WHAT IS UNCONSCIOUS IN ORGANISATIONS?___________ Jon Stokes, Stokes & Jolly Ltd. London ABSTRACT This paper considers some of the ways that the concept of 'unconscious' can be used in understanding organisations. The working hypotheses in the text were intended to illustrate the theme and also to provide a basis for discussion. They are based on real cases but disguised to preserve confidentiality. INTRODUCTION The term 'unconscious' is used in a variety of ways. Sigmund Freud uses it in a variety of senses, for example: (a) as an adjective, to describe the state of an idea or feeling (b) as a hypothetical system, that is a place in the mind of the individual with certain repressed contents. He also distinguishes between the descriptive sense of the unconscious (that which is presently not in consciousness but potentially available) and the dynamic sense (referring to feelings or ideas that are actively repressed or denied but which are constantly pressuring to becoming conscious, hence dynamic). He further distinguished consciousness from the pre-conscious (that which is potentially available but currently not accessed by consciousness, ie those memories, facts and ideas which are not repressed, merely out of current awareness). These distinctions were later subsumed within a more complex topographical model of id, ego and super-ego with both ego and super-ego having unconscious areas. The contents of the id are the mental derivatives of the drives, an idea which is later elaborated by Melanie Klein and others in the concept of unconscious phantasy. These provide the deeper and thus generally unconscious emotional meanings to events both at the infantile and oedipal levels of psychological development. Psychoanalysis provides a means of understanding and mastering these unconscious infantile and oedipal elements in our personalities so that we are aware of their ever- present effects through out lives, rather than being unconsciously determined by them. For example, in our personal relationships, but also of course in our relationships at work and indeed our relationships with work. A psychoanalytic view is one that sees organisations and work as being influenced by what Wilfred Bion calls innate pre-conceptions - of a feeding breast, of a mother, of a father, a parental couple and their modification by early experiences of relationships in the family. Hence our most basic attitudes to the organisations and groups of which we are members are heavily influenced by our relations, both real and phantasised, with our parents, our siblings and the dynamics of the oedipus complex. For example, the organisation can be felt to represent a certain sort of providing mother with the chief executive as a certain kind of managing father with concomitant reactions to each being influenced by our internal mother and father figures. Certain parts of an organisation such as the canteen may come to be felt unconsciously to represent something to which it is closely akin such as mother and her breast and will be treated somewhat differently by each member of the organisation accordingly. Frustrations and a sense of deprivation with the organisation may be expressed towards canteen staff because of their unconscious associations with a mother figure. WHAT IS WORK? Before discussing what is unconscious in organisations further I want to consider briefly what is means by work from a psychoanalytic perspective, since this is the main purpose for which organisations are intended. For Freud, to be able to work realistically was one of the two greatest human achievements, the other being to be able to love. He called these achievements because they each require facing rather than denying a reality beyond the self, they require the achievement of a capacity for relationship with separate others (object relationships) as opposed to forms of relationship where the other is there primarily to provide for the needs of the self (narcissistic relationships). Work involves both pain and pleasure. It requires a renunciation of wishful thinking and unrealistic fantasies and an acknowledgement of time, space and gender differences. In other words facing a reality which necessarily also involves at times a degree of frustration, limitation and non-satisfaction, as opposed to the use of delusion and hallucination in order to evade reality. The compensation is a sense of real achievement, of real satisfaction which bring more substantial though less immediate gratifications. This is important because an organisation's attitude to work, the collective 'work-culture', and especially the unconscious elements in this are clearly important. They inevitably involve a similar struggle at an organisational level between narcissistic and object relationships within and without the organisation, between manic or omnipotent states of mind and ambitions and more realistic and sober views-of reality and what is possible. Indeed, the very act of taking up group membership poses this conflict for each member - between a joining with others in relationships with some shared purpose or a retreat to omnipotent phantasy. Group processes can reinforce either attitude, an evasion of conflict on the one hand or a potential space for psychological growth in the working through of conflicts on the other. THE UNCONSCIOUS IN ORGANISATIONS There are a variety of psychoanalytic approaches to organisations each deriving from different strands of psychoanalytic thinking (see Obholzer & Roberts 1994). My approach is one that could be called a psychoanalytic-systems approach drawing both on psychoanalysis and systems thinking. I work as a consultant to organisations and when I receive a request I try to understand both the conscious and the unconscious requests, trying to keep in mind at all times what this part of the organisation might be representing and carrying for others. For example we were asked to provide some training for nurses on bereavement, but in the telephone call it emerged that there had been a recent series of deaths on the ward which had obviously distressed all the staff, not just the nurses. At a subsequent meeting with the nursing officer making the request for the staff it transpired that she had decided to leave for another post in another part of the hospital but was fearful of the response of her colleagues including of course the nurses. One could respond to this request at a number of levels and in a number of ways but I chose to work with the nursing officer in a role consultancy process on how she managed the announcement and manner of her departure and her feelings through this transition phase in the organisation's and her life. This incidentally also provided everyone with a real-live case of 'bereavement which could be openly acknowledged and learned from. It would also have been perfectly reasonable to have provided a training course. 'Working with the unconscious' in an organisational sense always involves making decisions about at what level, with whom and how to intervene. Unconscious processes in organisations can be distinguished at a number of levels: (a) The individual level Work provides not only a means of interacting with external reality with its concomitant pleasures and frustrations but also a potential for reparation (Klein 1959). By this I mean that it provides a medium through which the individual can build and repair which helps modify unconscious anxieties about destructive elements in the personality in internal reality. The psycho-analyst Harry Guntrip (1964) describes how Anthony Trollope's early employment in the post office had an unconscious reparative function. "A friend of his mother was daughter-in-law to the head of the G.P.O. and begged a clerkship for Anthony. Though the first seven years were misery, his application for the post in Ireland opened out a new life for him, a life of constant travel usually on horseback which he loved. He developed a passionate attachment to the work of improving communications for isolated districts and lonely people, and there is no doubt that the driving force of his devotion to his work was a symbolic compensation for his own early loneliness which still survived in his deepest feelings." Losing one's job is therefore a considerable blow not only at the external world level but also in me internal world since it deprives the person of a channel for reparative acts which provide a reassurance and a way of binding the forces of envy, hatred, and other destructive elements in the personality. The redundant employee suffers a double sense of impotence and depression at the obvious level of losing one's job but also at the unconscious level of losing a medium for reparative opportunities which help sustain a sense of internal worth and goodness. This loss of the means of psychological reparation may be even more catastrophic than the original external loss of job and colleagues. Turning to the effect of certain individuals on others, it is a common experience that the personality of the head of an organisation has a great impact on the organisation as a whole. For example, in education a head teacher's personality and attitudes, and thus unconscious attitudes, can have a pronounced influence on the atmosphere and running of the school. In a business setting the 'nice' manager often needs to have a second-in-command who is forced into the role of being the 'nasty' one. He has become through unconscious projection the embodiment of the denied aspects of the leader. Working Hypothesis 1 A chief executive's "unconscious" fear of women leads to repeated failures to recruit female members of the board despite a conscious desire to do so. The personnel director is blamed. (b) The group level I have written elsewhere (Stokes, 1994) how the basic assumptions identified by Wilfred Bion (1959) underpin the main emotional dilemmas in the helping professions - medicine (dependency), therapy (pairing)) and social work (fight-flight). In this way unconscious group dynamics can become the foundation for the patient-professional relationship. Tim Dartington (personal communication) has used the same basic assumptions in distinguishing types of voluntary organisations: (i) mutual support (pairing dynamics) (ii) campaigning (fight-flight dynamics) (iii) expert service provision (dependency dynamics) In this way group dynamics comes to influence the state of mind of the whole organisation and thus its relation to the environment Working Hypothesis 2 A geriatric team's "unconscious" anger with their patients leads to endless debate about whether or not to provide them with an electric kettle. The "unconscious" wish to attack their patients is expressed in the fear that they will scald themselves accidentally. The patients are prevented from having access to a kettle. At the level of task Gordon Lawrence (1977) has distinguished between the various levels of awareness of tasks at work as follows: (i) what we say we do (ii) what we believe we do but don't always say (iii) what we do unconsciously For example as Anton Obholzer (1987) argues the NHS says its task is to provide for the health of the nation but implicitly those who work in it do so also because of their belief that it will provide a more equal society whilst unconsciously it is viewed by us all as the 'save us from death' service. This unconscious task leads to some of the more extreme reactions to efforts to change the NHS - in whatever way, since they are felt to threaten the loss of access to a service with deeply unconscious meanings. Working Hypothesis 3 A mental health unit "unconsciously" pushes one of the fragile members of the staff team to the edge of a breakdown and beyond in order to establish the boundary between madness and sanity and to project all the madness of everyone into one person. Having driven one member out the group continues to hunt for the next victim. At the level of the whole organisation I have already referred to this above with regard to voluntary organisations. Within an organisation there can be an unconscious structuring along the lines of the body with its clean parts (eg administration) and its dirty parts (eg the factory) and with individuals consequently becoming identified with and behaving according to these unconscious divisions. Alternatively "immaturity" can be located only in the junior members with "maturity" in the seniors but leading to an inevitable breakdown in communication between these two groups within the organisation and an artificial stultifying split inside each individual leading to a false-self atmosphere in the staff in the organisation. As Isobel Menzies-Lyth (1959) has shown such splitting processes can lead to the resignation of good junior members of the organisation when they feel they are being constrained not to fully utilise their abilities. Current exercises in 'delayering' frequently suffer from a failure to understand these dynamics and how much is unconsciously invested in retaining the various layers of an organisation. Whilst there may be conscious wishes to change there may be unconscious investments in keeping things as they are. Working Hypothesis 4 The collective organisational defence against the fear of inevitable redundancies in a public industry leads to an "unconscious" resistance to change expressed as a mobilisation of those with obsessional characters to become even more bureaucratic then normal. Unconscious processes can also operate at the boundary of an organisation with the outside world and the management of this boundary. Working Hypothesis 5 A department store "unconsciously" chooses a 'scattered brained' individual to deal with complaints from customers who eventually give up in confusion and frustration. This saves the store money in the short-term but ultimately loses customers. (e) At the level of the social Finally whole sections of society can come to represent areas of unconscious feelings for society as a whole. So that all madness is felt to reside only in those who are currently psychiatric patients, all criminality only in those in prisons and so forth. These large group processes are extremely powerful and play a central role in determining many individual lives and careers. Essentially, however, the processes are similar to those in smaller groups -a splitting off of unwanted aspects and a projection of these into others who are felt to be identified with these split-off parts. In organisational terms these social processes may be expressed in the relations between different groups who are viewed stereotypically such as men and women or between the young and the old or between different social classes. Whilst these are social phenomena they also involve unconscious psychological dynamics such as those concerning envy, rivalry or idealisation. Working Hypothesis 5 British fear of losing their island defence leads to "unconsciously" motivated delays and mistakes in the construction of the Channel Tunnel. IMPLICATIONS FOR CONSULTANTS AND TRAINING Knowing about the unconscious is very different from knowledge obtained from a book or a teacher. It is a knowing through acquaintance, through being in a particular state of mind. It also requires a willingness to be affected and not to move into action immediately, by painful as well as pleasurable emotions, to stay with the experience of not knowing, without a restless seeking after certainty (cf Keats' negative capability). As a consultant one is often used as a repository for emotions and states of mind that the client organisation is denying or simply cannot cope with, much as the parent of a child has to tolerate and contain fears and concerns that the child cannot. Thus working in this way with organisations and managers requires some degree of personal awareness and the capacity for self-reflection that can best be obtained from the experience of personal psychoanalytic therapy. But, as important too is the understanding of group process that can be obtained from group relations training workshops and conferences. Intellectual insight about psychological processes is easily and often used as a defence against experiencing the emotional dilemmas of an organisation. The experience of a personal psychoanalysis and group relations conference work provide essential means of staying in contact with the deeper levels of the emotional life of organisations. However, a concentration on the emotional life of an organisation at the expense of attention to its structures and environmental context is also misguided. An understanding and attention to unconscious processes in organisations is a powerful contribution to diagnosis and understanding but should never be to the exclusion of an analysis of both systems and structure. REFERENCES Bion, W.R. (1959) 'Experience in Groups'. Tavistock, London. Guntrip, H.J.S. (1964) 'Healing the Sick Mind', Alien & Unwin, London. Klein, M. (1959) 'Our Adult World and its Roots in Infancy* in Klein, M. Envy and Gratitude, Hogart, London 1987. Lawrence, W.G., (1977) 'Management Development... Some Ideals, Images and Realities', in Colman, A.D. and Geller, M.H., Group Relations Readers 2 (1985), A.K. Rice Institute, Washington DC. Menzies-Lyth, I. (1959)' The Functioning of Social Systems as a Defence against Anxiety* in Menzies-Lyth, I., Containing Anxiety in Institutions, Free Associations, London 1988. Obholzer, A. (1987) 'Institutional dynamics and resistance to Change'. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy., Vol 2 pp 201-5 Obholzer, A. and Roberts, V.Z., 1994, The Unconscious at Work', Routledge, London. Stokes, J.H. (1994) The Unconscious at Work in Groups and Teams' in Obholzer, A and Roberts, V.Z.