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the company-employee relationship

I've been wanting to post on this for a couple of days now but my thoughts on it hadn't jelled.

I saw an entry on codeintensity pointing to another entry by Chris Winters on a a short article by Tom Yager (phew! So many links). Yager's article has to do with how a the new "workplace realities" of the day (e.g., 24/7 availability, working from home, etc) not only affect how companies view employees, but also how employees view companies (both entries referencing it contain good comments as well).

The key here is that companies usually don't take into account that employees see their increased sacrifice as something extraordinary; many take the dreary view of "if you don't like it you can always leave". Others are more subtle, giving employees bullshit performance reviews to cajole the employee into doing what they want.

At the core of all this is the apparent ignorance (widely dispersed throughout the business world) of the fact that employees are people as well. People with lives, dreams, hopes, fears. When the companies inherit their view of what an employee is from the 'Ford paradigm" of assembly-line management (ie, employees as tools) this kind of mismatches happen constantly. In these companies, the "concept" that an employee has aspirations or even (god forbid) a life outside work, is used against them in situations appropriate to management. When an employee complains, there is a problem with them, when the company is dissatisfied, the problem lies with the employee as well.

A Dilbert cartoon comes to mind, one of the colorful Sunday cartoons, entitled "Seven habits of highly defective people. One of them (under the headline 'Treat all complaints as the complainer's fault' I think) has Dilbert talking to the pointy-haired boss:

Dilbert: You don't motivate me.
Boss: Maybe you should see a therapist.

Funny, yes. But because it is true.

This world view is eroding, mainly under the push of management of technology companies, which are usually people that have built the companies themselves and so still remember how to value good work. But these mismatches still happen.

On a related note, the book Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister, is a classic on this subject. If you haven't read it, go read it. If you have read it, then read it again :-)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on January 30 2003 at 6:25 PM

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