“I was picked for my motivational skills. Everyone always says they have to work twice as hard when I’m around.” Homer Simpson
Do you think your staff are people, too?
Businesses always comprise numerous components, one of which is often referred to as staff, or even more clinically, as human capital. This generically termed component, as with others such as machinery, products, finances, information technology and the like, does not give due regard to its complexity. Understanding that your staff are people goes beyond merely having sound HR practices in place.
Your staff are people: individuals with beliefs, cultures, languages, aspirations and personalities, as just a few examples; but there also exist certain group aspects, emotions, pressures and behaviour. The massive field of human resources and shifting management trends, approbating and reprobating on the recognition of the value attributed to human capital, should be indicative of the attention that must be paid to understanding the “staff” aspect of your business.
Below, I will attempt to demonstrate a brief example of the differences between the group versus the individual aspects of your staff culture. As is the intended style of this blog, I will not prescribe an endless stream of situations and solutions, partially because I don’t pretend to have all the answers or be an expert on the subject; but more significantly because I hold the view that across different nationalities and cultures, there exist different solutions to ostensibly the same problem. The intention of this particular article on staff is simply to encourage the inclusion in your management approach of the human element. So read on and remember, your staff are people too!
Your staff are people, nothing less but much more
On a recent Saturday evening, a family lost its son, a brother lost his best friend, and a business lost a dedicated worker in a most tragic manner. He was not an educated man in the Western sense, but he was a good man no matter what your perspective.
The impact was greatly felt throughout the workforce and a number of colleagues on this man’s shift were rendered practically incapable of working for a number of days. Local legislation demands that a number of days are afforded to staff members for “family responsibility” leave, such as in the case of bereavement. Let’s assume that all legislative requirements were complied with, as they are not relevant for present purposes.
The group was afforded time to make peace with its loss and a memorial service conducted, pursuant to sensitive consultation with worker representatives, at the business premises for those interested in attending. This is apart from the private arrangements that were made. These arrangements were made specifically considering the cultural requirements of the deceased’s colleagues and it was later established that the particular group valued the consideration of their traditions and felt that the deceased’s memory was honoured by his employers in this fashion. Any imposition of values upon the group or presumption of the “right” way to handle such a difficult situation could easily have resulted in the perception that management were removed from their staff and only interested in the bottom line.
Are individuals relevant?
Is it enough that your business “complies” with legislation and attempts to secure its image as a sympathetic employer; and has this been achieved as above? Is a human touch viable and if not, at what stage has your business become so big that it is acceptable to you that each staff member is just another number? It is a fine line to tread between affording each member of staff individuality and affording none to any. I would suggest that this is an area where your approach to group issues AND individual issues will determine your ability to handle the human element of your business.
Initially, when you start a business, you might have close bonds to the few staff members you have, take them out for lunch on their birthdays, pop in at their homes for social get-togethers, know the names of their wives and children. At a point in time, however, you might find your ability to give this type of quality individual attention diluted by other demands in your business.
A valuable lesson was soon to be learned by management in the example above.
Staff is a generic term for people
During the course of engaging with staff members, identified and identifying themselves as having a close relationship with the deceased employee, it became clear that one staff member in particular was harbouring tremendous anguish over the incident. After urgently exploring the possibility of encouraging and obtaining counselling (remembering that not all cultures, or all individuals are open to the concept) for the affected staff member, and initial scepticism as to its benefits from his side, he attended an initial session with some fellow staff members.
The exercise proved tremendously fruitful for him and he was empowered to cope with the tragedy. He ultimately attended the personal counselling convinced by the sympathetic approach shown by the business towards the group and persuaded that the suggestion of management was bona fide – with the intention of helping the individual heal, as opposed to helping the business financially.
The perception of the staff was that the business had shown genuine interest in them as people, rather than merely as productive (or less productive) staff. The happy result was that the business achieved both… by focusing on its people as a group with systemic aspects and on individual sensitivities. The tragic event that could easily have become divisive ultimately became a source of tremendous team spirit and honoured the memory of a good man.
Counselling was provided by the wonderful charity organization at www.lifeline.co.za. This article is not written at the request or consideration of LifeLine, and their mention is gratuitous by the author. Find your local trauma counselling centre and support them!
Learn more about how interactions within the group are relevant by learning a bit about systemic dynamics.