What is Truth?

The reverse impact of the corporate control attempt


What happens when a company acts bigger than its employees? When it objectifies them in the name of the ‘whole bigger than its parts’?

This ‘acting bigger’ can be sensed from the first touchpoint with the company of that sort. It’s right in the job descriptions (e.g. send us a cover letter why we should consider you, meaning: we judge you, we’re above you, no equality here), through the interview process (e.g. here is two appointments you can choose from, meaning: you adapt to us) to the background check (e.g. give us two references we can call, meaning: we, the big guys, will discuss buying you or not with your previous owner).

The sensitivity of people for these invasions of privacy varies from immune to hypersensitive, but most fall somewhere in the middle, feeling annoyed and try to navigate their way around. The further someone gets in their carrier, the earlier they try to spot this approach from a company, because they already have experience with how tedious it gets over time.

Every control attempt comes from fear and insecurity.

Otherwise, when the management is confident in hiring and firing, they don’t need lousy social proof on the candidates. To quote my former line manager here: ‘I’ve been doing it for twenty years, I know a good professional when I see one.’ When this competence is missing from the management level (often at the founder level, to be honest), the feeling of safety is replaced by control. Which is basically pushing the work on the other party, expecting them to ease the manager/leader’s mind, and replacing their decision-making process with ‘proof’ delivery requests about the candidate’s competency.

In this process, there is truly no equality. One party has no right asking the other to prove his/her professional, and more damagingly, personal values to a complete stranger. That is emotional abuse. Yet they do, and they get away with it. It’s a game of power in which candidates are at an automatic disadvantage.

Life is messy and money is pressing for some more than others, so some level of compromise in terms of equality and meaningful treatment is necessary sometimes. I filled out an address history form once, even though it was against my principles, but I needed the salary they offered and their other requests were modest, so I put up with it. Mind you, half of my answers was a lie, and I’m not embarrassed about it. The psychological fact is that when people are pressed to share information they’re not comfortable sharing, they lie to protect themselves. They have to in order to avoid full exploitation.

Note: reference check is useless

Let’s discuss this ‘social proof’ reference check, just to make it completely transparent how useless it is. There is such thing as corporate ethic and it’s working in most cases. Most line manager wouldn’t want to ruin someone professional career just because they didn’t fit in the team. Even in cases when someone was dismissed after a grievance procedure, I saw managers staying quiet. Because when push comes to shove, the manager of the departing party can’t actually say too much without it reflecting poorly on them too.

The other interesting aspect is just knowing that only complete beginners would blindly give a reference contact without being sure that it would come out positive. Early stage employees not necessary play this game too well yet, and it happened they referred to the manager that fired them with a disciplinary case. But most employee have well developed common sense and they will find a ‘reference buddy’.

The main point, however, that this whole thing is like when your new date wants to call your ex to discuss the type of guy you are. If your ex really starts gossiping about you, they are just proved to be the kind of partners that was better to be left behind. So you potentially turn down your new date, while they probably left because had higher ethics than that revengeful ex you just talked to.

(It’s not to say that I’m not aware of the ‘corporate drifters’, but the reality is that the number of those are significantly less then the number of employees treated like a crack dealer in the fear of hiring a drifter.)

Exuses, funny exuses

The amount of rational-looking explanation I’ve heard over the years for this reference calls is overwhelming. It went from ‘protecting our awesome team’ to be it a ‘compliance required by the low’. Some companies rationalise these cold calls by just wanting to ask my former place of employment how they can make me, as a new hire, thrive. Apart from being utter bullshit, it’s again like asking an ex-partner what to shop for me to make me able to cook my dinner. Why not asking me? When someone else is asked about me, it makes the power game smuggling, clearly showing the assumption that I’m not capable to take responsibilities for myself, I’m just a child-minded little asset.

The price

The safety gained with this power games is obviously an illusion, both from a data perspective (which, as mentioned, will mostly be false or seriously altered) and from a human perspective. The price is the dehumanisation of the company into a source of assets.

When the company becomes an institute, it loses emotional connection with the employees. It’s not perceived as a community anymore, regardless how much ‘WE’ they put into their marketing communication. That ‘WE’, in the employees head will be a ‘they’ that doesn’t include themselves.

Practically, a company is nothing but a bunch of people. It’s not just a trendy slogan that ‘people make companies’, it’s the physical reality. But when that bunch of people act superior towards the individuals it was originally made from, it objectifies not just them into an asset (here’s some disturbing story of that 👀) but itself to a source of goods. It becomes an ‘it’.

That ‘it’ makes its employees feel small. One cannot respect anything that belittles them. This will lead, inevitably, to theft, from office staples to whatever portion of the monthly budget they can get their hands on. Again, not because they don’t have ethics, they do, but to steal from an institute that exploited them, how can that be unethical? So from their perspective, it’s just fair to take ‘back’ what they can, in exchange for their privacy, dignity and sense of worth.

That view, or shall I say, opportunity, was created by the company itself, and weirdly, derived from their fear of employing a disobedient subordinate.

The sad fact is, the employees who take the ‘corporate asset’ treatment, take it for financial reasons. Corporate pays significantly higher than other fields. My mother’s entry level salary was double than her academic salary and was 10 times higher 5 years later. That’s no peanut. For the comfort, this steady salary offers, a lot take the mistreatment.

However, we weren’t born with a sense of lower or higher worthiness. Human hierarchy is entirely constructed by hypotheticals. When someone is told that they are less entitled to a comfortable life than someone else, conflict is inevitable no matter the reasoning behind this hierarchy.

In this corporate machine, the external message of myself being lower than others, lower than a collective made of people like myself, is not aligned with my sense of self-worth. I might smile when called a ‘great corporate asset’, (implied to have the same value as a laptop), but I’ll have an emotional disconnection and will act accordingly, regardless if I understand my own drives or not. I will take that notebook, I will ask for more apparel, I will use the subscriptions they pay for my own goods and will use the corporate network to support my personal goals.

The control attempt, that created this dynamic, ironically needs to further strengthen in an attempt to prevent these thefts, and with that, the toxic circle is closed.

Would I steel assets or clients form a company that treats me well? No, I would never do that to them. That company is a community to me, not an institute. By meeting my internal self-worth, they show that they respect me; I then respect them in turn. That’s the only way to build a high performing team, where professionals are willing to use their sources and give into the company rather the take from.

What is Truth?