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Get Promoted with a YES! Attitude? Yuck.

It's not enough these days for employees to slave to the bone -- workplace motivators are pushing us to squeeze a smile out of our hefty workloads.
 
 
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First, starting way back in the 1950s, you had to be "positive" to get ahead in business, i.e., ready to see the glass half full even when it was lying shattered on the floor. Then, somewhere in the first few years of the 21st century, the bar was raised to "passionate." It wasn't good enough to feel "positive" about spending your day doing cold calls to potential customers in Dayton, you be had to be "passionate" about it. And now, apparently, even that isn't good enough -- you have to develop a YES! Attitude, as in throwing back your head, balling up your fists, and screaming YEESSS!!!

The purveyor of this new over-the-top, fan-like, enthusiasm is Jeffrey Gitomer, in his brand new Little Gold Book of YES! Attitude. What attracted me to the display in the bookstore was the odd packaging: a hardcover, but smaller than the average paperback, with a bright red ribbon for a page-marker (a biblical touch, someone in the publishing industry explained to me.) Most of the pages contain fewer than 200 words, but don't try filling in the margins with notes: The pages are too slick and shiny for your average pen, so if you want to make notes, get your own damn paper.

How do you achieve a state of transcendent YES!-like excitement about your job? Brainwashing is recommended. Gitomer himself read Napoleon Hill's 1937 classic of delusional thinking -- Think and Grow Rich -- over 100 times in one year and watched the same motivational video five days a week plus weekends. While reading the gurus and reciting the prescribed self-affirmations, it helps to cut off contact with the outer world. In particular, Gitomer says, don't watch the news. It's all "negative" anyway.

Of course you'll have to purge your environment of "negative" people too, as all the motivational gurus advise. Gitomer tells us he walks away from their "pity parties" to "focus on me." "Let nothing or no one get in your way."

Now, with Darfur, global warming, Iraq and any recently bereaved or otherwise afflicted co-workers out of the way, you can "SMILE ALL THE TIME." "A simple smile," Gitomer tells us, "is a powerful atti-tool." Smiles "show your internal feelings, externally." And if you don't actually feel smiley internally, just fake it till you make it.

Nobody said it would be easy. In fact, the YES! Attitude takes constant maintenance, and one of the illustrations shows Gitomer wearing a blue work shirt with the label "Positive Attitude Maintenance Department" on his chest. Read something "positive" every day, say "positive things all day long." Practice being "selfish on the inside" while exuding helpfulness on the outside.

Don't be distracted by the crude selfishness. What Gitomer and countless other motivational gurus are recommending is the mentality of a crafty slave: "Oh master, I am SO glad you transferred me to the Dayton accounts (even though they've been inactive for 18 months), and, while I'm at it, would you like me to polish your shoes with my neck tie?" Smiles, at least in human society, are gestures of submission, and routinely demanded of women as a token of subordinate status. The happy slave smiles; the well-trained "lady" smiles; now even the male white collar striver has to keep his lips pulled back in an expression of eager compliance. Only the top guys get to snarl and snap their way through the day.

Here's another idea, one that's every bit as "positive" as the gurus advise: Call it Constructive Complaining. Don't avoid "negative" people -- seek them out and talk about what needs to be changed. Remember the movie "Nine to Five," where the much-put-upon characters played by Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton finally get together to share their woes and plan the overthrow of an abusive boss? Take your grievances seriously and turn that "pity party" into a revolutionary strategy meeting.

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of 13 books, most recently "Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream."

 
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