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Images of People at Work Published: Sunday, October 3, 1999 By: Dr. Manuel Angel Morales

In order to understand current and future human resources practice, it is necessary an in-depth discussion of some of the assumptions of people`s behavior at work. One can challenge the economic rational man perspective, and subscribe to the hedonist principle of people pursuing pleasure and minimizing pain, and driven by emotions and feelings, and showing some degrees of irrationality. The role of management in this scenario is to listen to employees, facilitate counseling opportunities in order to discharge these emotional and irrational elements. The purpose is to gain compliance with the organizational system. The clear logic here is that irrational and emotional behavior needs to be managed.

Many companies stress employee satisfaction surveys. The strong belief here is that high levels of employee satisfaction will create better performance. While satisfaction has been linked to less absenteeism and turnover, the relationship with performance has to be properly established. But the image of employee satisfaction corresponding to high performance is not negative. There are many things we cannot establish yet, but must take them on faith, including statistical significance. Why not happy employees?

Other interesting images are those of the market and communities. The market image defines employees as actors, intrapreneurs, customers having choice and exercising degrees of empowerment and participation. It also interprets human beings as assets to be developed and deployed. The fine balance here is between workforce flexibility or overload…

The community image, family or team presents employees as members of a social organization, held by social bonds, bound by loyalty and reciprocity. In the family image people are rewarded, first, for belonging and, second, for performance. Sacrifices are expected in the name of what is good for the family. Teams are more oriented to involvement, where members (leaders and followers) although empowered are sacked for poor performance. Teams are a cooperation of specialist working toward a common goal.

The structuring challenge is to lead people, markets and teams images to concrete and better performance. It is quite possible to couple enterprising employees (free hands) with working teams (holding hands) to impact the market or the external customer. Again, the discussion of images of people at work should lead to actions taken with more informed base by the part of practitioners.

Copyright 1999 QBS, Inc.
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