Squeaky Wheel culture

There’s a really annoying saying that I hear in the context of work all the time. It’s sorta Office Space-ian and it irks the hell out of me. I can’t stand what the statement insinuates or that it seems to dictate much of the dynamic in the work place more than ever.

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
God I hate that.

In the perfect world, which this is assuredly not, such a saying would have no meaning. In the perfect world it would be a jumble of nonsensical words that mean nothing and lack relevance. But this world, being what it is…

The squeaky wheel gets the grease IS the gospel which commandeers the travails of my daily office existence.

Sometimes people question, “What does it mean that the work place is ‘feminized’ now?” Because I have stated this in the past and I stand by it. The workplace, especially when observed from the context of the rambunctious, male-dominated kingdom as portrayed in “Mad Men,” is entirely female in nature now. Female values and mores dominate the work place which has become somewhat a modern monarchical Queendom. I believe the squeaky wheel truism demonstrates this best.

I detest this!

Basically it implies that only overly dramatic and hysterical behavior is met with response. This points to an immature office culture which defaults to honoring the loudest protestations regardless of substance or logic. The squeaky wheel is the one that gets the attention and elicits action. In a mature environment, the squeaky wheel is cajoled and ultimately ignored. Humored perhaps. But in this day and age of Nazi HR departments with hair trigger defense mechanisms at the ready and prepared to diffuse the first hints of employee (especially female) unhappiness, all it takes is some pencil-pushing harlot to scream about something and everyone jumps to attention. We live in a world of children.

In a “healthy” world, dissatisfaction and disagreements are expressed clearly and calmly. There is an expectation that people will address your issues because this is what responsible adults do. Tensions are addressed logically and maturely. There is no stomping, no threats, no whiny desperation. That behavior is for children, and even in children is rarely honored with a serious response. But in the modern work world, the squeaky wheel is much sanctified.

I happen to know of a “manager”…not necessarily my own :)

She has been known to discount reasonable comments and suggestions. She has a particular blow-off style in which she humors you and blows tons of smoke up your ass while making it appear she is going to really wrestle with that tiger on your behalf. You walk out her office with a hopeful gleam in your eye…and it never happens. She doesn’t do a thing. This happens to men and women alike who dare to protest in adult and reasoned manners to her. She is immature in her own professional manner and she does not reward mature behavior. However, enter her office wailing as a stressed employee when in reality you are just a little dumb and lazy, not overworked. But when your perspective tells you that you are overworked and stressed, you are, regardless of whether or not you really have more work than someone else can handle. A true squeaky wheel. After such an outburst, this manager rushes to remedy the situation with reactive personnel moves, random meetings, reshuffling of duties, HR pow-wows, etc. The squeaky wheel has this manager’s ear. The squeaky wheel has our culture’s ear. What happened to reasoned and dispassionate articulation?

  • BSD

    Nino que no llora, no mama.


    It’s not just in English. ;)

    • David

      I love the literal translation. Let’s fashion it into an annoying English truism.

      The crying child gets the mother.


      Spanish is not translatable, really.

      • Amy

        Every language has weird idioms that are hard to translate.

        In German, if you say you are Blau/Blue, it means you are drunk. Why? I have no idea. In English, it means you are sad. Why? On a sunny day, the sky is blue!

        Why do we say we’ll be a monkey’s uncle when we are surprised? (Oh yeah, it was because of the “Scopes Monkey Trial” over Darwinism. That one actually has a traceable history behind it.)

        Why, when space is tight, is there no room to swing a cat? (Why not some other critter with a tail?)

  • Will S.

    Amy is right. Additionally, it’s the “let’s have peace, at all costs” mentality, a need to have harmony and not conflict, which again, is a more particularly female inclination.

    • David

      Yes, and Human Resources is adept at proliferating the peace. If you go into your HR office and complain about something, you’ll experience their “regression” to the company line. Any behavior or attitudes which buck the norm are diffused immediately. HR is actually a piece of crap, they are at the forefront of groupthink.

    • Amy


      Though “peace, at all costs” brings to mind the way contemporary fathers often duck conflict at home when they tell their kids “go ask your mother.” It’s as if Dad is saying “don’t ask me, this is her world; I just live here.”

      • David

        Haha, go ask your mother!

        I think a lot of that has to do with the traditional male’s reluctance to deal with “emotionality.”

        • Amy

          Perhaps. Dad may not want to get into a fight with Mom if she doesn’t like what he tells the kids. Or he doesn’t want the hassle of being the bad cop.

  • Amy

    I can’t believe I’m saying this, but perhaps women are generally programmed to respond to squeaky wheels/crying infants/bitching.

    In the case of the whiners & bitchers, their parents should have followed the rule that all requests made in the “whiny voice” will be ignored.

    “That is your whiny voice. Please use your normal voice.”

    • David

      Yes, that may be true, but it seems the knee-jerk squeaky wheel response system occurs in both men and women. As women fill more positions of power it certainly makes sense that their values will determine the work place’s psyche.