Cause for Optimism about the Workplace?

I have been party to some discussions of late about what I consider bullying behavior of the  stripe that Rosa Brooks’s notes below with her parenthetical “You’re going home at 5:30?” quip in her follow-up post to Ann Marie Slaugher’s contribution this past summer to the “Mommy Wars.”

It’s past time to rethink our standard assumptions about how the workplace “naturally” functions. In the foreign-policy world, as in many other professional spheres, success and prestige depend as much on being ubiquitous as on being talented. In high-powered government jobs, working long hours continues to be viewed as a sign of seriousness. (You’re going home at 5:30? Obviously you aren’t committed to protecting the nation.)

One interesting characteristic of these conversations is the extent to which gender and age have been positively correlated with the probability that a given participant has asked for clarification about the issue under discussion, specifically wanting assurance that the argument was not about lowering standards.

As someone who likes to consider the long view, the intersection of Brooks’s line and the correlation I have observed in recent discussions have made me cautiously optimistic.  Perhaps this discussion marks a coming shift, much as similar discussions can be viewed as harbingers of the changes we have witnessed in the workplace since, say, the period depicted in the American television series Madmen.

Speaking of madmen, John Maynerd Keynes is largely responsible for helping me think about the long view and economic, political and social change.

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas (The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, p. 383).

Though Keynes’ quote can readily be viewed as pessimistic, and indeed, for the short run is nothing but, stretch the time horizon.  If you favor ideas and arguments being made by a minority who are criticizing the status quo, then consider what is the distribution of those who reflect those ideas across age cohorts.  You may find cause for optimism.

PS: The “you can have it all” phrase will always drive me nuts, as I wrote this summer. Two words: budget constraint.

About Will H. Moore

I am a political science professor who also contributes to Political Violence @ a Glance and sometimes to Mobilizing Ideas . Twitter: @WilHMoo
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