The ideals of office equality, fluidity, and collaboration in all their forms—including servant leadership, worker empowerment, and flattened organizations—required a kind of control more diffuse and amorphous, but also more personal than the old hierarchical bureaucracy. As Tom Peters and the other management theorists of “corporate culture” saw (albeit in a more positive light), the real managerial possibility contained in the cubicle was not lower costs or even the ability of managers to watch workers more closely. It was rather the creation of a culture in which workers would feel obliged to manage themselves. With everyone visible to everyone else, managerial obligation could spread itself throughout the entire office, becoming more personal and intense at the same time.
The ideal of the cultural workplace and its embodiment in cubicles also moves against another longstanding distinction of office work—the distinction between managers and workers. The ideal of a boss-less company has not been realized on anything like the large scale the management writers dreamed of, if it has in fact been realized anywhere. However, the impulse to equality and management through culture has led to something like the opposite of the boss-less company with bosses everywhere. As the managerial role is increasingly shorn of “authoritarian” tendencies and managers adopt the stance of a servant and facilitator, the scope of demands upon ordinary workers has risen. Observation, evaluation, encouraging the proper attitude and habits in other employees—these are all managerial tasks that are supposed to be shared. Such is the nature of being a team member.
Here we see the likely root of the ridiculous aspects of corporate culture personified in The Office’s duty-avoiding Michael Scott. Team-building exercises, sensitivity training, motivational seminars: all are necessary to a workplace that pretends no one is in charge but still demands the most of its employees. These heightened demands are then masked by lofty words about empowerment.
Such trends only aggravate a detrimental spiritualization of the workplace and the corruption of culture by the ideal of “total work.” As Joseph Pieper writes in Leisure: The Basis of Culture:
There can be no such thing in the world of "total labour" as space which is not used on principle; no such thing as a plot of ground, or a period of time withdrawn from use. There is in fact no room in the world of "total labour" either for divine worship or for a feast: because the "worker's" world, the world of "labour" rests solely upon the principle of rational utilization. A "feast day" in that world is either a pause in the midst of work(and for the sake of work, of course), or in the case of "Labour Day" or whatever feast days of the world of work may be called, it is the very principle of work that is being celebrated--once again, work stops for the sake of work, and the feast is subordinated to "work." There can of course be games, circenses, circuses--but who would think of describing that kind of mass entertainment as festal?
Perhaps workplace-focused mass entertainments like The Office are themselves signs that work unduly burdens our leisure time. The absurdities of work are so overwhelming that, without such comedic catharsis, our productivity will suffer.
Franz’s thought applies to many other areas of life in which man’s little, brief authority has been abdicated, especially authority in relation to children. The parent who tries to be a friend only transfers all of his or her anxieties about power and responsibility to the unprepared child. The hip teacher similarly forces his incapable students to become their own instructors. These flights from the office of adulthood then subject youth to the unforgiving and unwise control of their peers.
In such cases obvious hierarchy, whatever its drawbacks, is surely preferable to the unacknowledged mess of diffused power.