by The Inmate
. . . workers did not reject the presence of the time-motion man and the stopwatch per se, only their lack of participation in the decision to employ such methods.
Anson Rabinbach, The Human Motor
Once every few years my floor of the Asylum asks its employees what they think about the state of the company through a confidential survey. In the last survey management expressed surprise that one of the biggest complaints by employees was their lack of involvement in planning, problem solving and decision making that directly affects them.
Nothing new here. This has always been a problem. Management knows people want to be involved in real ways. They know it is not happening. Many managers have difficulty letting other people make decisions. They read too many books about being a leader and have too little confidence in the workforce. So they invent pseudo-involvement. They want workers to think they are involved even though they are not.
Involvement is not a suggestion box. Involvement is not the “opportunity” to volunteer time to be part of a meaningless committee. Involvement is not making decisions about where the annual Holiday Party should be.
Staughton Lynd in the foreword to Empty Promises: Quality of Working Life Programs and the Labor Movement by Donald M. Wells writes that “workers deeply resent the trivial character of the decisions . . . and the manipulated nature of the process as a whole.” For instance, many inmates can write up ways to better their company on an official suggestion form which they can submit to wardens in The Asylum’s administrative offices. They come up with these on their own time, but it is upper managers who really make the decisions. In many cases they know nothing about what they are deciding, but because they are management it is assumed that they have gained omniscience with their promotion and therefore are qualified to make decisions about any number of things that they were previously ignorant about. Spontaneous intelligence, I presume.
What this implies, what it really means is that many managers do not trust the workforce. The person most qualified to make a decision about a particular activity, regardless of how mundane and easy it may seem to outsiders, is the one who has been engaged in it on a daily basis. On my floor of the Asylum engineers come down periodically from the corporate penthouse to tell us how we should route our deliveries. Some of these people have never delivered anything in their lives and yet they tell us how to do our job. Common sense would tell any normal person to ask the people who do it every day how to do it, but that would, of course, make extremely apparent how unnecessary many of the jobs in The Asylum are.
The irony in all this is if the people who do the job were allowed to make decisions about the job they do it would be more efficient, more productive and more cost-effective. It would also give those individuals genuine involvement in the corporation and hence they would be more connected to it as opposed to the alienation that many workers experience. In Chaos on the Shop Floor: A Worker’s View of Quality, Productivity, and Management Tom Juravich quotes Ruth Cavendish author of Women on the Line.
Although we were the only workers with practical experience of working on the line, our views were not taken into account. Changes were made, new designs and machinery introduced with no regard for us. The engineers never had to sit down and use most of their jigs and were often clueless to how they worked in practice. Most of the women could have told them how the machinery could be made more comfortable, which jobs went best together, and how the line could work more efficiently. But no one ever asked us. [italics mine]
Most workers want to be involved, they want to make significant decisions about the jobs they do. This desire is not jealousy or a need for power. It is two things: workers know their jobs and know their involvement will contribute to a better, more efficient product or service and it is the simple requirement to be genuinely involved in the places that demand so much of their time and effort. It is true that “employees are the most valuable asset of the company.” The reason workers cringe when they hear that corporate cliché is they know that though many managers say they believe it, they do not act as if they do.
The Corporate Asylum is currently accepting suggestions on all aspects of our web page. E-mails will be carefully read by our consulting firm, the ideas will be tabulated using a sophisticated computer program, then the watered down, irrelevant results will be sent to us in a long, expensive report with computer generated color graphs, then we will implement and take credit for any of the suggestions that happen to coincide with what we had already planned to do before we administered the survey and finally we will write meaningless thank you letters to all who participated. This makes us think we are listening to readers and, more importantly, it makes our readers think we actually listen to them.