Businesses have “gone too far” in telling people how to live their lives, according to Attorney-General Christian Porter. His comments were sparked by the debate about religious freedom, but the problem of paternalistic employers goes much deeper.
Needlessly prescriptive lists of dos and don’ts for staff to bow to — sometimes extending to outside the workplace —don’t just encroach on employees’ freedom. They are infantilising.
For example, Qantas states employees must: “treat Qantas Employees, Qantas Group customers and suppliers, and other people with trust, dignity, respect, fairness and equity.”
Statements like this are justified by a desire to create a better ‘workplace culture’, and that in itself is not a bad thing. But that finger-wagging line about fairness and respect would not be out of place in a children’s book.
Human Resource departments have adopted the role of parent. They clearly fear employees will descend into Lord of the Flies chaos if they aren’t provided with a list of rules.
This is how we treat children. Kids need to be told how to behave because in their early years they don’t know any better.
But the infantilising trend is unsurprising, as schools and universities have been babying students for decades.
American psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues in his bestselling book Coddling of the American Mind that since the 1980s, there has been a drive to eradicate anything potentially harmful or unsafe.
At schools, this meant removing dangerous structures from playgrounds and in universities ‘safe spaces’ were created to protect students from uncomfortable words or ideas.
This trend has now followed through into the workplace. HR departments think a strict set of rules will prevent any bad behaviour or harm.
We have a generation of workers who have grown up believing an ‘adult’ should always be there to tell them what to do — and a generation of HR managers who are more than happy to babysit.
Monica Wilkie is a policy analyst at the Centre for Independent Studies.
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