In my previous blog I was wondering if we should actually start calling Human Resources (HR) the Nanny Department but positive as this may sound, there is also a potentially darker side to this.
The Dark Side of HR
Dave Eggers in his book “The Circle” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Circle_(Eggers_novel)) shows most vividly how this darker side might look. It is not often that HR appears in a novel which is why we should look closer when it does. The heroine of the book first meets HR when she joins the company, when HR is all friendly and helps her to quickly get on board. But soon the heroine is breaking the written and unwritten rules and this is when she meets HR again who are asking her why she is not following the rules and if the Circle is indeed the right company for her.
To be sure: HR is not the watchdog that Dave Eggers portrays. But it does punish employees for unwanted behavior. Rules are, of course, necessary wherever people live and work together. And there have to be consequences if these rules are not followed. Bullies and their likes need to be sacked if they do not change. And who else should send them away but Human Resources? What Dave Eggers is referring to is one of the dangers that HR might have to encounter in the future because the control of people´s behavior has been at the heart of many company policies since the early days of the industrial revolution.
From New Lanark to „The Circle“
New Lanark in Scotland dates from the early days of the Industrial Revolution and is now a World Heritage Site that gets hundreds visitors every day (http://www.newlanark.org/). It is difficult to describe this place to anyone who has not seen it. It is a factory with a village attached. New Lanark had a church, it had shops, it had a school and a library. There was no need to leave New Lanark. Workers spent 24 hours a day, seven days a week there. Your boss and your colleagues would know whether you attended church or not because they were there as well. Due to the generous pension scheme your parents would live there as well.
To many visitors today New Lanark seems to be hell. To the founders it was paradise and though it lasted only a few decades, it was widely copied. Industrialists all over the world founded villages next to their company where they had total control of their workers. Dave Eggers company campus is a direct heir to New Lanark. In his book the employees do not have to leave the company campus. It got shops. All your friends are there, you can bring your family. New Lanark has heirs in real life, too, many of them in Silicon Valley. Google is currently extending the so-called Googleplex which, once completed, is going to offer care for children, three meals a day, rooms for resting, gardens, free transport. Everything is like New Lanark, except for the church.
Robert Owen, the founder of New Lanark, was a very religious man who wanted to create a kind of paradise. His mission was to reconcile the needs of his workers and his company and he was convinced he knew better than anyone else what was best for both. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, too, are keen to create a mission and vision for their company, both religious terms. Silicon Valley has better tools than religion to control and correct. At the moment it is not entirely clear in which direction this is going. If it goes in the same direction as shown by Dave Eggers, the companies will need a watch dog. And if it does, the nanny department might indeed become the inquisition squad described in “The Circle”.