Wendy Talbot PhD
10 February 2020
This blog series focuses on beliefs and values that shape organisations for better or worse. It is an ongoing work in progress that I will add to from time to time. My hope is that what interests and shapes me personally and professionally may be of interest to others. If something I share resonates for you, I welcome your contributions and feedback.
Employees: Family or commodity?
Some organisations treat their people as family while others see them as dispensable commodities. The belief organisations subscribe to can shape policy and practice and have significant implications for organisational culture. For example, commitment, trust and loyalty can all be affected by the way people are viewed and treated at work. These can subsequently have effects for productivity and profit.
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Some organisations treat their people as family while others see them as commodities.
The idea of employees as family struck a chord with me when I first listened to Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk – Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe (Click Here for Link). He told the story of Charlie Kim, a CEO, who asked the question “If you had hard times in your family would you consider laying off your children?” His response, “We would never do it so why consider laying off people inside our organisation?” Sinek goes on to tell the story of how Kim implemented a policy of lifetime employment and how he managed to avoid layoffs in his company, while still making some necessary financial cutbacks.
This struck a chord with me because I have had first-hand experience of the very demoralising and destructive effects of restructuring and redundancy on people and organisations. It all seemed so unnecessary. I am sure that there would have been other options, if handled differently. I also know of many examples of organisations using restructuring and layoffs as a financial management practice. Often, restructuring (aka consolidating) can occur multiple times in one organisation. Each time, more staff cuts are made, creating larger work-loads for those left behind. Even more concerning, are the effects for staff.
It is interesting to see how resignation and complacency sets in. It is also interesting how loyalty, commitment and safety are systematically destroyed. It is disturbing to think that human beings can do this to each other and even more disturbing to think about the end result of such an ever-decreasing cycle of greed and despair.
Do these companies get more efficient, productive or financially secure through these means? It is hard to imagine that they do given the enormous costs involved in consultancy fees, redundancies and restructuring. I don’t believe it is an exaggeration to say that it is negatively affecting physical and emotional wellbeing and exacerbating already serious, social problems.
I know this is a feature of neo-liberal business practice (Click here for more on this). The more-for-less philosophy that is singularly focused on the fiscal bottom line. More-for-shareholders-and-less-for-employees. But I argue that it is inhumane and unnecessary. How can a group of wary, demoralised and uncommitted staff be good for business or society?
Sadly, many people can’t speak out or leave voluntarily because they rely on their income for survival. It is likely that those who do speak against these practices will be treated as trouble-makers. Others may be seen to be incompetent for not being able to achieve the unachievable workloads. For many, their professional integrity and standards are compromised. Short-cuts get taken, mistakes get made that take more time and energy to rectify. Consequently, the cycle continues.
Imagine a world where companies, like Charlie Kim’s, value its people as family and work with them to find ways to succeed and thrive without the threat of redundancies.
Imagine a world where companies value their people as family and work with them to find ways to succeed and thrive without the threat of redundancies
In this television broadcast (Click here),Paul Kelly also speaks about his employees as family. Kelly captured media attention when he arranged to take 40 staff on an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas to celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary. What’s more, Kelly paid for this out of personal funds. Kelly, speaks of personal experience in a job where he was treated badly. This taught him some valuable lessons in how not to treat employees. I wonder if Kelly would lay off staff if his company encountered hard times? I wonder if he would find other ways through those times? I wonder what steps his team might take to help weather the storm? Kelly’s staff, who were interviewed, spoke highly of him. I wonder what levels of trust, safety, loyalty and commitment operate in that company. I wonder how much this contributes to its success.
Does your organisation treat staff more like family or dispensable commodities? What steps might it take to weather hard times? What difference might it make if staff knew the organisation had their backs? Would they be more or less likely to back the organisation? What is trust, safety, loyalty and commitment worth to your organisation? How is it demonstrated on a day to day basis?
What is trust, safety, loyalty and commitment worth to your organisation? How is it demonstrated on a day to day basis?
RNZ. (2018, May 7). Checkpoint. You Tube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNvIuSmElEI
Sinek, S. (2014, May 19). Why good leaders make you feel safe. Ted Talk. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmyZMtPVodo
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