A Screwtape letter to the disgruntled worker

My dear Wormwood,

I was thrilled to hear you have made significant headway with the disgruntled worker and that he’s starting to feel over-worked, unappreciated, demotivated and discouraged. With more calculated planning and timing, this can be a great opportunity to groom him. With the office politics screwing up his mind, we already have an exceptional advantage. A disgruntled worker is the perfect recipe for a deeply divided organization, and an organization’s downfall is our ultimate objective. Without a doubt, guiding your disgruntled worker’s emotions and ensuring that he gets sucked into office politics is the right tactic. Continue the good work in his boss as well. Last week’s public shaming at the conference table was sheer genius. Not to mention the purposeful lack of recognition of the disgruntled worker’s clinching a highly coveted client. A tactic moving forward is to get this managers envious of his current successes and withdraw their support for his promotion.

Sometimes it’s the less obvious things, things his colleagues do not even realize, that we can use to throw him off the most. When he greets them in the morning with a smile, keep their eyes glued to their PCs without acknowledging him. Let him think of it as a direct assault on him as a team member. When they go out to lunch without inviting him or secretly meet to discuss a client’s case, let him think it is because he is not liked and being spurned. Such extreme thoughts may sound ludicrous, but to the disgruntled worker, it can wreck unimaginable havoc on his self-esteem. Your goal is to make him think the organization and his colleagues do not acknowledge him, or even better, that he is JUST another FTE headcount. Create an atmosphere at work where collegiality, respect, innovation and creativity are concealed but envy, suspicion and malice are witnessed daily across all levels of management. Make it second nature for the workers to watch their own backs and protect their behinds.

Keep in mind, that unlike you, he is NOT a pure spirit. Never experiencing what it’s like to be human (oh, that detestable advantage of the Enemy’s!) you may never understand how enslaved they are to the pressures of modern day life. Long ago, I had a patient, a truly admirable credit-stealing manager, who enjoyed art and was a regular at MOMA. One day, as he sat staring at a piece of artwork, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go awry. The Enemy, naturally, was waiting hopefully on his side. In a heartbeat, I saw four decades of hard work and meticulous manipulation vaporizing. Had I lost my head and begun to use argument as defense, I would have lost the battle. And I was no fool. So I struck instantly at the part of humans which I had best under my control, and suggested that it was just about time he pick up his cellphone and grab a drink. The Enemy apparently made a counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear what He says to them?) that attending to this realization was more important than looking at his phone. At least I think that must have been His line, for when I said, “That’s it! You need a drink, pal” the patient straightened up and by the time I had added “Let this idea sit for awhile…better check what’s going on at work and go into it with a fresh mind after a drink,” he was out the door. Once he was on the streets of Manhattan, the battle was won clear and simple! I showed him a busy intersection and reminded him that he needed be downtown in 30 minutes, and before he reached the bottom of the steps of the subway, he had shaken off the his earlier reflections. Remember, whatever weird thinking might come into a man’s head in moments of silence and solitude, a healthy dose of “reality” was enough to show him that any ideas about positive change and transformation just couldn’t be true. After all, this world is grounded on notions of survival of the fittest. Years later, he would remember that incident, that lucid moment with the Enemy at MOMA and relegate it as temporary insanity or perhaps brought on by human frailty called loneliness.

Can you begin to see the whole picture? Thanks to our careful cultivation set in motion since the beginning of time, humans find comfort in what’s familiar albeit painful and frustrating, rather than venture into the ambiguous and complex world they live in. Keep reminding him of the mundane things and concerns of everyday life. Above all, do not attempt to use ideas about reflection (I mean, the ones that talk about transforming oneself and the organization) as a defense against his actions. These ideas will positively encourage him to think about change and transformation, these are opportunities he can’t fathom and see. If he must dabble in this leadership non-sense, keep him entertained with pop culture/self-help books; don’t let him get away from that invaluable “real life.” But the best of all is to not let him talk to anyone about true leadership and transformative organizations, but to give him false sense of belief that he knows it all and that everything he knows and he is the result of being driven and committed to his job. Remember, you are there to befuddle him and cloud his judgment and drive him away from the temptation to self-reflect and seek change. One last piece of advice, Wormwood, is to keep the disgruntled worker looking to his colleagues, his managers and his organization for affirmation and self-worth. Then, when they let him down (as they are sure to do), he will be ours to manipulate and torment to our heart’s content.

Your affectionate uncle,




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