During the last couple of years, I get the feeling that corporations have reverted to workplaces of the Industrial Revolution, where people are seen as just another cog in the machine that can be easily pulled out and replaced if necessary.

This dehumanisation is no small matter. In the Financial Times article I reference in my last post, Jonathon Hogg, head of the people and operations practice at PA Consulting, commented:

“Too many human resources departments became fixated with systems that make an organisation more efficient but dehumanise management. Companies have put in all sorts of process to measure and evaluate performance, an arithmetic approach to assessing people. This puts the focus on compliance and fulfilling quotas, not engaging with staff.”

This reminds me of the prison system in which inmates are assigned numbers. To the prison guards, they are not called by their names or referred to by name in any way. They are their number: Inmate 173658.

Even outside of the performance appraisal process, employees know they are viewed as nothing but cogs in the machine. A recent Wall Street Journal article made this abundantly clear, discussing the “near historic” profits U.S companies are pulling in after “re-tooling their operations.”

“For all U.S. companies, the Commerce Department estimates second-quarter after-tax profits rose to an annual rate of $1.208 trillion, up 3.9% from the first quarter and up 26.5% from a year earlier. … The data indicate that big companies are recovering from the downturn faster and more strongly than the overall economy, helping send stock prices higher this year. To achieve that performance, companies laid off hundreds of thousands of workers, closed less-profitable units, shifted work to cheaper regions and streamlined processes. … Despite the hefty profits, executives aren’t expected to boost spending on new employees, products and equipment anytime soon.”

Companies know they’re putting the squeeze on employees, as noted in this Market Watch article:

“Some companies acknowledge that workers are feeling squeezed. Among all employers, 61% said their cost cutting has increased employees’ workloads, while 53% said cost cutting has made it harder for employees to manage their work-related stress.. …

“And workers are feeling under-appreciated, other recent data indicate. Fifty-two percent of employees said their employer has done nothing to reward their achievements in the past year, and 59% said they are making the same or less than they were two years ago, according to an August survey by Glassdoor.com, a career and workplace community.”

What’s the likely outcome if this dehumanisation continues? Workers looking out for themselves, especially as the economy improves, as this BlessingWhite research notes:

“Employees are weary of cost cutting, organisational triage, and anxious business conditions. Star performers in particular may be tired of performing heroics for their employers. They’re ready to crawl out from the safe place of ‘at least I have a job’ to think about their future.”

How are employees viewed in your workplace? As inmates who are nothing more than a number, interchangeable at will and not to be troubled about? Or as teammates with value and worth that should be honored, noticed and recognised?

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