The Social Contract Revisited
Over this weekend I found myself reading and thinking about a number of things I saw posted and debated on the blogosphere.
There are a number of different postings out there about a young woman who directed a letter/post the CEO of her organization deploring her personal working conditions, primarily her compensation vis a vis,
the cost of living in the San Francisco Bay area and the affordability gap for basic food and shelter and wages.
The young woman was released from the company (fired) and part of the discussion was whether or not she was terminated for taking her view and her issues public. The CEO has indicated he was not personally involved in that decision.
There are a number of issues that this incident has provoked discussion about including, but not limited to –
• The ongoing debate about a “living wage” and who is responsible for providing it
• Whether her taking her issues to the public represents an act of courage or a sense of entitlement that we have branded the Millennial generation with
• Whether the action taken by the organization was appropriate and within their purview
Another excellent post talked about engagement versus empowerment and how we should measure it and whether or not it is still relevant.
I personally believe that engagement is a culture and a process rather than a program or an event and I think that if we look at the organizational performance of organizations where employees rate themselves a highly engaged as opposed to marginally or unengaged the question of the relevance of engagement becomes pretty obvious.
I have long believed that engagement is about alignment. When I have a clear understanding of the goals of the organization, can see the direct impact and relationship between my efforts and organizational performance, and a direct link between my efforts and performance and the reward structure of the organization, and finally I feel that my personal values are aligned with that of the organization I am inclined to do my best work.
Our existing social contact has its roots in compliance, not engagement. We wanted employees to do what they are told with a minimum of pesky questions and the need to be coached, motivated, or otherwise individually managed.
There are many who believe (and I am among them) that the primary purpose of our educational system was to train a supply of people who had the basic skills to follow direction and understood that performance equated to complying with authority. Do what teacher says and get the A. In return under the old model you were provided with a degree of economic security.
Then the 70s and 80’s happened and off-shoring, down- sizing, and right sizing to optimize financial performance became acceptable.
Another great post talked about that HR bugaboo, turnover. The author points out a number of things that we should take into account when we look at turnover-
• The fact that few of the Millennial generation embrace the idea of lifetime employment
• That who is leaving and why they are leaving may be way more important than how many
• That certain types of employment are transactional and essentially temporary and that is ok.
I have long thought that one of the most appropriate measures of highly effective executives/leaders is their talent legacy. How many of their staff have gone on to significantly greater responsibility either within or outside the organization.
Yet another great post talked about the entitlement mentality. He talks about how every organization in the world is basically created to generate value for the stakeholders. Simply put that means that the end goal isn’t to provide jobs for employees. That is a side benefit.
On the flip side employees don’t exist to serve their employers. They rent their talents, efforts and abilities to the employer as long as it works for both parties.
Enlightened employers have figured out that when you see your employees as stakeholders rather than human capital and you hire and develop people who share your vision, values, etc. and reward appropriate behavior they are likely to stay longer and contribute more during their tenure with you.
I feel legitimately bad for the young lady who finds herself unemployed in a high cost of living area, but on the flip side I have to ask myself these questions-
• Was she not aware of the compensation being offered for the position she accepted and the requirement that you stay in a department for a year before transferring to a different (I am assuming higher paying) role?
• She made a cognitive decision to live in one of the highest cost of living areas in the U.S. Did she look at the total picture before accepting the job? Has she considered relocating?
• What other actions did she take before she addressed her concerns to the CEO in a very public forum?
I can relate to much of her experience. The community where I currently reside has major issues with the affordability index which is the cost of living relative the average wage rate. We have largely stagnated for close to two decades or more since the severe reduction of the extraction economy the community was built on. I am deeply disappointed with community leadership that after that much time we have made little meaningful progress in addressing that issue.
I find it kind of repugnant that a big part of our allure to some employers was the ability to pay relatively lower wages to a pretty well educated workforce, something that may be changing as the state is embracing a new minimum wage that will be among the highest in the country.
It is also ironic to me that we have an issue for employers requiring staff with more vocationally oriented than academically oriented skills, positions that do pay a living wage, and we have made minimal progress addressing that.
We have issues in our society with the wage gap, access to health care and a number of others.
I don’t happen to be among those who feel that the government is best suited to address those issues. I am more supportive of collaborative models involving all the sectors than increasing codependency.
My perspective may seem harsh. It isn’t intended to be.
We are leaving literally trillions of dollars on the table annually in the U.S. alone from lost productivity from disengaged employees, employee turnover, and the direct and indirect health care related costs of employee health care expenditures relating to stress, depression and other related issues.
We need a new social contract that is based on mutual respect and mutual responsibility. I can’t see anything but upside. Can you?