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Corporate Abuse: How Lean and Mean Robs People and Profits

by Lesley Wright and Martin Smythe

Management fashion has held downsizing, alias rightsizing, in high regard since IBM rescued itself and returned to financial respectability by firing a couple of Skydomes worth of employees.

Lesley Wright, a former advertising executive, and Martin Smythe, an organization theorist, have put together what is on one level a self-help manual for abused employees and, on another, a picture of what current organization theory means for the people it makes wretched.

The authors argue that increasing profits by shrinking staffs and making survivors work harder ultimately damages the firm as an organic entity. They make their case with scholarship and abundant anecdotes. But there are some flaws in their argument.

The authors assume that a firm should be a social system. Yet there are many firms today without conventional staffs. Workers telecommute from their homes, and firms contract out work that in another era might have been done in-house. In some industries – high technology, for example – there is so much job mobility that bonding to a firm ought not to be part of employees’ mindsets. The firm as a durable bureaucracy is no longer a universal model. So long Alfred Sloan (he founded GM), and bye bye James Burnham (the idea of big biz replacing the state in The Managerial Revolution).

As well, there’s nothing new about abusive supervisors who demean employees, office politics that divert people from their jobs, or the use of psychological ploys like blame and shame to manipulate workers. The authors believe such tactics are common today, perhaps more than in the past. They do not – and probably cannot – make a quantitative case for their view.

Quibbles aside, Corporate Abuse should have a wide market, for downsizing has left many refugees wondering what they’ve done wrong. There are many employees who can read it to come to terms with their firms. And there are managers for whom Corporate Abuse would make a timely and valuable gift.


Reviewer: Andrew Allentuck

Publisher: Key Porter


Price: $32.95

Page Count: 262 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 1-55013-747-6

Released: Oct.

Issue Date: 1997-1

Categories: Health & Self-help