Monday, September 26, 2011

Employers and Unions- Neither has exclusivity on ethical behaviour

The blogosphere is pulsating with commentary about the Health Services Union and whether or not Federal MP Craig Thomson has or hasn't done anything wrong. Workers have told me today how they feel about big business and the growing divide between those who have billions and those who belong to the poor working class or worse, tragically and unnacceptably, live in abject poverty.

Unions have performed an essential role throughout our labour history. They have had to fight for what should never have had to be fought for. However they don't have a moratorium on ethical practice. They don't always keep the so and so's honest. Sometimes it's the delegates and officials who need keeping honest.

I've worked across several sectors for 20 years. I have seen the whole gamut from the employer trying to create flexibility in the workforce to remain afloat, nimble or competitive  only to be sabotaged by union reps serving their own self interest. I've seen hate campaigns (i.e. vicious bullying) mounted against managers running legitimate change agendas even where this may put long term worker employment in jeopardy (as often those divisions were eventually sold off or closed down). This is holding a line that fails to take into account the big picture.
I've seen incompetent and/or unscrupulous managers who commoditise their people and put them under impossible strain. I've also seen delegates on the factory floor threaten and marginalise people happy to do a reasonable day's work for a reasonable day's pay.

 I understand completely the resentment of workers who see executives getting rich off what is perceived to be worker exploitation. However while far too many Australians may really be doing it tough and be understandably envious, it's not a crime to be wealthy. Union members are entitled to be well represented by people sincere about hearing them and advocating for them; not to pursue their own agenda and not to defend the indefensible.

Corruption isn't exclusive to big business. Members have to fight for morality within their own union community or we will see membership decline further. Employers and unions must ethically discharge their duties and be seen to be.   

Monday, September 12, 2011

Different events, same feelings

On the anniversary of 9/11 there have been lots of experts and lay people talking poignantly about the painful and traumatic memory of past events. It is well known in the profession of psychology how hard it is for those who've suffered acute loss around the time of anniversaries and big occasions.

At a time when I am working with many clients on organisational change initiatives from the modest reviews to the full blown enterprise restructures involving the potential for job losses, I am reminded of the power of the baggage we carry and the vivid memory traces which can propel us or paralyse us.

Whilst I am not equating organisational change to the horror of losing loved ones in terrorist events (indeed such comparisons must be perspective tested), there is an undeniable parallel in people who've experienced something traumatic or stressful and how that plays on their minds when they find themselves in situations much later that evoke similar memories of uncertainty, pain and loss.

How can we help? We can listen and empathise. We can gently help them reality test their 'awfulising' and 'catastrophising' and whether this is or isn't serving them. Importantly we can remind them that as difficult as it must have been for them, they got through it last time and we are confident they will again. In therapy this is known as the transfer of optimism. We may also need to be patient and give them a little time; without tolerating chronic underperformance or justifying unacceptable behaviour.