Workers Unhappy Despite Their Employers’ Rosy Claims
While corporations boast to shareholders of their new efficiency and profitability, a rumbling of alienation, discontent and frustration has developed among workers.
The feelings, emanating in part from the mass job eliminations and downsizing of the past few years, seem to represent a breakdown in the mutual understanding between workers and managers that prevailed for decades.
A study by a management consulting firm points out still-developing problems. For example, it found that a large number of workers dislike their companies, mostly because of poor management practices.
The study, by Kepner-Tregoe, a firm with a blue-chip clientele, indicates workers believe supervisors fail to understand what motivates them to do good work and that performance is unrecognized and unrewarded.
Interpreting the findings, T. Quinn Spitzer, president of Kepner-Tregoe, said that “the outward appearance of organizational health hides deeper problems,” including assumptions about management competence and efficiency.
He said his company was “so amazed at the vehemence of workers that we wondered if we had in some way contaminated the study.”
Because of this, he said, Kepner-Tregoe’s methodology and interpretation were reviewed by Yankelovich Partners, which found that “the survey process and the conclusions reached were sound and reliable.”
Among the deeper problems found in the study, he said, were “demoralized, underutilized workers poorly led by out-of-touch managers,” which, he added, “calls into question the rhetoric of “high-performance workplaces.”
Workers expressed unhappiness over a lack of training needed to do the best job, a failure of managers to define job expectations, and a general lack of information on the production or financial performance of their site.
While some of the problems originate in a pursuit of productivity, marked in recent years by corporate slimming down, the study found companies might have a source of even greater productivity if worker relations were improved.
It cites as examples a widespread absence of performance systems and a lack of understanding about what motivates workers.
According to the study, supervisors complain that workers lack self-motivation, but “workers declare they already have sufficient internal motivation” and that what they are lacking is motivational action by management.
Some of the findings were affirmed in a study by Towers Perrin, another blue-chip management adviser, although that study seemed to find less disaffection among workers.
It found job satisfaction is shaped not just by rewards but by factors such as the company’s success, the workers’ sense of accomplishments, the belief that they can have a career and their understanding of company goals.
For employers, it said, it means “believing in employees’ work ethics and abilities to the same extent employees themselves do,” and providing resources and opportunities for employees to participate in the company.
Both studies suggest an evolving relationship with employees, one that does not completely depart from the somewhat paternalistic social contract that evolved after World War II.
Some companies, both studies seem to suggest, may in the past few years have returned too far toward a starkly economic contract based simply on a pay-for-work philosophy that de-emphasizes personal considerations.
Towers Perrin calls for a “new deal” between business and workers, with the single most important message from workers being, “Equip us--and, more important, trust us--to do what it takes to keep the business viable.”
Spitzer phrased it a bit differently, saying that “the critical issue is between a social or economic contract. We need a new social model.”