I have to admit I’ve been a bad employee. I was 18, in a job that was pretty tedious and horrible; going through thousands of slips of paper looking for specific numbers – two of us in a tiny hot room, with no ventilation, smelling strongly of contaminated fish pellets. I never saw my boss – he gave all our jobs to the receptionist to give to us at the beginning of the day when we signed on. I didn’t work very hard at all and my workmate and I did photocopy our bottoms during work hours.
It’s probably no surprise to you that I was sacked. It was a bit of a surprise to me at the time as it was the first time I’d seen my boss since the interview. Who knew he would notice? I was a bad employee and my boss was pretty mediocre.
I’ve been a good employee though far more often than I’ve been a bad one. I’ve worked 50-60 hour weeks, I’ve cleaned the toilet when there was no mention of that in my job description, and I’ve almost always consistently exceeded expectations. I don’t say this to show off, I just use this as an example of the difference in outcome between a good and bad employer/manager.
I have of course worked really hard for a bad boss – in jobs when I hoped to be out of there soon and there was no choice. I’m thinking in particular of the boss who made us clean the tiles in the kitchen with a toothbrush at the 1am shift-end after we had worked 13-14 hours without a break – while he stood over us blaring his favourite Jimmy Barnes song – “I’ve gotta get out of this place if it’s the last thing I ever do”.
One of the cooks in the kitchen quit and walked out mid-shift several times in the 6mths I worked there. We all supported him and hoped he would find something else. Sadly it was a tough market and the possibility of being unemployed meant he came back every time and begged for his job back. The boss would make him grovel and humiliated him in front of everyone else but still took him back because he knew he was really good at what he did. I didn’t even know what my employment rights were. We were mostly un-educated/ itinerant workers – we thought we were without choices and compared to unionised workers we were. The boss never stopped being a prick.
There’s loads of evidence that people work better when they’re well managed but I’m sure almost all of us have stories like this, or much worse.
I’ve seen friends with bad bosses reduced to tears, start doubting their own ability and actually become less competent. This has affected their relationships with their partners and friends; affecting their whole life. The impact of a bad boss is not restricted to 8-5. One friend, who wasn’t in a union, got to the point of breakdown and left her job. As her confidence had been undermined in the job so too was her ability to challenge the boss. I wonder what the cost to the economy of bad employers is.
My god, the list of bad employment practices that I’ve seen is almost unending – sexual harassment, racism, trying to single out and pressure individual staff during contract negotiations, threatening people with the sack if they talk to a union. And they’re just some of the things I heard about or saw while working in parliament!
I’ve seen other friends with the help of their union take cases through the tribunal and while they lost the job they at least got financial compensation and a sense of validation at the end of the process.
I’ve also been in workplaces where we’ve all been union members and we’ve brought the union in early on and they’ve been sorted pretty quickly.
I’ll also admit that there was a time I had a poor response from my union when I asked for support. They were too stretched and dropped the ball; sadly that’s going to happen when on meagre resources they have to do more and more.
I need to be clear too I’m not saying all employers are bad and I’m certainly not saying being an employer or running a business is easy.
I’ve been an employer – managing up to 25 people and I know it’s not easy but I’ve always been committed to making the workplace good for everyone. To help this I’ve always encouraged the staff to join the union so they could have a shared voice on what they wanted as staff as well as be protected in case I inadvertently infringed their rights; being an employer without HR support/training I recognise(d) this potential.
Sometimes the financial bottom line can loom large and the pressure to make decisions in isolation from the team can be tempting.
In my over ten years of being an employer I’ve only had to resort to dismissal/disciplinary procedures twice. Once without too much disruption and the other time with many many lessons to be learnt. For me as an employer this felt much safer with a union involved. I didn’t want to screw anyone over – the union was a safeguard for the worker and for me.
I strongly believe it’s in the interest of every employee and good employer to have a strong union ethos and presence in a workplace.
In my experience the impact of lazy or incompetent employees will depend on the management of that person. If you want legislation to protect a workplace from bad employees create legislation to encourage good employers. What’s the easiest mechanism to encourage good employers? – Strong unions! Unions won’t solve everything and there will still be times when people will get the sack, but I bet it’s not as often.
This Government however seems to think that harsher laws that deny what have long been considered employee rights is the way to increase productivity. That flies in the face of every management lesson I’ve ever learnt.
This weekend past the National Party announced its intention to extend the 90 day trial period for new employees to all firms, allowing employers to require a medical certificate for one day’s absence, restricting union access to work sites, and allowing employers to talk directly to staff during collective employment agreements.
All of these changes start from a place of mistrusting employees and unions. That means you too, not just the worker in the next office who you don’t like. That means all of us but especially the young, minorities, immigrants, the uneducated and those in poorly paid jobs.
It implicitly trusts the employers though. People who may not have any idea of employment law or how to effectively manage people.
I believe these changes will encourage bad employers to make bad management decisions.