‘Care-ology’ in the work place!

‘Care-ology’ in the work place!


In the wake of yet more attacks in Paris, Lebanon, Belgium I cannot but feel the fatigue and tension as the world waits. Yet in amongst it all we see (in the news) and hear (in the media) moments of compassion. When everything else is taken away we become humane, we become what it takes to be human and we care. We see communities and countries drawn together in solidarity because deep down we know what it is to be human.

Then as the weekend slowly draws to an end on a ‘normal’ Monday morning I am thrown back into the harsh reality of what we have become as a society. Nothing is more contrasting than the lack of compassion and care for people in the workplace! I am faced with a person who has been unwell and wants to come back to work but doesn’t have full capacity, yet. I found this person has become a victim of the ‘system’! Because we ‘care’ we want to make sure a ‘plan’ has been put in place in order to assist the return to work (which isn’t work related). The pre-planning of the ‘plan’ constitutes many meetings, involvement with hierarchy and medical ‘experts’! But not with the person involved!

So after my rude awakening this morning at the stark reality of organisational bureaucracy I sat back and asked myself, what does ‘care’ really mean in the workplace?

We turn to Ellul (1964) to understand the ‘technique’ of care. Ellul’s theory on ‘technique’ describes a mechanistic society predominantly focussing on systems and structure. He suggests that it stems from the birth of the ‘machine’ within the industrial setting. He states that a ‘technique’ or ‘system’ was developed in order to understand the ‘machine’ but the problem became when ‘technique’ was the main focus and that ‘technique has now become completely independent of the machine’ (Ellul 1964, p. 4). This has led to what Ellul (1964) calls ‘an inhuman atmosphere’ (p. 4). Ellul believes that ‘technique transforms everything it touches into a machine’ (Ellul 1964, p.4).

This could not be more true than when we apply ‘technique’ to caring for a human being in a work place setting.

Why is it we are so drawn into the ‘technique’ of organising?

Why is it we do nothing else but focus on the process and the system?

The work of Weick (1979) helps us understand why humans organise. Organising is about creating order to control uncertainty and cognitive dissonance. Organisations are bound by a ‘structure’ in order to minimise ambiguity. Organisations organise to create certainty and to maintain a perception of control. There is much complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty when dealing with the health or ill health of a human being. So in order to maintain control, systems are developed.

However, it’s deeper than this. It’s not just about control for the sake of control. Why do we want to maintain control? Humans are programmed to ‘dodge death’ according to Solomon, Greenberg and Pyszczynski (2015) and we will engage in diversionary tactics in order to stop thinking of death. We maintain the illusion of control in order to believe we ‘are engaged in meaningful pursuit’.

Pursuit of what? Many people cannot answer. However, this leads us to focus more on materialistic ‘thing’s, processes and a more mechanistic approach to life. This is most evident in the workplace. This is where care becomes ‘professionalised’.

Therefore, the notion of ‘care’ in an organisational setting is that ‘care’ is trivialised and dehumanising. The understanding of what it is to ‘care’ for a human being has been lost. More importantly the ‘systems’ that have been developed over the years in order to minimise ambiguity and create a level of certainty has become an entity of its own. We therefore, focus more on the ‘system’ that directs us away from the person. This is far away from what it is to be human and so we become absorbed in the ‘technique’ of caring. We can have ‘care programs’ and ‘care professionals’ but be most uncaring in our organising or a term I’ve coined, ‘care-ology’!

Organisations may do well to ask themselves the question; what is the purpose of this process? What’s the trajectory? What are the by-products and trade-offs?

When a person’s life is greatly affected by the ‘technique’ of care do we really understand the ethics of care?

I will finish with a quote from Fromm (1967), which a good friend of mine shared with me yesterday. It depicts our society so eloquently yet interestingly predicted by Fromm’s in the 60s. Have we come any closer to humanising in care in the workplace?

“Man has lost his central place, he has been made an instrument for the purposes of economic aims, he has been estranged from, and has lost the concrete relatedness to his fellow men and to nature, and he has ceased to have meaningful life. Alienation results in man regressing to a receptive and marketing orientation and he ceases to be productive; he loses his sense of self, becomes dependent on approval, hence tends to conform and yet feels insecure; he is dissatisfied, bored, and anxious, and spends most of his energy in the attempt to compensate for or just to cover up his anxiety. His intelligence is excellent, his reason deteriorates and in view of his technical powers he is seriously endangering the existence of civilisation, and even of the human race. (Fromm 1967, p. 237)

So does your organisation practice ‘care’ or ‘care-ology’? Perhaps you should take an audit of your care program. If you have to have a professional care program then are you truly caring?

Care is about love and not wanting to control or dehumanise. Care-ology is the opposite of care and is all about control.

I am not denying care-ology it has its place but lets not confuse what it is in the workplace setting and its trajectory.


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Gabrielle Carlton

Gabrielle Carlton

Director & Principal Consultant at Resylience
Gabrielle Carlton

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Gabrielle Carlton
Gabrielle Carlton is a specialist in human factors in risk and safety. Gabrielle provides training, advice, coaching and mentoring for leaders and managers. Gabrielle has well over 10 years experience as an advisor and consultant to industry as well as a strong personal background across a range of industries including: electrical generation & distribution, aged and disability in large residential facilities, construction, property management, rail, manufacturing, government bodies and corporations. Gabrielle is able to use her expertise in analysis, training, organisation psychology, research, systems auditing and human behaviour to serve a wide range of needs. She has conducted a Probability Risk Analysis (PRA) using Resylience's methodology Culture and Organisation Modelling in Risk (COMIR). This work was conducted with National power generation companies. Gabrielle has developed and delivered a range of risk and safety leadership consultancies to Tier 1 organisations in Australia.

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