Originally published May 2012
I had the misfortune recently to catch an episode of “The Apprentice“. What’s particularly depressing about this reality TV show is that people see Lord Sugar and his bunch of social misfits undertaking work-related projects, and think that business success is gained by backstabbing colleagues, talking in business clichés and pursuit of personal gain at the expense of everything else (including basic competence).
This “economic” view of people as inherently selfish and untrustworthy has a long history – in management theory it goes all the way back to FW Taylor, and now has a new lease of life following the publication of the Beecroft report. If, as Beecroft and his supporters do, you believe that labour is simply a commodity to be picked up and put down when required, then it is logical to call for a reduction in employment rights. As I pointed out in earlier posts, it’s ironic that this view of labour ultimately derives from Karl Marx!
There is a different way, as many successful businesses and business people recognise. They take the view that employment is a relationship between people, and therefore requires trust, confidence and mutual respect. People aren’t just machines to be managed at the touch of a button, but have different interests and motivations, and respond best to being treated as human beings. It’s no wonder that the current big issues for many businesses and HR professionals are around employee engagement, values and retaining good people. Though sometimes all people want is a simple “thank you” to recognise their efforts or achievements.
As another wise economist recognised “How selfish … man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it” But businesses who display an interest in the fortunes of their staff will derive plenty from it, through greater commitment, reduced turnover and ultimately more profit.