It was sweltering hot in Boston today, but I enjoyed it. Living in Southern California and North Carolina, I’ve gotten used to hot temperatures and actually quite like the very hot days now. Anyway, small rant aside, I’m posting another discussion post from my Principles of Management class at Umass-Amherst, as it is still too hot to sit at the computer for too long tonight. Tonight’s post is about human resource management and is quite long as I had a variety of strong opinions on the subject. Enjoy.
In my mind, an organization is similar to a car, it’s structured and holds humans inside of it, and is always on the move, except when it (both the car and organization) is shut off. Human energy is the gasoline of a car, as it provides the organization the energy necessary to get to where it’s trying to go. I won’t go into further detail with my analogy but the main point I’m trying to make is that humans are what [ideally] progresses an organization to achieve its goals. As we’re now learning with cars and gasoline, managing the source of energy is crucial to any machines’ (I mean machine in the physics sense, that an output is created via an input) ability to function.
Is managing human resources, through an HR department, a waste of time, energy, and other resources? Isn’t it ironic that in the last session we learned about the value of decentralization, yet many organizations manage there human resources through one department? Is it effective and efficient to house the power and control of how an organization’s most important asset [human employees] is managed in one department? My employer manages literally trillions of dollars, yet as our CEO stated in his recent annual earnings statement, people are the company’s most important asset. Shouldn’t this responsibility be decentralized and be assigned to managers in the field who can directly see the employees affected? Although this would be ideal, it’s not feasible as managers in the field must focus on accomplishing the goals of the organization. I believe my employer has a good set-up by having multiple human resource departments located at its various locations, this way power is decentralized and HR departments can be located near or integrated with the areas they are attempting to manage.
The biggest conflict between a human resource and how to manage it is compensation, benefits, and career development. I honestly believe that I should be paid more than I am, should have easier and more plentiful access to benefits, and should be the CEO of my company. My HRM department would cite that my pay is on par with the median for my experience, education, and skills and abilities, that I receive the same benefits as everyone else (depending on how much depth you want to argue on here, for instance I’m not receiving paid maternity leave but the woman behind me is, is this fair? I agree that she should be excused from work during her maternity and paid for it, but how is that fair to me?), and that the CEO is doing a fine job (mostly agree there, I still think I would do better) and that I would not be able to match his performance. How does HRM know this? They have their surveys and figures and all kinds of tools, but how can you know if I wouldn’t be a better CEO without giving me the chance and obviously at that point my current pay would not be on par with market standards. Some would argue that I have to work to that point, and that is a valid argument, but is it effective? Take the New England Patriots, and their starting MVP-caliber quarterback, Tom Brady, who got the chance to prove his abilities because of an injury to our former starting quarterback, Drew Bledsoe. The book states that career development is now the responsibility of each employee (I can agree that is exactly how it is at my current employer); this is a slippery slope, because if shy people who are skilled and valuable to the company do not develop, but a lazy person who contributes no real value to the company spends all of his/her time networking and making it appear that he/she is ready for a promotion, the organization will eventually fail because it’ll be completely run by a bunch of people who schemed their way to the top.
Too many times, politics wins out over actual performance in determining compensation. Even worse, when actual good performance is rewarded, our pay is still decreasing from a historical perspective when taking into account three important factors, inflation, cost of living and productivity. Even though many studies and corporate earnings statements show that we’re becoming more and more productive, we do not get paid accordingly. Karl Marx summarized this when he wrote "The laborer becomes poorer the more wealth he produces, indeed, the more powerful and wide-ranging his production becomes. " What’s happening here is that methods of training and the employee pool provide organizations enough fresh human resources that many times they do not have to pay their employees proportionally to the value the employee adds to the organization.
Conditions have worsened since 1844 for employees who are good performers, with new laws in place such as Civil Rights Act, Equal Pay Act, Mandatory Requirement Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, employers have become frightened to fire a poor performer due to the possibility of being forced into costly litigations. These laws were necessary but I’d like to believe that our society has advanced to the point that we do not need to have these laws anymore, they truly are detrimental to profit and proper employee compensation, as organizations still look to how they can comply with these acts instead of how to best reward good performers. In fact, these laws are now starting to have the opposite effect of their intention. Reverse discrimination, for instance, in which white males who are as qualified, if not more so, for a position are being rejected for other people, whose only advantage seems to be that they are not a white male. I personally saw this when I was applying to colleges out of high school. Boston College rejected me while accepting kids from my high school who were seemingly less qualified in all categories except one, their skin color. I feel that my generation (I’m 23) and the ones below mine do not need these laws in place to prevent discrimination anymore, and in fact these laws are now doing us all a disfavor by stating, in explicit words, that people are different and you cannot discriminate against them. Our country is becoming less and less capitalistic. People are different and we should look at all people differently. If a purple person and a green person apply for a job and the purple person is more qualified but there are less green people working at the organization, who should get the job? In today’s world, the green person would get the job many times to fulfill the company’s diversity quota…
As the content of this session’s supplemental readings proves, human resource management is a complex and diverse field. The field basically encompasses all human skills, traits, and personalities. From Karl Marx’s description of capitalism as an inhuman force to the insensitivity shown in Death of A Salesman to the pure apathy towards work displayed by Bob Black to the ideals set forth by Robbins & Coulter; all of these aspects are part of human resource management. A topic I initially considered as simple before reading the materials, I now see as a infinitely complex one with literally an infinite amount of variables. Even, as I write this post I see it is rapidly becoming immense in length because I see so many different viewpoints on so many of the topics. This is another problem for HRM as they are in charge of creating a simple, easy to understand and utilize process for something that is so complex as humans. Maybe we should rename the study of human resource management to human resource help, because it does not seem to be a situation that can be completely controlled or managed but can be improved upon.
I thought Bob Black made a multitude of good points. Consider that companies such as Apple, Google, Youtube, Myspace, ESPN, Whole Foods, were started and became successful because there was a desire to fulfill the market those companies target. I can imagine that the founders of Myspace created the site for their own use, not profit. It seems more and more that great companies are being started because the founders had fun doing an activity and their enjoyment of that activity made them extremely good at it, to the point that they could then sell their expertise.
Think about how much work we must do to un-humanize ourselves in order to "get ready" for work, showering and changing clothes daily, commuting to and from work, complaining about the terrible day you had at the office when you get home so that all that rage doesn’t build up inside you, making sure you get to bed early so you can get up early to get ready for work. Do we really get that dirty on a daily basis? Why do we spend so much time covering up our true human nature? "Next we can take a meat-cleaver to production work itself. No more war production, nuclear power, junk food, feminine hygiene deodorant — and above all, no more auto industry to speak of. Already, without even trying, we’ve virtually solved the energy crisis, the environmental crisis, and assorted other insoluble social problems." Bob Black is simply stating the truth. Reality is not an ideal place, we do not live in a paradise world. Does everyone really need an automobile? Why in during the global warming crisis, do we still pay good money to have people drive around in a circle?
While many of the ideas Bob Black proposes are ridiculous and too radical, they are necessary ideas to release as our society it quickly deteriorating towards the vision of Karl Marx, a world in which humans are enslaved in a producing and consuming cycle. Depression medication is one of the biggest money-makers for the pharmaceutical industry, does this not show that we as humans are increasingly become less satisfied with our lives? I’ve never had the chance to read much of Karl Marx’s writings and am glad that he was one of the sources for this session, I found the following statement to be immensely valuable:
"The laborer feels himself first to be other than his labor and his labor to be other than himself. He is at home when he is not laboring, and when he is laboring he is not at home. His labor is not voluntary, but constrained, forced labor . Therefore, it does not meet a need, but rather it is a means to meet some need alien to it. Its estranged character becomes obvious when one sees that as soon as there is no physical or other coercion, labor is avoided like the plague. This alienated labor, this labor, in which human beings alienate themselves from themselves, is a labor of self-denial and self-torture. Finally, the alienation of labor manifests itself to the laborer in that this labor does not belong to him, but to someone else; it does not belong to him; while he is doing it he does not belong to himself, but to another. . . . the activity of the laborer is not his own activity. It belongs to someone else, it is the loss of his self."
Is it really necessary for us, (and here I mean Americans for we are one of the worst offenders of this) to work so much? Americans complains about the falling values of family, education, and social community, yet no one seems to work to decrease the time we spend at work. With the huge jump in productivity we’ve experienced, do we really need to spend 40 hours a week working? Are there not many other areas of our personal lives and society that could use our energy rather than working to get money?
Another Marx quote, "Through estranged labor, humans not only produce their relationship to the object and to the act of production as a power foreign and hostile to them, they produce also the relationship in which their production and their product stands in relationship to other humans as well as the relationship between themselves and other men.". Here Marx is stating that by working on a product, we lose sight of the human on the other end who will be using that product. Look at how foreign computers are to how humans naturally interact with the world.
Bob Black said "What I really want to see is work turned into play. " This is not as far-fetched or difficult as it might seem at first. A lot of play is inherently competitive. Consider the childhood classic, hide and seek, there are clear objectives, boundaries, and goals in the game, even if there are no clear cut winners and losers. Simple things can really turn a dull and monotonous office job into something more fun. Office pools and simple competitions like who helped the most people in a week could break up the monotony of a workplace but it seems that there are rules and regulations in place to ensure work is kept serious, but why? Why can’t we have fun and work at the same time?
The biggest problem is you cannot completely "manage" people. Karl Marx believes in communal living, where we all contribute equally and consume equally. This does not work. Some people are inherently lazy, how do you force them to contribute equally without violating freedom? Do you assign the lazy people personal managers to ensure they contribute equally? If you do, how is it fair that some people get aided by personal managers while others have to manage themselves? How do you account for people with disabilities who are not able to contribute equally? Bob Black believes we should just get rid of responsibility and let everyone do what they enjoy doing and somehow all the world’s need will get met. Is Bob Black volunteering to ensure our sewage systems run properly? Is there really someone out there who enjoys working in public sewage management? What about Howard from Death of a Salesman? Does Bob Black think he should go about making everyone feel miserable? Would Howard be in charge of checking everyone’s fun-time and if they didn’t have enough fun they don’t get to eat? I can completely emphasize with Willy, because there are times at my current job and at former jobs where I would do anything to improve my performance, but many of the times I’m told to keep the status quo. I worked in a Home Depot factory a couple years ago and the main task was to look busy! If you were caught joking around with a colleague while there was no work to do you would be reprimanded!
By the way, the title off this post is a rip on the Cisco commercial and slogan, "Welcome to the Human Network". Thanks for selling ourselves to ourselves, Cisco. We are entering a time of serious crisis, when more and more humans will exist and need to be managed, yet I fear there will not be enough qualified managers to do so (if only there were more people as the ones in this class…).