Industry vs. Inferiority

In Erikson’s conception of developmental progression, six to twelve years of age is the latency stage. He saw the focal point for the child’s development in this stage as school, where he/she is challenged to learn new skills and expand his/her social world. Erikson characterizes working on these challenges as “industry.” The latency stage is also a vulnerable time for the child, as Erikson pointed out that challenge and skill-building in a school environment can lead to feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, and failure, which can impair self-esteem and sense of competence.

This can happen in the workplace, too. For the adult, the experience of industry can encompass all skill training and the work environment as well as the work itself. Unfortunately, the last seven years have seen the disappearance of many jobs, a rise in unemployment, and stagnating levels of compensation in many professions. Does your work present an opportunity to feel challenged, with a sense of pride and ownership in your skills? Is there room to grow and a hope of advancement? Or is it dull, with ever-present fears of failure and firing?

An individual typically looks for a number of psychosocial factors that enhance and give special meaning to the workplace. A sense of belonging, for example, is most important to most people in the work arena. In surveys over the years (and there have been many), employees have priority-ranked four particularly important factors as follows: belonging, opportunity to exhibit competence, recognition for performance, and security of employment, or “BORS.” (Consider, too, that it is in an employer’s self-interest to have motivated workers.) Pride of ownership builds confidence and satisfaction. Feeling unappreciated, unseen, or unheard, on the other hand, generates feelings of inadequacy.

We’ve referred in a previous blog to a reality-TV show, “Undercover Boss,” because we find it’s often quite moving. Through the employees selected to interact with their disguised boss, we learn along with the CEO about the people without whom the company would not be as successful, and we witness dramatic, real-life enactments of the importance of the four BORS factors. In a nutshell, the undercover boss goes to various locations of his/her company to be “trained” and perform in hands-on jobs (at which he/she is usually incompetent); the real purpose, however, is to learn “on the ground” about things they would never learn in the executive suite. The CEO is then revealed in meetings with the people who thought they were training him/her, who find themselves on the receiving end of unexpected praise, gratitude, and profit.

It’s exhilarating to see these win-win situations, to watch the expressions of shock and joy in show after show. The employees are overcome with emotion at experiencing the recognition, appreciation, and respect that many of them may rarely receive. “I cannot believe this!” is often exclaimed. Some people just well up with tears and shake their head.

On “Undercover Boss,” something that should be a normal part of our experience together on this planet is shown to be an exception. In acknowledging and using the resource of these people who are knowledgeable about their work, and in rewarding them for their valuable ideas and suggestions, everyone benefits.

In To Find The Way Of Love, the point is made that our relationships define our lives more than our achievements do; but it is apparent that our relationships—when they are anchored in equality and mutuality—enhance our achievements as well.

Oliver & Barbara

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