HR for adults

By September 2, 2021General Insights

One of the things that has gnawed at the edges of my consciousness for years is the way that business has taken a paternalistic, parent to child, relationship with its employees. What’s more employee advocates seem to have welcomed and facilitated this, by acting as the sulky child when they don’t get what they want. There are lots of reasons for this, some economic and historical others psychological and social.

But many people are recognising that the days of the paternalistic parent are over. Some look back in regret at a misty-eyed time when workers were cared for from youthful apprenticeships to elderly retirement. Others note that it was never that for many workers anyway, and it certainly won’t be that way in the future.

So what does HR look like if we treat our employees as adults? Here are eight key words.

  • Level – Yes, of course the employer has greater bargaining power, and the involuntary cessation of employment is virtually always far more devastating for the employee. But if we don’t start from an adult-to-adult, parity of esteem, with both employer and employee recognising each other as contracting parties, then we are still stuck in the patriarchal model.
  • Open – Openness is the key to a trusted and trusting long term relationship. Transparency does not mean there are no agendas, of course there are. Transparency means that the real agendas of either party are known and acknowledged.
  • Vocational – Vocation or calling is not a word we tend to use much any more except in the phrase “vocational qualifications”. A sense of vocation implies that work is greater than many of our contractual relationships, in that it engages the passions and deep commitments of both sides.
  • Excellent – High standards have to be a foundation for adult-to-adult employment. This is just as true for the employer expecting the employee’s best efforts at work as the employee expecting the employer to behave excellently in leadership and management.
  • Win:win – Mutual benefit, can be the basis of any contract. Marx’s disciples were wrong – employment is not of itself exploitative, but it can easily become so.
  • Optimistic – If either side enters the employment relationship with suspicious belief that its all going to end badly, then that very belief will create the distrust that will ruin it. Optimism has to precede collaboration.
  • Rigorous – Work should be tough, tiring, challenging and rewarded. If it isn’t toil it might just be a hobby. By the way – doing what is tough, tiring and challenging can be deeply satisfying and lead to happiness.
  • Known – Employees need to know the expectations of performance, and the consequences and support which follow. Employers too crave certainty – their whole business plan is predicated on employees behaving in predictable ways.

So L,O,V,E, W,O,R,K – how on earth are busy people going to remember all that?

Simon Nash

Simon Nash

Simon Nash is an experienced leader, speaker and writer in the intersection of people and ideas at work.

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