What would happen if you openly criticized your boss or those who run the company where you work? What would happen if you lambasted corporate policies, even if you did so because you wanted the company to live up to high ideals?
Would you fear for your career or safety? Would you get fired—or get a medal?
A great irony of American life is that we live in a political system that permits, protects, and even encourages critical patriotism, but most Americans work in organizations that are authoritarian in nature. In the extreme, these workplaces are hierarchical with all power at the top. Leaders demand conformity and loyalty. Employees are expected to follow orders, not question them. All of this might be done with a veneer of civility, but workers know the rules: conform, don’t question authority, do what you are told.
In other words, the real world isn’t like Scott Adams’ Dilbert, where employees seem to mouth off at every opportunity. Verbally bashing the boss is such a strong desire that Scott Adams now has opened up a special Mashups section in his website where readers can add their own punchlines to the final panel of a comic strip. The example, above, is from one of those Mashups. It’s funny, but in a real-world company with jobs so scarce these days? I question whether Dilbert would survive.
Of course, things aren’t as bad as they used to be. Workers have rights, especially if they are unionized. Laws and regulations exist to protect workers. Enlightened management theories and education encourage much less authoritarianism. In some workplaces, democracy reigns and workers have a big say in what happens, play a role in important decision making, enjoy due process, and can be vocal critics without fear. But these workplaces are rare.
Are you free to criticize the company where you work?
Could Dilbert survive in the real world?
Can workplace criticism be similar to critical patriotism?
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Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.