When dealing with people, let us remember that we are not dealing with creatures of logic, we are dealing with
creatures of emotion, creatures bustling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.
It is true that the number of industrial strikes have come down. But the consequences of sporadic strikes cause considerable concern. Of late, there
has been crisis after crisis. There is a hierarchy of individual unrest, industrial unrest, regional unrest and national unrest. Managers are targeted and done away with. Terminologies that were used frequently in 1980's:
vandalism, hooliganism, rebellion, revolting, protest, strike, lockout, kidnaps, agitation, rioting, violence, etc, have started resurfacing. It is definitely an ominous sign that is like devil wind that does not do any good to
anybody. The nation's reputation is at stake. It is not just one incident in one plant of Maruti Suzuki, but there are thousands of industrial unrests brewing in many manufacturing industries in India. There are a lot of talks,
discussions and suggestions emphasizing the importance of better employee relations. It is still true that we become wise after events. The entire nation has resorted to fire fighting mode once again.
This article presents
the author's observations, interactions with technicians, engineers and managers from many manufacturing industries. It discusses:
1) Causes of unrest,
2) Consequences of that and
3) Cures for better employee relations.
It is said, 'Every why has every wherefore.' The causes of individual and industrial unrest can be found at three levels. They are: At individual level
(operational), Departmental level (middle level) and Organizational level (top level). A diagnostic view of the causes at all these levels will provide cures to overcome these challenges.
Technicians have myriad stories to narrate about workplace expectations and disappointments in the shop floor. They face problems predominantly related to three areas, namely, Occupational, Personal and Psychosocial.
challenges are the jobs are monotonous. Most of them are in the same job, same department, and same place for more than ten years. Boredom has already set in. Their jobs do not give them any challenges. Everything is planned and programmed. There is no variety. Their brains are blunt as they are devoid of regular usage. Most of them get their work done by -extract from- apprentices and contract workers. Tagore opined that "An idle mind is a devil's workshop." There are so many idle minds in the shop floor.
Moreover, there is no advancement in their jobs. They do not and cannot have career aspirations as they are in Catch 22 situations. Demands of work, schedule-shift changes-, financial commitments and family responsibilities
did not allow them to upgrade their qualifications. To get promotions they need qualifications. Now that it has become too late, according to them, to study and earn degrees. Without qualifications, there are no promotions. Future
Personal Front: most of the workers in manufacturing industries are financially better. Their wives are highly educated, a few are MBAs and employed and their kids are in reputed schools. But there has not
been any improvement in their own life styles. One technician said. "It is unfortunate that I have married an MBA. She speaks good English, highly knowledgeable and expects me to speak in English especially with her friends. I
tried a lot but I could not. I just don't feel like going back home after work." In fact, many of them prefer spending their evenings with their friends to going home. As a consequence, there are rifts in family relationships.
Their families expect them to behave like professionals. These people have neither qualification nor quality to exhibit professional demeanour. This predicament adds fuels to fire and there are a lot of interpersonal conflicts.
Psychosocial Level: Not only their families but also the society does not respect them. One technician, who spends most of his working hours in welding shop and appears tough, said, "A college student was speaking to me.
But I could not understand his communication. I kept clarifying. He said, 'What are you?' I said, 'I am a technician in XYZ Company.' He said, 'Then you cannot understand this.' Truly I did not understand why he made that remark. I
am scared of talking to people. I avoid conversations in public."
Technicians cannot accept commands from their engineers. These engineers are fresh engineering graduates. One technician
said, "My supervisor is younger to me. He does not have any experience. He does not have knowledge of our technology. Even his salary is lower than mine. I own a house, a car and have fourteen years experience in the same industry,
I am technically sound and I have introduced a lot of innovations in production. He does not respect all these. He wants me to obey him. When he wants to dominate me he speaks in English. I cannot understand even a word. I know he
is scolding me, but I don't know what that is. It's just disgusting to look at him." They express in Army parlance as the situation is like a Lieutenant is teaching a battle scarred veteran how to manage wars.
managers look down upon them. The technicians feel that the managers are abusive. They pass a lot of acerbic remarks. A manger, as he wanted to insult a worker, said, "Don't you use your brain?" The worker, though wanted to be curt
and tell if he used his brain he would not be working for him, diplomatically said "If I don't use my brain I cannot live up to your expectations." The worker made that statement with all humility but there was humiliation. The
only need of these technicians, as they expressed, is self-esteem.
Engineers have their own reasons to bulldoze the technicians. One engineer with much helplessness and frustrations said, "We are sandwiched. When we pass
orders to technicians, they do not listen to us. When we take actions, they do not care. They directly meet my manager and settle issues. That is insulting. That happens because of their familiarity with each other and also the
practices so far. They are very clever. They know what works and what does not. We become laughing stocks." Another engineer intervened, "When this happens the manager insults us. He says, 'If you cannot manage them, why should you
be there? Get last.' They should not entertain the technicians bypassing us. They want to be in good books and pass the buck to us. I've read about organizational politics. Now I witness real organizational politics here." There is
hopelessness in these angry young men.
The top management does not believe in the caliber of technicians when it comes to discussion and decision making. One senior manager vehemently voiced,
"After all they are workers. Let them remain workers. It is good for them and for the organization." He was too logical. His colleague later on commented, "He has forgotten that he started his career as a worker." The gap in
perspectives is huge. The top management thinks that operational level people cannot discuss and decide. But the operational level feels
that the top management does not listen. The difference is between thinking and feeling. Let's remember Dale Carnegie's wisdom on dealing with people. We are not dealing with creatures of logic, we are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bustling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity. Emotion becomes the breeding ground for all biases. A senior IR expert, who has had many amicable settlements, said, "Now a-days it is disgusting to discuss anything with these people who cannot understand us. I had been considerate so far, but now…." There are experiences and explanations, but if our past interferes with our present, there is no future.
The consequences of these industrial unrests are irreparable. Obviously there are individual unrests, threats, damages, uncertainties and deaths. The impacts of this on individuals are:
insecurity, differences, conflicts, charges, suspensions, terminations- life becomes a burden, fear of psychological and physical injury. All these have influence on performance as anxiety and productivity do not go together.
Organizations lose production, material, values, images, customers and revenue. The damage is at national level as firms stop investing and start withdrawing from locality. It also affects the survival of the local people who
depend on these industries. "The SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that the labour unrest and subsequent violence at Maruti Suzuki's Manesar plant would dent India's image as a manufacturing base and safe destination for
investment." (Courtesy: The Hindu July 26, 2012)
Proper induction and orientation programmes (on boarding), especially managing people who have considerable experience, must be given to the fresh
engineers. The transition from campus to corporate must memorable for these fresh graduates. They are the shock absorbers. They must build endurance to withstand any pressure. They have knowledge. There can be facilitation to help
them apply that knowledge.
Let's now revisit and reinforce the importance of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. The workers' predominant need is 'Self Esteem.' People long for what they do not have. They long for self
esteem. They keep asking What's In It For Me (WIIFM)? There is a need to change perspectives. Need for more interpersonal dialogues, get together, interactions, rapport building, understanding each other's thinking and feeling. A
manager, after participating in a day long programme on 'Interpersonal Competence,' commented, "If we follow the principles of Rapport Building, there won't be industrial unrests."
"Work place" says Seth Allcorn, "is neither
a benign presence nor a good enough mother. It is an overarching context filled with anxiety inducing conflict, hidden interpersonal agenda, over demands for conformity and behavior modifying systems of rewards and punishments. It
is only natural that we respond by changing ourselves to 'fit in' so as to alley anxiety or otherwise learn to cope with it by employing an array of psychological differences such as denial, rationalization, fantasy, reaction
formation, acting out and splitting and projection."
"Do not treat them as employees. Treat them as people," Peter Drucker. The most difficult phase of life is not when no one understands us. It is when we do not understand
ourselves. It's an occasion to reflect on our preferred styles of thinking, dominant feelings, preferences and prejudices and the impact of all these on others in the workplace for a safe, healthy, happy and productive workplace.