I was reading a magazine focused on workplaces and came across an article discussing union prevention, something that has been going on for a long long time in the history of business. The basic thrust of the article, written by a lawyer at a well-known labor-law firm, was focused on things an organization could do to prevent people from choosing to organize, with the philosophy that organizing would be bad for the company and bad for the community.
(It should be noted that workers organize for a small set of specific reasons generally related to how they perceive themselves to be treated, and prevention of organizing is only one of many approaches to deal with problems.)
Management’s focus should be on preventing and addressing problems, not preventing organizing, in my view. The goal should be on decreasing employee turnover and improving innovation and personal productivity. Improving teamwork and motivation have a wide variety of positive impacts. But prevention of unionization is not directly going to positively impact organizational results. Let’s face it, the morale and involvement in most workplaces can look and feel more like this:
I omit the name of the magazine, simply because the framework I take in reaction to the content is not very positive. For the past 40 years, I have focused on improving performance through people, and I will note that my father ran a small trucking company for 50 years that was partly staffed with Teamsters Union people – guys that I got to know pretty well because I worked with them unloading freight and simply around the platform. My dad always depended on the union to help him with the difficult people and performance issues; before that, he was NJ State Trooper Badge 873. This is not about the unions. It is about leading people.
In a LinkedIn Pulse blog I wrote recently, the clear opportunity for improvement was “Leadership.” In a survey of National Forest Service Law Enforcement, for example, direct questions about perceptions of leadership generated these kinds of responses:
- Three out of four workers (74%) doubt the professionalism of top leadership while a clear majority (60%) do NOT think leadership to be “generally honest and trustworthy”; and
- 78% rated their Director as ineffective with fewer than one in ten (9%) seeing the top leader as “effective.”
This article and its set of recommended business practices, produced by a recognized labor law legal expert, recommended updating workplace policies to minimize access to the location by “outsiders “ and that managers be educated to be more aware of warning signs. Executives needed to work with legal counsel to build quick-response plans to signs of employee unrest and to actively create union avoidance strategies through regular training and “management development.”
Only the fifth bullet in this article talks about increasing employee involvement and engagement and improving workplace practices to improve motivation. The suggested approach is one of conducting reviews and surveys to see if employees feel they are treated fairly and fairly compensated and that they clearly understand company policies and expectations. These days, companies spend many millions of dollars on such employee surveys, with 97% of companies saying that listening to issues and ideas is important — but where less than half the workers feel that their thoughts matter to their managers.
With all the money being spent on surveys that generate so little action, wouldn’t a focus on generating more involvement and engagement be a more cost effective way to maintain good workplace conditions, practices that would actively prevent unionization? People are not going to organize unless they feel that other approaches will not work, and those feelings are generally based on experiences.
Yeah, improving engagement and leadership practices would not generate revenues for law firms like the author’s, but it does not seem likely that spending all that money on surveys and “prevention” will be successful if the workers really are dissatisfied with working conditions and the perception of fairness. Right?
That article concludes with a paragraph about officers and managers being trained at least once a year in the legal aspects of union campaigns, even if there is no union activity, and about how to educate employees about the negative aspects and costs of a union, to be ready to mount counter-campaigns to any unionization ones.
Seriously? Why not just treat the employees well, respect their opinions ideas, and improve productivity and performance rather than spending time and money on activities that really do not impact performance improvement in any way.
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Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
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