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More than just a soft machine

Blair McPherson, Former Director author and blogger
person wearing watch near laptop

I was at one time the assistant director of resources in a large complex organisation. Finance, IT, Personnel and Training fell within my remit. This line management arrangement reflected the thinking at that time that the people who worked in an organisation were resources in the same way as money, equipment, buildings and information. In one sense this was positive as it placed a value on employees, it recognised that to get things done you needed to think about how to use people effectively. Unfortunately this led some to treat staff like equipment and buildings to be moved around as and where needed, to be replaced or discarded, to have a change of use or to be rented out/ outsourced as senior management saw fit .

This human resource was to be frequently reorganised, resulting in redeployments and redundancies, people were required to be a flexible resource. The management style all to often reflected this view, managers did not feel the need to consult or inspire they instructed. In the extremely form it resulted in zero contract hours where the employee was used as and when necessary and was not entitled to holiday or sick pay. The coronavirus crisis has shown people are not just another resource.

During this crisis we have identified groups of people as, “essential or key workers”. Whilst the majority of us have stayed safe at home in Lock Down they have continued to work caring  for the sick, delivering food, medication and other essentials, emptying the rubbish bins, stocking the shelves doing the tasks that have kept life going. These are not the best paid jobs or in normal times the most well regarded. If people were just a resource why would poorly paid care staff continue to work in residential and nursing homes for older people when the risk of catching the deadly virus is so high. Why even when protective clothing was not provided did they still turn up for work. The same is true of hospital doctors, nurses and paramedics. The answer is simple equipment can not be motivated, a building can not feel valued, Information can not show empathy.

In a classic episode of the comedy Faulty Towers, John Cleese is running late for a rendezvous, his car won’t start. He turns the ignition repeatedly but the engine won’t start. He try’s again and again. He offers encouraging words but still it won’t start. He attempts to bribe it with the promise of a wash and polish even a full service if it just starts this one time. It won’t. Having pleaded and cajoled to no avail he starts to abuse it , calling it a useless pile of scrape. Now in a rage he jumps out the car and kicks the tyres, gabs a fallen branch from a nearby tree and starts beating the bonnet all the while shouting that he is going to show it who is  boss.

This completely over the top reaction is funny because we have all at some time pleaded with a malfunctioning piece of equipment even though we all know that pieces of equipment don’t respond to bribes, abuse or the urgency of the situation. Buildings, equipment and information can not be self less, they can not show empathy, they can not feel valued, they don’t care but people do.

I don’t know whether the out come of the coronavirus crisis will result in nurses and carers being better paid or more value being placed on jobs previously considered semi skilled but it should make all managers rethink the mantra employees are just another resource. 

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