“Us-and-they syndrome”- 25 November 2014.

The panel discussion by industry bigwigs on evolving a positive work culture had everything – in-depth approach, anecdotes to support theories, observations based on years of experience both as owners and as managers. And the serious question that was posed was: Can we agree with Napoleon Bonaparte that there is nothing called a bad soldier, but there is always a bad general? By that token, is it true that there is never a bad worker, but there could be a bad manager? And the answer was that most all participants agreed that no worker is per se bad.

It almost appeared that most of the panellists were talking idealism which may not find reflection in real life. However, all of them insisted that if the workforce is given a proper work environment, if it is given basic facilities to do work effectively along with creative freedom, all workers contribute to the general growth of an organisation.
This also meant, in effect, that if there are some workers whose contribution to the organisational goal was only nominal, then there is problem with the work environment. In that case, organisational; work culture may not remain positive.
Even though some may contest this conclusion hotly, it is true that majority of workers are interested in doing good work and excel. Of course, experienced HR professionals also agree that if a worker is really troublesome, then the management may have to take the stern step of giving him marching orders. Yet, during the panel discussion in Nagpur, most participants agreed that such situations are rare and HR managers are generally able to tackle such workers by using this or that HR tool, including appropriate punishment.
The issue, thus, is simple: It is not difficult to build a positive work culture by adopting positive practices and policies. However, industry in general also knows of countless examples of how HR managers mishandle many an issue and add to spoiling of industrial relations.
In such organisations, the situation can be described easily as a us-and-they syndrome. Here, ‘us’ is management and ‘they’ is workers. So, the debate is always ‘us’ versus ‘they’ and ‘they’ is always wrong, and ‘us’ is always right.
Frankly, this is plainly a bad situation, thanks to gross misrepresentation of reality mostly by managements. And if such organisations need to build a positive work culture, they their managers will have to shed the us-and-they syndrome. The managers will have to take full responsibility of creating a foundation of good work and positive work culture and muster their workers’ contribution to build the super-structure of efficiency and harmony.
‘It is easier said than achieved’, will be the refrain of many HR professionals. But, if they are sincere, they will realise that they are only seeking escapism, and not giving a correct answer. Yes, there could be some very bad workers and they need to be treated accordingly. But organisations will have to run on the basic premise that most workers wish to excel and need to be supported in fulfilment of that wish.
Unfortunately, the traditional belief in Indian business world is that most workers are shirkers and need to be whipped to meet the organisational goals. Of course, there is a lot of positive change that has come over Indian corporate sector in recent years. Yet, it cannot be said that this sector has worked with conviction to create a positive work culture in its respective premises. On the contrary, the traditional belief seems to dominate the thinking, which is why the Indian work environment in general is not really positive.
This may true elsewhere in the world as well. Yet, let us not expand our thinking beyond our borders. Let us think mainly of what is happening in Indian business. That will help us focus our attention on the critical issue rather than spraying it all over the place. The issue is not placing the blame at someone’s doorstep; it is whether we agree that our society can create a positive work culture or not.

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