Sunday, April 26, 2009

The insanity of our organization hierarchies

Some time back, I read a quote that went something like this: “A soldier will not be scared of his enemy on the battlefield, but that same soldier will be scared of his boss in the bureaucracy.”

I don’t know who said that. But I read an article in Time magazine that made every word of the quote ring true. The article, titled “Why Are Army Recruiters Killing Themselves?” speaks about army recruiters who are committing suicide after suffering unrelenting pressure from their superiors.

The paradoxical part is this: most of these recruiters have fought in the battlefield. According to the article, “Soldiers who have returned from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan now constitute 73% of recruiters, up from 38% in 2005.”

The article states, “Last year alone, the number of recruiters who killed themselves was triple the overall Army rate.”

The pressure to recruit is very high, with rules being bent so that targets are met. Lawrence Kagawa, who retired a highly decorated recruiter, said, “You'll be told to call Johnny or Susan and tell them to lie and say they've never had asthma like they told you, that they don't have a juvenile criminal history. That recruiter is going to bend the rules and get the lies told and process the fraudulent paperwork.”

If the recruiter refused, the commander is “going to tell you point-blank that 'we have a loyalty issue here, and if I give you a "no" for loyalty on your annual report, your career is over.”

The army conducted an investigation into the deaths, and found that recruiters suffered from under a “poor command climate”, in addition to working punishing schedules in isolation from family and friends.

What does “poor command climate” really mean? Bad bosses. And exactly how bad are the bosses?

The article goes on to say:

“Christina Montalvo [a recruiter], had tried to kill herself a few years earlier, gulping a handful of prescription sleeping pills in a suicide attempt that was thwarted when a co-worker found her. Montalvo says a boss bullied her about her weight. And she was shocked by the abuse that senior sergeants routinely levied on subordinates. "I'd never been in a unit before where soldiers publicly humiliated other soldiers," says Montalvo, who left the Army in 2002 after 16 years. "If they don't make mission, they're humiliated and embarrassed.”

Another recruiter, Nils Andersson, had served two tours in Iraq, winning a Bronze Star. He killed himself while working as a recruiter. The article adds, “In the week before his suicide, Andersson was ordered to write three separate essays explaining his failure to line up prospective recruits. A fellow recruiter later told Army investigators that commanders "humiliated" this decorated battlefield soldier during a training session: “He was under a constant grind — incredible pressure. He just became numb.”

And there’s more:

His [Staff Sergeant Floreto, who hanged himself] superiors ordered him attend what the Army calls "low-production training. When you're getting home at 11 and getting up at 4, it's tough, but it's the dressing down that really got to him," says a recruiter who worked alongside Flores. "They had him crying like a kid in the office, telling him he was no good and that they were going to pull his stripes."

I would urge you to read the full Time magazine article to see the havoc the workplace dictatorship system can wreak.

But before you do that, here’s another line from the article, which quotes an email from the “leadership” after they decided to hold a picnic to improve morale: "Family fun is mandatory.”

(email me with your comments