When I began working for a relatively small corporation in the mid-eighties, it was a great place to work. It was located in a lovely, friendly small village where you could get to know all the shop owners and locals. Conceived, developed and controlled by one man, much of the aggravation that I found exhausting in corporate environments just wasn’t there. Everyone referred to the family atmosphere that permeated their work days. Women were in prominent positions and were as likely to be promoted into them as men. People were generally treated well and, when someone in management exhibited inappropriate behavior toward employees, he or she was dealt with. I settled in contentedly and found my place.
The head of the company was reaching a stage in his life where he wanted to focus on the aspects of his job that he most enjoyed. The company was growing nicely and had a good reputation. All was well. He decided to bump himself up in position and bring a new president on board. This person would deal with the details of the daily running of the company, personnel issues and company policies. Since the company was growing, it was decided to look for someone more familiar with the “corporate” approach to business and that’s what ultimately happened.
At first, nothing monumental changed. There were some light rumblings about the new president’s attitudes but many thought that this was a normal reaction to a change of this magnitude. The person whom everyone was used to, and whom they trusted, was no longer involved with their daily work life. People were understandably nervous but, basically, things continued on as before.
One of the most valued privileges in the company was a simple one. Aside from lunch, everyone had two fifteen minute breaks a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Early on, when the company was just starting, it became a habit for employees to leave the premises on their breaks. This policy continued as the number of employees grew. People who needed to remain at their positions alternated break times and covered for each other. The morning break was commonly the time that people left the building, often to pick up something to eat or get a cup of coffee.
Those of us who had positions that allowed us to work independently and create our own schedules for the day, as well as the upper management of the company, usually took both breaks together in the morning. Since we rarely wanted to stop our flow of work in the later afternoon, we frequently went out for breakfast at a local eatery. The owners of several establishments very close to the office knew our schedule and they made sure that the service moved quickly and efficiently. It worked wonderfully for everyone. The local businesses were supported with extra income. We could arrive at the office in the morning without worrying about having breakfast first and get right to preparing whatever we needed for our day’s work. After about an hour, we could break and have breakfast, then come back and fully apply ourselves without distraction. No one abused the privilege. Even the top management kept themselves to the half hour. Employees recognized that allowing us to do this meant that we were trusted and everyone appreciated that respect and trust.
After a short time adjusting to his position, the president announced that the policy of employees leaving the building on their breaks was being discontinued. Everyone was crazy with disbelief, confusion, anger and frustration, including the local business owners. It made no sense to anyone.
I found myself surrounded by my co-workers, all begging me to try to stop this from going forward, to talk to someone, to explain how much this meant to the workers, to do something, please! It was one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do but I told them that there was no point. I knew, and I explained to them, that this was not just a decision that could easily be reversed – it was a mentality. The corporate mentality that I understood was slowly seeping into every level of American business had hit home.
Shifting a mentality doesn’t happen easily and it doesn’t happen quickly. I entered the corporate world at a time when there was still humanity within it. The corporate mentality that exists today was perhaps in the very first stage of being born. I saw it and recognized it for what it was but I knew that I had time before it took over American business and politics. I even had hope that something could be done before that happened.
A mentality is a way of thinking about something. When a particular mentality is accepted as valid and correct, it becomes a belief system. This can apply to one person, groups of people or large masses of people. Corporate mentality has become the major belief system in American business but that is not where it stops. Our political structure has been overtaken by corporate money placed in any way possible to support the belief system that the corporate mentality has created. It has slowly invaded every aspect of American life. The quality of our private lives is being determined by corporations and the driving force behind those decisions that affect us all is the current corporate mentality.
The bottom line of this mentality is to make as much money as possible today and continue to increase the amount of profit going forward. It is a totally unrealistic policy. There is an ebb and flow to everything that exists in our world, which means that, essentially, this goal could never be met. In order to implement this belief into the business system, changes had to occur. The first thing that the corporations had to do was to start moving the profits to the top management. Then the self-esteem and will of the workers had to be broken because they didn’t want people fighting their new system. People had to be made to feel insecure, to become afraid of the consequences of speaking out and, finally, afraid of losing their jobs. As the corporations were accomplishing these things, they were quietly buying their way into every level of the political structure and the American mind.
We went through a period where the brainwashing worked. Americans played with money like the corporations play with money. It seemed to bring so many rewards and very little detriment. But the cards were all stacked on the side of big business. Isn’t that what brainwashing is all about – a constant campaign to cause the giving up of previously held beliefs and the acceptance of different beliefs for the purpose of control? Average Americans were never going to win this one.
Now it appears that, as a nation, we’re starting to wake up from our long sleep and we find that we no longer know who can be trusted to correct this corrupt situation. Those of us who have been voicing our concern about the unrestricted power that has been given to large corporations were told that we were just not savvy. This was business; this was capitalism. My answer has always been the same: you can call it whatever you choose but lying, cheating and stealing is not capitalism. Stacking the deck so that prices consistently go up as quality and quantity go down is not good business. Manipulating money to benefit a few while the rest struggle to put food on the table and a roof over their heads is not ethical, by any human standard. Driving people out of work, and keeping them there, so that the spirit of the population will be broken and they will accept less money and less quality of life is nothing less than criminal.
The Occupy Wall Street protests are really a public statement against the corporate mentality, which is why it has spread so quickly and so far. These corporations have spread their poison globally. They are annoyed by the protests but they are not overly worried. Make no mistake, they completely believe that they will win this war. They don’t care about losing a battle here and there. The most important thing to keep in mind about a mentality is that it will never alter while the same people are in charge. Within their belief system, there is no reason for them to change. They are absolutely convinced that their actions are right and justified. They will only be able to behave in a manner that is in line with their mentality.
In order to return fairness, ethics and common decency to the business environment, to apply the modifications necessary within corporations so that everyone will again have an opportunity to live a decent life without constant fear of losing everything that they have worked for, the people at the top of these power structures will have to go. The politicians who have been indoctrinated into the corporate mentality will have to be voted out of office and kept out. Transformation will not happen overnight. We, as a people, have a great deal of work to do. We will have to remain vigilant and strong because, in truth, we are the only ones who can do it.
What happened at the company where I used to work? The new policy went into effect. Eventually, the “corporate” president proved himself to be ethically bereft and he was quietly let go. Slowly, the old policy of leaving the office came back but never in the same way. People just went out to pick up something to eat or drink and brought it back to the office. But that’s not the most telling part of the story.
The company had its own parking lot. Every day, at five o’clock, the parking lot remained full. Employees finished whatever work they were doing. No one ran out the door at the official end of the day unless they had other obligations.
On the day that the new policy went into effect, that parking lot was empty at exactly five p.m. and that was how it continued for the rest of the years that I worked there. Something invaluable had been lost.