WHAT YOU MUST KNOW ABOUT WHERE YOU WORK by Chauncey Hare. Article Revised and Copyright 2011.

Albert Einstein said you can’t solve a problem with the same awareness the problem requires to remain a problem. You have to achieve a new awareness to resolve a long standing problem. Most often a working person is unaware that he or she needs a new awareness to resolve his or her work issue. All the articles on this web site, as well as the book Work Abuse: How to Recognize and Survive It, provide the awareness needed to solve the problems that occur in work organizations. Unfortunately, in most cases, a person must feel trapped in order to begin the search for the new awareness our articles and book contain. This article brings to you the most important first step awareness necessary to resolve any work problem.

The most common error a working person makes is not to recognize he or she is immersed in an authoritarian system. This paper tells about systems, describes the four kinds of work systems, lists example errors people make that cause them to be abused in these systems, and finally why there are so few work systems that are not authoritarian.


A social system is the cause-effect framework that defines the behavior of individuals in a group, organization, or a society. Systems create reality for you, but systems rules of behavior are mostly unconscious. Having a systems perspective means seeing and understanding the factors that influence the behaviors of individuals within the system.

It is both difficult and unusual for a person to have a systems perspective that focuses on factors in the system that are contradictions, and that cause people to make errors that lead to their abuse. People are not taught to see systems at home or school. People see only separate individuals, not the systems that underly and prompt their behavior. In order to counter the behaviors that affect you, a person must become conscious of all of the elements of the system that trigger behaviors. This can be called “wearing systems glasses.”

A system can make you do what you would not ordinarily do; and people in a system can treat you in a way they would not if you both were outside that system. Wearing systems glasses is necessary to see this happening.

Blaming is a major hindrance to gaining a systems perspective. Because of the cultural habit of blaming, it is difficult to shift to non-blame of individuals. Non-blame is a natural outcome when a person truly sees and thinks systems.

It is the nature of systems that the behaviors that occur within them are predictable once you have the ability to see the system you are in. Predictability makes it possible to avoid errors and minimize abuse. Similar work systems may have similar rules of behavior. Systems have norms, rules of behavior, that enable prediction of behaviors within one organization and often, but not always, within other similar organizations.


Authoritarian workplaces, which are social systems, exist as the predominant model for work organizations around the world including within countries like the USA that are supposedly democratic and where people are nominally treated equally. This is a major contradiction that people in these systems must adjust to: a supposed democracy, but people will be treated unequally and unfairly, most often without awareness of the contradiction.

People who are not aware of the inequality contradiction and are unable to adjust their expectations will be frustrated by the lack of fairness on the job. An inappropriate expectation of fairness is the number one source of people’s work abuse experience.

So pervasive are authoritarian workplaces that working people are not aware of another alternative to this type of system or that there is a variation in the degree of punitive control within one authoritarian system as compared to another.

People are so used to the authoritarian systems and the control and abuse within these systems that a person may find it hard to believe what this article is saying: although there are three kinds of authoritarian systems there is an non-abusive alternative, a collaborative system that is rare.

There are four kinds of work systems, the first three of which are authoritarian: punitive, benevolent, consultative and collaborative. For each of these four work systems below are example norms, rules of behavior, for five norm influence areas: communication, rewards, task, decision making, and development.

** Punitive Authoritarian:

** communication: Around here we hold information until its safe and benefits a person to reveal it.

** rewards: Around here the pay check is the only acknowledgement anyone receives.

** task: Around here people are terrified of making mistakes.

** decision making: Around here, all decisions are made at the higher levels in the hierarchy.

** development: Around here, if a person needs new knowledge he or she has to get it on the sly.

** Benevolent Authoritarian:

** communication: Around here we share all information except that which will threaten our personal status in the hierarchy.

** rewards: Around here bonuses only go to top performers.

** task: Around here we allow new people a limited number of mistakes when learning the job.

** decision making: Around here, immediate bosses make the decisions based on their instruction from above.

** development: Around here, with management approval, people are allowed limited time off to get knowledge they need.

** Consultative Authoritarian:

** communication: Around here we communicate to people at the top and they do what they see fit with our info.

** rewards: Around here a bonus goes to people whose suggestion box ideas pan out.

** task: Around here it’s okay to ask for help if we have a problem with the job.

** decision making: Around here, we are asked for information that will allow people at the top to decide.

** development: Around here, everyone is asked if they need new knowledge and approval is usually given.

** Collaborative:

** communication: Around here we communicate equally whatever will help our organization and people in it.

** rewards: Around here everyone receives rewards that are decided by all.

** task: Around here we make sure everyone has whatever they need to do the job well.

** decision making: Around here, the person with the most knowledge about the job decides, with the help of others, what to do.

** development: Around here, everyone gets whatever knowledge they need to improve themselves.


Below are listed organization characteristics that may be misunderstood coming from inappropriate expectations. These spring from lack of knowledge about systems, inability to see and think systems, lack of knowledge about authoritarian systems, inability to see and accept a person’s own response to the system. Readers need to know and understand these listed characteristics which are found in many authoritarian organzations in order to avoid as much mistreatment as possible.

Generally these characteristics may be found in all three types of authoritarian organizations, but are most likely to occur in punitive and a little less likely in consultative types. The items below are not listed in order of frequency, importance or other attribute.

** Human Resources is a euphemism. HR’s job is to assist workers to adapt to the behavioral rules of the organization, smooth over mistreatment, and help management avoid being confronted about inequities.

** Management lacks behavioral skills and will avoid honest communication about interpersonal issues. When behaviors are discussed, it is in the context of who is to blame.

** Management does not confront bullies, because bullies perform a service for the system: instill fear.

** Conflict resolution is avoided because it means airing the organizations fundamental contradictions and confronting misuse of power.

** Individuals, will be blamed often using dishonest information, rather than review the true source of a problem within the system. This is the process of scapegoating: blaming an individual instead of looking into the system to find the cause of the problem.

** Some people may not be able to adapt to the norms of the system. Workplace norms are often held within individuals as unconscious patterns learned and evolved over time. Newer people may not be able to readily adapt to these norms which for long-time employees have become trance-like states.

** Punitive systems are more rigid than benevolent or consultative. Under stress, all authoritarian systems become more rigid: enforcement of norms becomes more extreme and norms may become more ristrictive by unconscious agreement of a majority of workers. Benevolent systems may become punitive and consultative systems become like benevolent systems.

** Unions are structured in authoritarian fashion mirroring the organzations whose workers they represent. Unions may assist management to enforce the organization’s normative behaviors. Unions are not prepared to deal creatively with behavioral issues between workers and management—especially behavioral conflicts that are not covered by the contract.


In short, there are two main reasons that boil down to one that prevent authoritarian systems from becoming collaborative. The first is the lack of behavioral skill, knowledge and commitment to creating a collaborative organization. The second is the difficulty in keeping the system collaborative over time due to the influence of authoritarian styles of behavior by incoming managers. But resistance to giving up power by top management is the fundamental overriding issue that prevents authoritarian systems from becoming collaborative.