Philosopher Alain De Botton thinks a lot about how people work. He's written a book called �The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work.� Botton says there's one department that is universally loathed.

Mr. ALAIN DE BOTTON (Author, "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work"): (Reading) Everyone hates the HR department. This is the cavern from which your pink slip is sent, where your assessments are stored and, if you're especially unfortunate, where orders are sent out to ship you off on a group exercise to a salmon-colored conference center, where you will hold hands with your boss and sing inspirational songs.

And yet, to rebel against the HR department is to misunderstand one's era and the deeper currents of history. Never before have so many thousands of ambitious human beings been asked to work together in such close confinement in glass towers and business parks. And so, never before has there been such a need to determine how people could possibly sit together day after day in narrow plywood cubicles, manipulating data on their screens, without screaming or murdering one another.

HR departments have had to study from scratch how we can hear our colleagues consuming lunch at desks inches from our own without giving in to the gamut of destructive passions which Freud knew are always present just beneath the surface.

There is something idealistic, almost utopian in HR departments' grander ideas: A 24-hour anti-bullying hotline or a 360-degree bi-yearly career assessment. These are the tools of an advanced civilization taking politics to the next level.

Contrived as the strategies instituted by HR people might seem, it is in fact their very artificiality which can guarantee their success, for the labored tone of away-day seminars and group feedback exercises can allow workers manfully to protest that they have nothing whatsoever to learn from submitting to such disciplines.

Then, like guests at a house party who at first mock their host's suggestion of a round of Pictionary, they may be surprised to find themselves, as the game gets under way, able thereby to channel their hostilities and sublimate their anger.

Home used to be associated with kindness and sympathy, and the workplace with cruelty and oppression. But there are times on a Friday evening, often at 9 p.m., where my wife and I have said unkind, regrettable things to one another and when I have longed for there to be a 24-hour hotline to call and for someone from HR to walk in and suggest a group exercise which might swiftly get us back on the straight and narrow.

NORRIS: Philosopher Alain De Botton is an author. He wrote "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work."

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