Right at the beginning of my career I remember my dad giving me a piece of advice: that where ever I found myself working in my career I should always regard myself as a supplier, providing my services to my client (my employer). Dad’s an organizational psychologist, so he was speaking from a professional as well as parental perspective.
It’s stuck with me. It’s not always, though, something that I have been able to maintain through the past two decades. In fact, it’s probably only in the past three years since working under the banner of stamp that I have truly been able to work with that level of emotional separation.
It’s not that I don’t bring passion or emotion to my work – anyone who knows me I hope would tell you that when I’m involved in something, I’m really involved in it. I can probably also be used as a case study in disengaged if something isn’t floating my boat.
It’s in that context I read Neil Morrison’s The Myth of Entitlement article this morning. In it he argues that the said myth is that organizations owe something to their employees and employees owe something to their employers.
On the face of it, I agree wholeheartedly. But as I’ve thought more, I think that it’s a very clinical analysis that ignores the sociological and psychological aspects of organizational life.
You can look at it from a Maslovian perspective and see how belonging is something that is a key psychological need, and that the workplace provides to that need in ways that extend above and beyond the material and financial transactions of a salary.
You can look at it from a Marxist perspective and see how a “job” gives an individual his (or her, although Karl was a sexist old bugger) purpose in life.
You can look at it from the perspective of identity and that for many of us our job title and our employer is a hugely important part of how we define ourselves (just try changing someone’s job title to find out how much it means).
All of this is much, much more than Neil’s interpretation:
The relationship that brings employee and employer together is one to organise labour to deliver collectively for a defined purpose. And that purpose is the economic driver and the one and only reason that both exist.
… which sounds like the sort of pure “economan” that exists only in the emotional void that is economics (and for which behavioural economics has been developed to paper over the cracks of the classical models).
Not taking account of the psychological and sociological factors involved in being employed doesn’t help in getting a better balance in the relationship between employer and employee. Too often the former becomes parent, the latter child. But to get to adult/adult relationships (if such a thing is possible between person and the inanimate yet slightly psychopathic object that is the corporation) needs a broader analysis than just economics.