Frank Greenfield
3 minute read
22 Jan 2008

Britain’s labour is bored!

Frank Greenfield

Running your business to make money.

Just after the Christmas break, British media ran a story announcing how a recent research programme has established that British workers are bored. Reading and listening to these reports, I was amazed at how many of the pundits seemed to be so surprised with these findings. Of the many comments tabled, none gave reasons as to why this situation had come about. One person actually said: “The findings are appalling. To have a job, in the face of so many being unemployed, should in itself be motivation enough.”

If we need research to tell us that the vast majority of workers in the world are uninterested and bored in respect of their nine-to-five existence, then something is radically wrong.

The most interesting part of this research programme, for me, was the use of the particular word bored in its description of the British workers’ attitudes. If a similar undertaking were to be conducted here in South Africa, apathetic would be the most accurate description of labour’s attitude towards work.

Boredom, I believe, almost infers that the British worker is saying: “My package is not too bad, the company is not too bad, but I just can’t stand the repetition”. Apathy, however, is far more negative and potentially damaging than that. Attitude precedes behaviour: how you think determines how you act. Boredom can lead to apathy and apathy can — and often does — escalate to something far more aggressive and corrosive. Management and captains of industry must understand this phenomenon. It has everything to do with the concepts of individual motivation and, I might add, this has very little to do with so-called tried and tested, outdated motivational theory.

If you want the individual and collective workforce to produce an interested, above-average performance, then a prerequisite is to appreciate the reality that if we want someone to take an interest we must firstly make it in his interest to do so. This means understanding the workers’ wants and needs and doing something about responding positively to these.

The number one need in respect of coming to work — for the vast majority of the world’s population — is to earn more disposable income, for the benefit of themselves and their families. The reasons for our having bored, apathetic workers are inherent in our remuneration or pay structures. The reason many top managers reflect a motivated performance is quite simply because they can earn as much as is possible from the enterprise in relation to the business’s performance. Whereas, we hope the worker will be motivated to an above-average performance with an award of an additional five percent for the year.

If the amount we get out of a process, such as coming to work, is fixed, then we optimise the process by minimising the input to achieve the same output. This is boredom. This is apathy. This is exactly what British, South African and many other countries’ labour are doing — giving as little as possible to the business to get the most out.

Britain lost virtually its entire manufacturing industry because of apathy across its workforces. British management blamed cheap third world labour for its loss of manufacturing. British management should have blamed itself for ignoring the needs of its labour. It doesn’t really matter what is happening in the UK, however; what matters is what is happening regarding the management of our labour, in our country.

We need to go in search of new ways of remunerating and managing through labour that will motivate them to an above-average performance at the workplace. This is of particular importance here because our labour is, as I have said, well beyond the boredom levels and well into the apathy syndrome. It is a small step from apathy to downright militancy and aggression.

South Africa needs to gain manufacturing, world market share. In no way can we afford to lose manufacturing output and with it, jobs. These two considerations come down to labour productivity and back to management understanding the needs of its labour, and responding positively to them.