Losing our souls

by Isabel Wu

During my brief career in retail and one year spent studying visual merchandising, it was always drummed into you that there is only one view that counts when presenting merchandise: the customer’s.  The display is never complete until you have stepped from behind the counter, window or cabinet and looked at it from every angle the customer sees.

Smartcompany,com.au is a daily news digest for businesses, particularly the SME (small to medium enterprise).  If the articles it focuses on are anything to go by, smaller businesses could do well to step outside of their businesses’ day-to-day and look in at it from the outside.  Taking an outside-in evaluation approach would very likely give small business operators a better perspective from which they would inevitably make better decisions.

Smartcompany.com.au boasts its own Agony Aunt for the business owners who need advice on the dilemmas of working with other people: from tardy employees, to bad bosses, to smelly colleagues.  Based on the tone and timbre of many of the cries for help (not to mention many of the comments posted by readers) there is something about work that causes many to forget that employees are people first.

Yesterday’s plea for sensible advice was:

One of my employees wants to take eight weeks off. She only has three weeks of paid leave, so the rest needs to be given in unpaid leave and I’m not really sure what to do.

She’s an excellent worker, probably one of the best in the office and is on track to help run the place one day. But it’s just a huge amount of leave.

It’s not like she’s going on a holiday – the eight weeks will be spent doing charity work overseas. But it’s just a long time without someone in her position. What should I do?

The poor business owner has to deal with a pesky outside world which has leaked inside the walls to interfere with the business.  I mean, worse than being an unreliable and lazy worker who would prefer to holiday than to work, which would be easily understood because – let’s face it, it’s hard to find decent staff these days – this anathema to the normal self-centred employee wants to go help a charity.

So the concerted efforts of human resources to reduce people to functioning resources has really succeeded.  Once you become a human resource, it’s unfortunate that you are still stuck with the ‘human’ part.

Does a business like this have any chance of doing much more than surviving if it can barely tolerate the absence of one person for two months?  Or is its real weakness that it cannot tolerate any agenda other than its own?

What do you think?