Regarding Employees

Our capitalistic system requires that we pay to procure products or services. If purchasing a service, the real or implied contract is that the recipient must deliver that service in a satisfactory manner else lose their job or the customer’s business.

That expectation of salary for service creates potential problems in the creation of a quality relationship. After all, the relationship is quid pro quo or Thou Shall Do Something For Me, not necessarily based on a genuine concern for the other. The Arbinger Institute, author of the books Anatomy of Peace and Leadership and Self-Deception, regard this expectation as treating another not as a person, but as a vehicle or means to an end. This may be especially true for a star performer – after all, my employees are there to make me look good, right? And they’d better keep doing it.

At the other extreme are employees that create problems. Those problems may either include a lack of productivity, disruptive behavior or poor work quality. In this case, management is likely focusing on the problem and the employee’s weaknesses, not their strengths. Employers may be regarding those folks not as people but as obstacles.

Alternatively, an employee may perform adequately, neither rising nor falling significantly above or below the threshold of productivity to attract the attention of management. The employee may not be on the radar of the employer at all; they’re pretty much left alone to do their job. Again, the employee may be regarded as an object – in this case, as irrelevant. Management is not focusing on strengths or weaknesses as they may be ignoring them completely.

Each scenario, though understandable and common given human nature, sets us up for conflict and dysfunctional relationships.   The scenarios where the other is an obstacle or irrelevant also increases the odds the employee will be either unengaged or actively disengaged (complaining, creating problems, angry). In the meantime, management is probably feeling pretty helpless, victimized and perplexed by employee attitudes and work performance.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. Employers are not the only ones guilty of the behavior. Employees may feel management is irrelevant, gets in their way, or is a vehicle for their own needs, such as income, and desires. If these attitudes are pervasive among both management and staff, then the whole organization may be mired in relationship dysfunction.

There’s no way, given our system, to avoid those Thou Shall expectations when you’re paying someone for a service. However, that does not mean that we must be blind to the subconscious dynamic that is associated with that expectation. Arbinger suggests that we have a choice as to whether we transition from regarding others as people (where their needs, cares, hopes and fears are as important as our own) to seeing them as objects (vehicles, obstacles or irrelevant). In other words, if you are to reward, punish or review an employee, do you consider their needs, cares, hopes and fears? Are you sensitive to those needs? Do you treat them as you would want to be treated? Paying someone does not give another permission to disregard their humanity.

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