Stifling worker creativity the Best Buy and Yahoo way

  • Article by: GEORGE HUTCHINSON
  • Updated: March 6, 2013 - 8:52 PM

They assume employees can't be trusted.

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The company logo is displayed at Yahoo headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Photo: Paul Sakuma, Associated Press

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Now that Best Buy has followed Yahoo’s dubious example and has abolished flexible work arrangements for headquarters employees, we can examine this decision using caveman logic:

If workers are not sitting at their desks, they must be goofing off and wasting time. Only direct and persistent visual surveillance by superiors can ensure that the company is receiving the full benefit of the labor of these conniving, cheating slackers we hire to perform menial tasks at the lowest possible wages. Even then we will lay off a bunch of them, just because we can. The rest can work harder.

Having worked in a large corporate environment for more than 20 years, I will not be revealing any secrets that are not already well-known to my former fellow cube-rats. But the truth may be annoying to the empty-headed managers whose obedience to policy outshines their technical or creative skills.

Most “plans” that employees are operating under amount to this: “Do what I say.” It’s very difficult to reverse priorities when your minions are telecommuting and you cannot call them into an emergency meeting to upend yesterday’s emergency edicts. It really takes face-to-face intimidation to get the point across.

Companies like Best Buy that are in a continual state of crisis do not create an oasis of calm deliberation on the office floor. Following layoffs, the survivors are hunkered down, calculating their brownie points with the boss and trying to see how they can ingratiate themselves in order to avoid the next mass firing. Managers are well aware of this and take full advantage of the situation, even as they are positioning themselves with their own bosses.

Productivity is the last thing you can expect to get from this arrangement. Creative people have gone into hiding; new ideas are considered dangerous heresy, and the order of the day is strict adherence to rules that usually bear little relationship to the actual problems faced by the company.

And so it goes. The new corporate style — ironically implemented by women with small children — is to return to the 1950s corporate-conformity model pioneered by the blue suits at IBM. The assumption is that employees are not to be trusted but must be carefully supervised, lest they stray from the divine pathway of corporate groupthink.

Consider yourself lucky to have a job and get back to work.

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George Hutchinson lives in Minneapolis.

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