Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Adversarial Corporations: Is that us?
Is the old-fashioned work ethic gone for good?
BY H. James Harrington
Our forefathers measured the social and moral fitness
of people according to their work ethics. Individuals
who worked hard deserved to reap the harvest of their
work. Since then our attitude toward work has changed
profoundly, shifting from an old-fashioned work ethic
to a cynical, me-first outlook.
The good old days (1900-1960):
• Hard work was considered a sign of personal
• Strong home and family ties predominated.
• Church and schools reinforced the importance of hard
• One parent worked to earn money while the other
worked to manage the family.
• A high school graduate was considered to have a good
• Craftsmanship was important.
• Work was fun.
• Customers were friends and neighbors.
• The person who did the most set the standard.
The transformation (1960-1990):
• People worked to buy items.
• Work wasn't fun.
• Individuals sought fun and relaxation outside of
• A bachelor's degree was considered a good education.
• Employees were required to work overtime, if needed,
and looked forward to the extra money.
• Workers didn't want to use their energy at work;
they saved it until they got home.
• Customers were strangers.
The new work ethic (1990-present):
• Instant gratification rules.
• We live in the most affluent environment ever.
• Today's jobs are temporary--individuals are always
looking for something better.
• Both parents must work to support their desired
• Physical work is considered undesirable.
• A master's degree is considered a good education.
• Working overtime is considered unacceptable.
• People who work hard are outcasts.
• The person who does the least sets the standard.
Management issues today:
• Employees have little company loyalty and trust.
• People are self-oriented.
• People are professionally oriented rather than
• A conflict exists between organizational goals, and
individual needs and wants.
• Organizations spend more money on mergers than they
do on capital equipment.
• All but core-capability jobs are candidates for
• There's little or no job security.
The productive relationship between employees and
management has broken down. Company spirit and pride
have disappeared. Companies used to treat their
employees like fine china, continuously polishing them
and keeping them in good condition. Today, they treat
their employees like paper plates--disposable items
that need little or no maintenance.
Today's employees aren't committed to spending their
working lives with the same employer. After two years
in the same job, it's considered OK to move on. For
example, not long ago we trained two Six Sigma Black
Belts for a company that invested a considerable
amount of money on them. The individuals left the
company within two months of achieving their Black
Belt status. Obviously, this employer received no
benefit for providing the training, but it gave these
employees additional skills so that they could find
jobs that offered more money. Discouraged by such
behavior, companies are more likely to refrain from
investing in their employees. Employees, in turn, will
continue to react the way they do because their
companies are treating them like throw-away items.
It's time for companies to accept their
responsibilities to their employees. They must give
them a reason to be proud of their company. Companies
should build team spirit and invest in developing
their employees. In return, employees must realize
that their prosperity is a gift that the company gives
them. They should realize that the company's
reputation, profits and losses are their
responsibility. Companies and employees both should
feel that they're responsible for providing a fair
return to the people who invested in the organization.
To do that, they must make the best use of their time
and talents. They must ask themselves if their
salaries were fairly earned: Would they pay someone
else the same wage to do their job, or would they
expect much more of them?
There's a direct relationship between the last time we
went hungry and our work ethic. Maybe if we worked
harder, we could take in our belts a few notches.
Our companies are "we" and "them" companies, and we
need to make them "us" companies.
[About the author
H. James Harrington is CEO of the Harrington Institute
Inc. and chairman of the board of Harrington Group. He
has more than 55 years of experience as a quality
professional and is the author of 26 books. Visit his
Web site at www.harrington-institute.com]
So if you have any pension at all be happy, take it and run like hell...