Workers and their Bosses
An unavoidable love entanglement?
As the President of the Black Management Forum, I am privileged to have been asked to contribute to the launch edition of this amazing media platform, writing on an issue that is very close to my heart. This is also on a day that has come to represent the struggle of the international labour movement to achieve equitable and just working conditions for the working class all over the world.
Originating in 1886 in the United States of America, May Day still maintains its relevance today – specifically in South Africa – where workers continue to face the legacy of exploitative labour practices.
The interlock relationship between workers and bosses is probably one of the most important bonds that lubricates the chains of commerce. The need and desire for commercial gain by both parties is at the heart of what makes this often complex relationship work, even when the bonds of affection may be severely strained. Although commerce, at the core, can be reduced to the selling of goods and services, its rules of engagement have a massive impact on the social, economic, regulatory and other aspects of working together. The main actors in this commerce theatre will be the workers and their bosses.
A company has a legal persona and yet it cannot make decisions for itself. Hence the workers and bosses have been tasked with the huge responsibility to make such decisions in the best interest of the company. Accordingly, a company is like an incapacitated person – others have to make decisions in its best interest. Bosses have the responsibility of growing the business and this expansion should result in a number of positive developments such as investment stimulation, purchasing of new buildings, machinery and equipment. Fair labour practices have to be tightly knitted with all these key strategic decisions to unlock the value of the investment.
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection”, Abraham Lincoln reminded Americans during the civil war. Easier said than done perhaps?
The tension between management and the workers will always be there but it can be managed better, for the benefit of both parties. My experience is that there will always be a love-hate relationship between these two. But the intention from the bosses must come from a friendly heart – a heart that enhances the greater good for all, as opposed to the adversarial staring-down that we often witness. The bosses have to get the optimal best out of their workers, while at the same time ensuring that the workers are treated equitably and are fairly compensated. The nature of these interchanges are not always easily understood and agreed upon by both parties, hence the need for open consultations and engagements. However, consultations cannot happen forever, especially at the expense of commerce. In the end, decisions need to be made and agreements need to be reached. The trick is in ensuring that those decisions and agreements are in the best interest of business and its workers.
Although compensation features highly in the tensions of this relationship, for me this has always been a symptom and not a root cause of the issues. It is a hygiene factor that needs to be meticulously and continuously managed. Fairness, equity and justice must be embedded in our key decisions that we make as bosses, and this will result in calibration and ultimately what is “right” will prevail. This should be applied in significant decisions such as hiring, promotions and firing. My management attitude has always been anchored by personal and career development for the workers. For business to get the best of out of its workers, it must also invest in them to ensure that they reach their full potential.
It took me a while to realise that people are happiest when they receive a simple letter that says “thank you”, acknowledging their efforts when they go beyond the call of duty. I’m told appreciation is a fundamental human need. Workers feel more satisfaction and are highly motivated when their contribution is recognised and rewarded. Higher employee satisfaction will certainly contribute to higher productivity and profitability for any company.
Finally, companies are like zebras and the black and white stripes represent both the workers and bosses, respectively. If the hunted zebra is shot through a black or white stripe, it does not matter as that will lead to the demise of the animal anyway. Consequently, it is in the best interest of both the workers and their bosses to ensure that the zebra is not only loved and protected, but also prospers for the benefit of all concerned.
Mncane Mthunzi, President of the Black Management Forum.