It’s Not Personal…

Or… it’s just a job. Anyone who thinks either of these thoughts often, perhaps more than once, should be considered for flogging, a firing squad, or cruel and unusual punishment. Especially if they utter those thoughts out loud. That won’t happen, of course, because one can’t punish someone for what they haven’t said, or, in the case of these two utterances, for those particular words.

I cannot recall exactly how many times I’ve heard someone, usually an executive, businessperson, politician, or administrator, make the comment, usually after being confronted about the impact of an act or policy they’ve just put in place, “It’s not personal.” Or “Don’t take it personally.” None of them seem to get or perhaps want to admit that ANY act or policy that affects someone else adversely is in fact very personal, whether intended or not. That’s not to say that sometimes such acts are necessary. Reductions in force when sales have plummeted are often necessary, but claiming it’s not personal is not only cowardly and despicable, but also reinforces the idea that those affected are not even “persons”; such words suggest that they’re disposable widgets.

Likewise, for someone to excuse poor performance, lack of performance, or lack of initiative in doing a job with the statement that “it’s just a job,” is equally despicable and dishonorable. Someone is paying for the job to be done. If that job has to be redone, or doing it late or not at all creates problems for someone else, whoever didn’t do the job right has committed a form of theft. Again, I’ve heard similar words, and certainly seen people acting as if they’d said those words, all too many times in recent years. Part of that may be because those acting in that fashion have been treated like disposable widgets, but can’t get, or feel they can’t get, better jobs or positions, and they feel disposed to do the minimum required, because, to them, it’s “just a job.”

The bottom line is simple, and all too often forgotten. Jobs are not just jobs, and anything that affects the people who are doing them or affected by them is indeed personal. And that’s something that too many employers and organizational bureaucrats have forgotten, which has led to too many workers taking the same attitude – and, in the end, everyone suffers.

3 thoughts on “It’s Not Personal…”

  1. Tim says:

    When my company adopted some pretty draconian performance management techniques, the rule was that at the highest level 10% of people would always be poor performers. Levelling was carried out within the divisions of the department, but not across departments. It meant 10% of people had poor scores (and little or no salary increase or worse) regardless of objective caliber (whatever that may mean).

    The phrase used by the HR people when briefing us was not ‘it is not personal’, but that we had to be ‘brutally professional’.

  2. Wine Guy says:

    It wasn’t personal when they came and told me that they were cutting me down to less than half time… but what made it personal was the jokes that the bosses made at my expense afterwards. Do they really think that things like that don’t get back to us?

  3. D Archerd says:

    I think that what those who utter the phrase “It’s nothing personal” mean is that they are not intentionally causing pain, i.e. not doing the unpleasant action out of a desire to cause pain to the victim. They somehow believe that not having an intention to hurt makes it better; at least it allows them to continue with the fiction that they’re not a bad person in their own minds.

    Intentions do matter in some cases. When someone causes another pain inadvertently, the fact that it was unintentional gives the victim some hope that there may be an apology and some form of restitution, and a benign or neutral relationship restored between the parties. If you are hurt by someone who is deliberately trying to cause you pain, what follows is very different; the victim must choose between only escape, retaliation, or continued suffering.

    But in the case of corporate layoffs, I agree with LEM’s assessment – to claim that it’s not personal doesn’t make it better, it makes it worse. Having been laid off once in my career, I can tell you that the first question you ask is, “Why me?” It is obvious to the victim that since not everyone is suffering the same treatment, he/she has been singled out for some reason, and to pretend otherwise does indeed dehumanize them.

    And even if an action that causes pain to another is an unintended consequence, the fact remains that the action did cause pain – to fail to acknowledge that or attempt to minimize it is why the phrase “It’s nothing personal” is so reprehensible.

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