GUEST COLUMN: Workers crushed by bureaucratic systems

Nathan Colquhoun

Dawn Flegel is the executive director of Sarnia-Lambton Children’s Aid Society. I saw this 1983 quote on her office wall recently.

“The amazing thing, never to be forgotten, is that the people who make up this system are among the most altruistic in the country. They went into their profession to serve. They have been caught up in a misdirected, unbalanced bureaucracy, a system in which almost no one assumes personal, permanent responsibility for any child, or experiences the satisfaction of watching them grow up.”

– Peter Sypnowich

The quote was there as a reminder of the strong pressures that size and systems exert on an organization, despite the intentions of its staff.

When an organization reaches a certain size the risk increases of it becoming overly bureaucratic and irrelevant, with apathetic and responsibility-avoiding employees.

The employees of said institution, who individually are well intentioned and skilful, become enveloped in job security and cyclical management.

This trend is prevalent, especially in government, non-profit and union-protected sectors.

Few go into a job with this mindset. Most individuals begin bright-eyed and hoping to make meaningful contributions to people and causes. But systems crush these folks quickly and turn them into cogs in the machine.

It really is unfortunate because the purpose of an organization isn’t to provide jobs; it is to work towards a vision.

In Sarnia, at least, it seems the least innovation comes from our city, our schools, our hospital, social services and police force.  Stories flow continuously about staff just waiting to retire, or the number of people who ‘shouldn’t be in that job’ yet still somehow have six-digit salaries.

There needs to be a way of holding organizations and their employees accountable, especially if they are subsidized by tax dollars or meant to be a force for good in the world.

Too many of my friends who desperately want to become teachers, and who would do an amazing job, are held back by apathetic and lazy teachers who are just enjoying their cushy jobs.

Too many times I’ve dealt with layers of complexity and bad communication with city’s staff, without them being held accountable for a poor work ethic and unreasonable demands.  Too many times have we seen frontline nurses lose their jobs instead of cutting middle management positions or lowering doctor salaries.

Organizations don’t change only from the top down. It will take a grassroots effort of concerned individuals to care and offer creative solutions, alongside mutual efforts from progressive leadership, to create more thoughtful and relational systems.

Nathan Colquhoun is a director and owner of Storyboard Solutions and the Refined Fool Brewing Company and a pastor at theStory