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For the record, as a consumer and author, I still love Amazon. And unless the definition has changed somehow, running a corporation is still about the business. It’s about making money; as a realist, I relate to and applaud any company’s desire to be profitable and thrive. If not, what’s the point?  Of course, as we all know, there is a flip side to every coin. Depending on where you are, what you do, and how long you’ve been doing it, the flip side of this particular coin might be an alien concept to you. That’s not a problem for me, don’t worry.

I’ll be happy to make this all a little less alien for you, providing you’re willing to read a bit further. Even if that means eyeballing a few words or sentences that ruffle your profit-driven feathers a bit. Let me be frank with you before we dive any deeper here. A good crop comes with fertilizer, aka manure. So do perspectives. Perspective is about the angle or lens through which one individual sees a situation. There is no such thing as an unbiased or perfect human perspective. Not you. Not me. Not Corporate America. Not even The New York Times. If anyone tells you a perspective is perfect, I encourage you to run screaming in the other direction rather than buying whatever they are trying so hard to sell you.

Are you still with me?

Great. We’re going to take a momentary gander at the world through the tired eyes of a hard-pressed, frustrated to hell and back worker, Howard Danishefsky via The Robusta Incident.

TheRobustaIncidentCoverThe novel, albeit perhaps exaggerated, a little zany, and definitively sarcastic, is a dark comedy penned with that perspective—essentially, the underlying theme—in mind. Right along with a little schtick and a healthy amount of entertainment. Speaking from Howard’s corner, the man feels trapped. He is stuck in a disingenuous world made up of excessive overtime and rhetoric where he firmly believes he is merely a cog in a machine rather than a meaningful, valued part of a successful business. This perceived environment ultimately drives him to the role of the crazed anti-hero. The man turns his office into zombies and ends up suffering quite a bit because of it on the rocky road toward something that might look a smidge like enlightenment and redemption.

Now, let’s put it in a bit of a broader framework; that of the human perspective of your status quo worker:

Picture an environment where the small cogs of a lower echelon work together as a crucial component in a heart that pumps blood to the outward-facing, visible extremities of a large, profitable machine. These cogs have privileges, those both earned and promised as a part of an employment package: time off for life events, vacations, etc. What that translates to via their perception over time, however, is constant, mandatory overtime versus the allotment of precious, earned time off to a select few via random lottery and the rare managerial exception. To put it in short, these people firmly believe the system places value on them solely as a cog or a number. The majority do not believe there is value placed on them as human beings. Human beings who work long hours and feel they have as much need for and right to their company’s highly touted work/life balance and benefits as anyone in upper management. Even the CEO signing the Christmas cards that their managers pass out to them weeks before Christmas. The ones that person signed early in November before said CEO and his/her family flew off to enjoy two month’s vacation in Europe.

So what do they do?

First, these cogs may become bitter and jealous of any peer who manages to finagle time off. For anything. Even if it’s having a baby or removing a gall bladder, no one cares. So, there goes your collaborative spirit, teamwork, and all those other things you slap on posters around the break room for morale. Second, they use their sick time, if it is considered separate from personal time, to avoid burning out as quickly and losing a paycheck they desperately need. Naturally, excluding instances where FMLA applies, that sick time is held against the cogs for performance reviews/raises/bonuses once they go over a certain number of hours within a particular period. Why? Well, because they are cogs, and you need them there to keep that blood pumping to the extremities. If the cogs stop, circulation ceases. The extremities become null and void, and the machine dies. Third, they start calling you “The Man” in the break room, while throwing away their manager’s increasingly desperate invitations to “team building” events, and pretty much enjoy just openly hating you. Do not be surprised if they also begin associating your company with some fiendish level of torture in Dante’s Inferno in anonymous chat rooms somewhere. And there you have it. Welcome to the vicious circle and cycle of the overworked employees and the business that wants to succeed. One feels devalued, a commodity to be used up and thrown away. The other struggles constantly to find more efficient and cost-effective ways to grow their profits and succeed. You know what the cruelest part is, right?

You need each other to survive.

With all that said, I also still believe that the spirit of business is innovation. Therefore, I am interested to see the result, aside from possibly hurting business images and sales, of more attention to this grand corporate paradox. I don’t have the answers, but I believe that you can find them. Personally, I hope better, smarter, models—new ways of dealing with those vital human resources that right now see themselves as undervalued cogs in your machine—are developed and succeed before some outside department or entity steps in with new generic rules, quite possibly makes things harder for your bottom line.

It might surprise you to know that this is a topic I care about deeply. So much that I wrote not just this article but an entire book to reach you.

If you get nothing else out of my words, I ask you to carry one question with you. Ask yourself and anyone in your company who will listen to you, Is there a better way for us to do business internally with these people who are so crucial to our success?

I hope so, for your sake as well as theirs. Free cookies and “we love you for all the overtime” emails and cards just aren’t getting the job done, not from the cog’s perspective. So maybe a little more pressure for consideration, from someone other than workers submitting resignation letters, to ensure your employees feel they have value at every level is not necessarily a bad thing.

And whether my words were well-received or not, you have my heartfelt thank you for taking the time to read today.