They had no idea I’d been told to force their resignations. “Up the pressure on them – they’ll soon buckle under the strain” my regional director asserted. Recently appointed as an area manager for a prominent 300 year old bank, I was condemned to ‘get rid of the dead weight’.
The bank wished to avoid costly redundancies by making life so stressful and untenable for their front-line managers that they left voluntarily. If I achieved this, there was a five-figure bonus in it for me. Twelve months later, so conflicted and anxious I could barely open my jaw, I resigned – voluntarily.
Like Kafka’s traveller, I was an outsider and initially reluctant to share my misgivings. Further, I was told of a ‘higher purpose’ and of how my actions would allow the bank to regain control of the market – securing jobs for those who remained. The cruel punishment I was to inflict should be administered slowly, gradually ensuring the managers “no longer had the strength” to remain – up their quotas, decrease their privileges and pit them against one another until they acquiesce.
Human beings are capable of the most exquisite acts of heroism, love and selflessness. Yet, introduce an influential authority figure who normalises cruelty, inhumanity and torture, and numerous studies show that most of us lack the ability to resist committing diabolical and horrific acts.
Examples such as the 450 volt electric shocks administered by participants in the 1963 Milgram experiment, the brutal and sadistic treatment of ‘prisoners’ by ‘guards’ in the 1973 Stanford Prison Experiment and the de-humanising effects of segregating schoolchildren in Elliot’s 1968 Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes experiment.
The above has taught me the critical importance of prioritising people in every endeavour. Without compassion for those over whom we hold power or influence, we are unfit to lead. No matter the personal or professional cost, we must all at times be prepared to say “I am opposed to this”.