Drunk On Power

Drunk On Power


On this day in 1964, the UK’s first ever drink driving television advertisement aired. Although nobody seemed to know it back then, it would one day be recognised as a major turning point, the moment when drink-driving began to lose its gloss of public acceptability.

Fifty years ago, millions were still routinely downing “one for the road” before swerving home in the car. So despite hundreds dying each year at the hands of drink-drivers, the advertisement’s central message and title still seemed alien.

It was actually aired three years before a legal drink-drive limit was even set, in 1967, with roadside breath tests following a year later.

“Don’t ask a man to drink and drive.”

~ Headline of the first ever UK drink drive campaign advertisement

Since 1967, the message about driving under the influence of alcohol has spread and is now widely accepted. For most people the idea of one for the road has become a social taboo. Over the past 35 years alone there has been a sixfold drop in drink-drive deaths in Britain. People are now aware not only of the death and injuries consequential on drink-driving, but also the social and economic costs too.

The question of deaths and injuries through stress at work has, to date, received much less public attention. Even though there is much research to show that people suffer illness and premature death through such stress. Not to mention the economic costs of lost working days, disengagement whilst at work, and lost productivity through the impact of (dis)stress on knowledge workers’ ability to think clearly.

And one of the key causes of stress, especially in the knowledge-work environment? The power relationship we call “management”. Along with all its trappings.

Causal Link

The power-over relationship we call “management” causes distress. Stress is toxic. It injures and kills people, and silently debilitates them even whilst working. And then there are the social costs – such as depression, violence and alienation – arising from the influence of power-over management on relationships, social norms, self-expression and mental health in the workplace, and from there to society more widely.

How many years will it take before society comes to regard “management” – power-over relationships, hierarchies, tacit violence, and so on – as being a social taboo on a par with the status of drink driving, today? Will that take more or less than another fifty years?

“Don’t ask your loved ones to manage others – everyone has too much to lose.”

– Bob

  1. Paul Beckford said:

    Hi Bob,

    “How many years will it take before society comes to regard “management” – power-over relationships, hierarchies, violence, and so on – as being a social taboo on a par with the status of drink driving, today?”

    You ask a good question. I don’t think the analogy holds though. Drunk drivers never really had a legitimate argument 🙂 It was always just a matter of time before society made it taboo.

    Whilst management is very different, it does serve a legitimate purpose. Karl Marx explains the relationship between owners (capital) and workers (labour) very well. Management is the jam in the sandwich. How the two halves meet.

    Click to access value-price-profit.pdf

    You mention hierarchy:

    People who don’t work and invest capital -> People who are paid to make others work -> People who work

    This hierarchy has existed for a very long time. As I’ve mentioned before, you can trace its history back through industrialisation, and slavery, right back to feudal serfdom. The “idle rich” have always needed Managers, to oversee their workers, otherwise they couldn’t be idle 🙂

    Is this hierarchy about to become taboo any time soon? I suspect not. I definitely won’t be holding my breath 🙂


    • I think you’re answering a normative observation “management is bad” with a descriptive statement “management exists and has done for ages”. One does not negate the other.

      • Paul Beckford said:

        True. I’ve been trying to frame the problem. My concern is that we could be trivialising the challenges that lie ahead. Please see below…

  2. Paul Beckford said:

    Hi Bob,

    In terms of hope, I think there is some. My feel is that folk generally want to be nice to each other, and I agree with you that the arrow of history has generally pointed in that direction.

    For humane relationships to exists, I think there needs to be a human connection. History has shown what can happen when people objectify others and no longer see them as people the same as them….

    Unfortunately our financial system is designed to maintain distance between people with capital (investors), and those they rely upon to earn a return on that capital (workers). With this distance, abuse is inevitable I feel, as born out in the recent financial crisis….

    I was involved in the periphery of the Occupy movement, and whilst on the wain now it gave me a good deal of hope… People are beginning to connect the dots… and in doing so narrow the distance… What my pension fund manager choses to do with my pension contributions (101K) has a direct relationship to the wellbeing of others… and my impact on the world.

    All those people whose homes were repossessed are real people, and for most their only crime was trusting a financial services industry which was morally bankrupt..

    With this awareness there is hope that ordinary people will start to employ their savings in more meaningful and humane ways…. Investing may no longer become something we leave to others, whilst only taking an interest in the bottom line on our annual portfolio statement…

    Things like crowd sourcing…. micro lending etc, are ways of building a human connection between investors and workers and this in time may perhaps create the basis for the humane relationships in the workplace that you advocate…

    So there is hope. I guess what I’ve been trying to say is that the problem is much bigger then we may first think, and there will be resistance, that goes beyond mere ignorance. The 1% that are doing pretty well as things are now, may not welcome change …

    Even so, listening to someone like Warren Buffet advocate tax reform is a reminder that most of us have a sense of social connectedness,… irrespective of our wealth, and in the long run this humane trait may finally win through 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: