not what is factually true.

Workplace Rent-Seeking

 

 

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Introduction:

One of the core principles of Public Choice Theory is the concept of behavioral symmetry.  Behavior symmetry can be best defined as

“… the same behavioral model of human action must apply to all decision-makers regardless of institutional setting (public or private).” (Shughart II & Wardle, 2020, P.594)

This conceptualization firmly reflected in James M. Buchanan’s proclamation of  Public Choice Theory being ” politics without romance“. Meaning whether you work in for the government or a private corporation your incentives generally don’t change. Working as a bureaucrat doesn’t dampen the allure of a high salary or generous benefits. Many people tend to view politicians and government employees as working towards the common good. Ignoring the fact that their decisions are not immune to self-interest. Demonstrating that this faulty assumption about civil servants is nothing more than a halo effect. The belief that government employees are striving towards a higher moral good than individuals employed by a corporation is illusory. People respond to incentives regardless of their occupation.

 

Considering the previously described application of behavioral symmetry, it wouldn’t be outlandish for a phenomenon that transpires in the public sphere to occur within a private institution. To take it a step further, to even claim that it takes place on an individual level. As in actions taken by a single person versus a solitary institution.  Could the principles of Public Choice even be applied to the individualized interactions of workers in an office environment? Certainly! After all, incentives do not change. We are merely changing the environment and the scale of transactions.

 

The concept of rent-seeking tends to be commonly reflected in the behavior of office workers. What is rent-seeking? It can be described as a person or organization attempting to secure wealth without creating generating any productive output. Generally, this is done so by seeking an institutional advantage. Gordon Tullock, the theorist who developed this theory, utilized the example of tariffs to demonstrate a practical application for this concept. Governments typically do not impose tariffs on their own, but rather due to lobbying pressure from interest groups. Tullock referred to this variety of behavior as “wasteful” (Tullock, 1967, P.5). As a side note, Tullock may have been the architect rent-seeking, however, it was economist Anne O. Krueger who coined its name’s sake back in 1974.

 

Based on my observations of working in a corporate office there are three prevalent forms of workplace rent-seeking. This list includes: self-praise/  verbal demolition of co-workers, brown-nosing, and creating busywork. Any action or omission of action in the workplace is overtly economic. No one works for free. The only difference is scale. Many of these behaviors are anti-competitive. At work, your co-workers are your competition. All of these behaviors are attempts to secure gains without creating any additional wealth. Through damaging the image of co-workers or the individual improving their image, they are gaining potential job security which protects their paycheck. Typically, at the expense of the employer because this behavior does not distract from employees doing their jobs.

 

Self-Praise and Verbal Demolition of Co-Workers:

As the saying goes talk is cheap. Unfortunately, empty words have carried more clout than they should out on the sales floor. Anyone can pat themselves on the back and expound upon the “superior” customer service they provide. Especially when the boss is present. Much of this bluster, whether it is factual or not, skew popular perception. It is easier to take things for face-value than to look below the surface. If someone is persistently selling their skills and value to the company, it is easier to believe them than to validate their claims. Even when faced with contrary metrics many managers still fall into the folly of accepting the shameless self-promotion of these under-performing employees. This acquiescence is generally also reflected in the perceptions of this subpar employee’s peers. Despite all of the opposing evidence they will express a favorable opinion of this individual. Making the manager less inclined to terminate this individual. The manager would not want to jeopardize group dynamics. However, baseless self-promotion does is nothing but counter-productive and a waste of company resources.

 

The devious foil of Self-praise is the verbal demolition of co-workers. Portraying co-workers in a bad light to distract from an individual’s performance deficits. One common example is proliferating gossip and rumors. Even to be so brazen to fabricate formal complaints regarding interactions with individuals. For example, a false sexual harassment complaint filed with human resources.  Gossip being on the lower end of the scale and fraudulent human resource reports being a more extreme form. Going to great lengths to assassinate the character of your co-workers requires a great deal of time and effort. It could be suggested that it would even be easier to just do your job. Versus wasting everyone’s time and resources with such puerile and sophomoric attempts at subterfuge.

 

Brown-Nosing:

 

Complimenting the boss, attending all of the social functions you are invited to, pretending to be his friend, laughing at all of his lame jokes. Brown-nosing, sucking-up… this behavior goes by many terms. No one every engages in brown-nosing without having a specific set of ends. Whether it would be the boss overlooking poor performance or giving other forms of preferential treatment. Such as being picked over more qualified candidates for a promotion. Why work harder when you could just work smarter? It is easier to go get drunk with your boss at a happy hour and pretend to be his best friend than to do your job. It is astonishing how many people in management fall for these naked attempts to curry favor with them. Then again an entire encyclopedia could be written about the psychology behind this mystifying phenomenon.

 

Creating Busywork:

 

The image of busy workers is synonymous with productivity.  Is this always the case? Not always. Sometimes workers will generate work or purposely utilize inefficient methods to complete tasks to create the perception of productivity. Some employees will go so far to create arbitrary tasks they will intentionally do their jobs incorrectly. Their pointless busywork would be correcting their own mistake. As perverse as that sounds, I have seen it with my own two eyes! Unfortunately, perception tends to carry more weight than substance.  Even if that perception is illusory.

 

A more traditional example of this rent-seeking tactic is to intentionally procrastinate and then do all your work at the end of the day. To create the illusion that you are busy and working hard.  Versus addressing action items as they come in throughout the day. Generating the image of having a mountain of work to do makes it look like you have a heavier workload. Making you less susceptible to being ousted out in the next round of layoffs. While counter-productive these methods aim to mask the fact that their position is nothing more than a redundancy.