Getting off the bonus treadmill!
Naked Nights. A Diary of Customer Service on a Trip to Tunis. (1)

Business Balance and Life's Teeter-totter

Teeter Totter 123RF_550147_sAs human beings one of the biggest ongoing battles we face is the balancing act between self and society. The struggle between selfishness and selflessness permeates nearly everything we do. Almost every moment of the day we face decisions that require us to choose whether we put our own interests first or those of others.

Inevitably this universal human conflict occurs in in our work lives too. It is simply unavoidable.  Yet it is only in recent decades that this has been recognised. Certainly the whole topic of work-life balance implicitly doe so. Yet even then it is debatable whether the deeper, more fundamental issues have been recognised and properly addressed.  

One of the inherent values of command and control management was the attitude of the employer that, “You are fortunate to have a job at all and it is only by my grace that you do. If you don’t do what I say, I will happily dispense with you and find someone else who is just as capable and more willing.” And, despite the widening discussion about work-life balance and the more humane face it purports to bring to business, this management ethos continues to govern behaviour; notwithstanding more enlightened employment practices and employee engagement initiatives. In fact you could possibly even reasonably argue that such initiatives perpetuate those old attitudes.

If that last statement has stopped you in your tracks, let’s take a closer look. Don’t you ever feel that the idea of doing more to engage your employees is an imposition? There are two possible major reasons for this:

  • The difficulty in overcoming that old thinking that, with all the unemployment in the world today, people ought to be simply be grateful that they are employed. This residual paradigm, even though you dare not say it, sticks to your thinking, practice and behaviour like old burns to a pan!
  • The innate recognition that engagement is emotional and individual, and that there is nothing you can really do to ingrain, embed and sustain the feeling.   

If either, or even both, of these hidden beliefs shape your thinking, they inherently undermine all your efforts. But rather than address them specifically, let’s return to the self-conflict we began with.

In a business context your organisation constitutes society. Thus the conflict is between the individual and your organisation. Naturally it is in the individual’s self-interest to do their job properly, but only in so far as the “rules” mandate. If, however, the individual has a stake in the ultimate performance of your organisation clearly their interests will be more aligned with the organisation’s. Consequently the major constituent of conflict has disappeared and you no longer have to worry about engaging them or their work-life balance; the responsibility resides fairly and squarely where it belongs – with the individual.

Think how much less time you will need to spend on instructing them as to what they “have” to do and hence on such issues as performance measurement and performance management. You will engender the distributed leadership, involvement, initiative and innovation that will ensure you are all winners. That’s why I am convinced you should be exploring my employee ownership model. It is the ultimately way to get your own balance and get off the industrial relations teeter-totter.   

* Teeter-totter is the American word for a seesaw. I have used it here, despite the more universal use of seesaw, simply because I love the word, the way it sounds and rolls off the tongue and, last but by no means least, because it seems more appropriate in a world that is teetering in its endeavours to find a system to replace command and control management, and failing to understand that pushing people down is not the way to lift the organisation. 

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