Employment is a master-servant relationship

I am self-employed.  My boss is really easy to work with and yet I have no work-life balance.  It’s all in the same bucket.  But, I like it that way.  No messy vacation requests.  No performance reviews.  No income security.  No banked overtime or nine day fortnight applications.  Not everyone would love it.  But, what if you worked in an environment where things were really flexible?

ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) is becoming a new buzzword in the world of work.  At the heart of it is a focus on performance rather than presence.  A cynic would say to allow the employer to take advantage of the employee and work them like dogs.  Hmm, seems to me when I talk to my “indentured” friends, this may already be happening (emails at all hours, vacations which are interrupted, etc).  A glass half-full type of person would say that it is because the employer trusts the employee to get their job done and treats them like a grown-up.

I think that we need to consider how to move the employment relationship from the master-servant realm to one that is more suited to the 21st century.  Heck, I’d even be ok with shifting to the 20th century!  Trends tell us, we’ll have fewer bodies to fill roles, continued demand for work-life balance (whatever that is), shifting economy (commoditized jobs moving to India/China), etc., etc.  But, we don’t seem to be doing anything about it.

HR has their head in the sand.  We let the lawyers dictate what we should and shouldn’t do.  The risk is managing us, not the other way around.  If we are going to help our organizations compete, we need to remove our heads from the sand and come up with some new alternatives.  Otherwise, we’ll all be fighting for the same shrinking talent pool and losing talented employees to the highest bidder, and continuing to pay escalating costs to manage the employment relationship.  Maybe ROWE isn’t it, but not everyone wants to work full-time.  Or be a servant.


Holly MacDonald is an independent consultant with well over 15 years of experience in the learning & development field.  Holly is a bit of a techno-geek and can often be found playing online.  When she steps away from her computer, she spends time outside: hiking, kayaking, gardening and of course walking the dog.  She lives on Saltspring Island and is a leader in the live/work revolution.

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4 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michael Carty and Elaine Young, Krysty W. Krysty W said: Employment is a master-servant relationship « Fireside HR… For the… http://lnkd.in/XWBYvM […]

  2. Here’s another perspective: http://www.jarche.com/2010/09/job-is-a-four-letter-word/.

  3. Great read Holly. I just wrote this http://www.careercurve.com/blog/2010/09/rethinking-your-handbook-%e2%80%93-managing-with-values-instead-of-rules/ about tossing the handbook. Would love to hear your thoughts. Everyone wants to build trust but how do you do that when everything is about policies and rules and disregards values? Thanks for a great post!

  4. Agreed! Trust isn’t usually built through rules, but through discussion, relationships, etc…

    I find it interesting that HR hasn’t really answered the call for re-envisioning org/job design. It seems to still be an all or nothing situation for many organizations. How we codeify, standardize and stack jobs in the organizational pyramids seems so limiting.

    I think it’s time come up with some new options for work, in light of the demographics, economic, technological and social forces at play in our world. I’d love it if HR sprearheaded this to balance the human element and business drivers. And, yes, based it on values!

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