The Fish program, or "Fish philosophy" was supposed to change the way employees view their jobs, and therefore their performance and happiness in the workplace.
My experience with it was exactly the opposite. Between last July and April, three women in my department had heart attacks at work. Others had gone on stress related disability. Overtime was abolished and no hiring was done to replace people who were leaving by the truckload. Morale was non-existent; people were in a position where they hated their jobs, and frustrated over needing the jobs they hated so much. And through all of this, the pressure to produce more and more profits for shareholders was steadily being ratcheted upward.
That's where the whole Fish thing came in. "The beatings will continue until morale improves." We were shown the video and pretty much ordered to start having fun. We were dragged into meetings where ideas were demanded from us on how to make our workplace fun. No one had a clue, and the evidence came from the kinds of suggestions that my co-workers were coming up with. Some examples: crazy pants day, crazy hat day, wear your clothes inside out day, and snack/potluck days. My favorite useless idea was this one: everyone in my department was given a small safety pin. The first one to hear another employee make a negative comment was entitled to take that employee's pin. At the end of two weeks, the employee with the most pins won a prize: one hour of paid time off. In a testament to how well these ideas were working, the third of the heart attacks at work I mentioned happened while this was all going on.
After it was clear that none of these ideas was working, I was asked by my manager to come up with something, since I had a reputation for being apart from the crowd and looking at everything in a different way than everyone else did. I was told that I would be giving a presentation at the next staff meeting.
My talk had to do with how little chance I thought we had of making the Fish philosophy work. I pointed out that we couldn't be forced to have fun, we had to be allowed to. Any idea that had the word "day" in it was pointless[;] the next day things would be back to normal. Changing how we viewed our jobs had to come from the inside, and couldn't be imposed from outside. Management would have to revise unrealistic standards and allow us to find our own meanings in our work. That profit motive kills everything it touches if people aren't seeing any benefit. We had to see tangible (especially spendable) benefits from our work. Making a living, providing for families, and having funds to finance retirements and educations for children were the reasons we were there. We would love to have fun with our work, and would, if we were just allowed to.
I was put on probation shortly afterward and terminated several weeks later. I looked forward to being terminated the same way a long-term terminally ill patient welcomes death....
My management theory was simple. The tone of the corporation is set at the top. Communication can't be limited to only that which comes from the top down. People want to be proud of their work and who they do it for. People have to be allowed to feel there is a point to how they spend their lives, and allowed to share in the fruits of their labors. Our management should have set up a situation in partnership with us instead of an adversarial one. And, as the saying goes, a fish rots from the head down.
--Jon Glissando - Gary, IN, USA
To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution
- Name: Kevin Carson
- Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States