Human Being Management (HBM)

Absence figures have gone down in the UK over the last 12 months and I’m guessing that’s not because we’ve been training up for the Olympics.

Rather than becoming super human, we’re running on a humanity deficit. In a country where getting sick isn’t allowed, there is an undeniable dehumanization taking place. As anyone lucky enough to have a job is likely to know, if you felt a psychic sniffle coming on the last place on God’s earth you would go to is the door marked ‘Gaffer’. The reason being is that the UK’s employment relations system is on a mission to take the Human out of Human Resource Management. In those warm-bath days pre-2008 Human Resource Managers talked a lot about employee engagement as the key to productivity and profits. Happy workers = cash. We now find that fear can have an equally galvanizing effect, reflected in these all-time low absence figures.

Exhibit A: Assessment centres

They are on the up, despite the high costs, as a way of recruiting people and carrying out what we politely call restructuring. Assessment centres are used to outsource the dirty messy business of weeding out the humans from the UK’s workplaces. Assessment centres are a bit like joining an Atwoodian dating agency, you must lie about your achievements, weight and age and pack a full face of Botox to digitally erase signs of weakness or emotion.

How is it then that we can sleep at night with the human race facing extinction at work?

I was told the other day that Marx used a number of different German terms for alienation, including verdinglichkeit which is alienation by objectification. Anyone working in the public sector might be familiar with this one, as we ride the tsunami of commercialization and marketization and if you’re a woman I’m guessing you really really get it. My personal favourite is sich entremden, making an enemy of yourself. Oh my days, don’t we though. How else do you explain a society where we think that being on chemotherapy means you’re fit for work?

The trouble with this workplace strategy of fear and alienation is that you have to keep it up. Soon as people stop feeling scared they get angry and managers will struggle to find an effective procedure for that one. If you’re a manager, agency theory proposes that you’re paid more to override your personal interests for those of your employers, but please do not mistake this for a passport to the dark side. You are not being paid enough to sign away your humanity. Ask yourself the question how much being human is worth to you and then get your calculator out. I’m guessing that you’re a few quid light. Instead of insisting on a dream which has become a nightmare, put the human back into work. You do the maths.

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