The glad, the sad and the grumpy
The UK’s decision to leave the European Union becomes increasingly fractious; a political split reified by the Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker. Threatening to unmuzzle his attack dogs Juncker says “Brexit will not be an amicable divorce” (Cooper, 2016), “Brexit cannot be a success” (Merrick, 2017) and “a deserter (Britain) would not be welcomed with open arms” (BBC, 2016). Privileged access to the Single Market and Customs Union will either end or be repackaged with “strings attached” according to the EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier (Rankin, 2016). Meanwhile Messrs Gove, Johnson and Farage have abandoned their Brexit bus – carrying its saving of £350million – in the menacing shadow of a potential £100billion settlement bill (Barker, 2017).
Yet there are shafts of sunlight splitting the gloom. We will not be tied by European Union negotiating rules; we can buy and sell where and with whom we wish and we can correct our own political mistakes through the ballot box. Politics, to echo Harold MacMillan, is at the whim of events. Yet Brexit, says the CBI (2017), succeeds or fails depending on how this country as a business reacts to threats and opportunities.
How will the UK perform in this new world of intense competition? At least we should be able to handle France, a nation seldom awash with glowing reviews about its work rate? Unfortunately, the French are far more productive than we are (NoS, 2014) What the UK completes in one week, the French have knocked off before Thursday’s extended coffee break. The Americans match the French productivity and work even longer hours than the British. The Chinese surpass the Americans and the Germans are, well, fabulously German; if you peer into the very far economic distance you can just make out a Mercedes’ fast disappearing tail lights.
The root of Britain’s dismal productivity lies squarely with business leaders. Not all of them are woeful. Scientific evidence suggests that some leadership approaches the pinnacle of average. In short, we work long and we work stupid (Baldry & Hallier, 2010).
Signs of mis-management
It is easy to spot ineptitude. Really bad management uses agile spaces, flexible working practices and new ways of working; all euphemistic terms for fitting more people into less space. Once ensconced, management concentrates on eliminating waste and errors while standardizing work processes (Locher, 2011); thereby saving money, not making it (Knight & Haslam, 2010). The folly is obvious. Cramming humans into a tight space causes stress; eliminating waste eradicates meaningful workplace enrichment (souvenirs, bric-a-brac, plants, art etc.) and removing errors promotes the simplistic while stripping out the capacity for expansion, learning and knowledge. Meanwhile, would the standard human being please step forward? Science would call this pattern of management inadequate (Elsbach, 2003).
Consequently, the average company Board galvanizes the plaudits. Enriching zoo animals’ enclosures with logs, tyres, sandpits, slides and water features is usually seen as the bare minimum we need to do. Yet install these things in a workplace and design awards fly as if enchanted (Bock, 2015).
And between these two stations, of misery or indulgence, businesses stop and congratulates themselves. Their workers are infantilized along the continuum that starts at unreliable untrusted machine cogs and ends with preciously indulged Fauntleroys. Yet, if every company chose simple kindness over stark process the likely increases in productivity could see the UK upgrade the NHS to match the German model and still have £30billion left over (Nieuwehuis et al, 2014). Not a bad return for organizations treating their employees as pets rather than pests.
It is unfortunate that change managers tend never to regard junior colleagues as logical, trustworthy, equal beings; sovereign in their own unmonitored workplaces. Dominion and expertize must, it seems, be vested in leaders and hired guns who don’t work in the spaces, don’t relate to the teams and consequently don’t understand what is required (Knight & Haslam, 2010). Were this country’s employees allowed to modify their own systems, develop their own environments and realize their own identity then all evidence points to the world following our cold tyre tracks as we add scores of billions to our own domestic product. Every business could benefit, just ask for straightforward help. That would be a true Brexit miracle.
Baldry, C., & Hallier, J. (2010). Welcome to the house of fun: Work space and identity. Economic and Industrial Democracy, 31, 150 – 171
Barker, A (2017) FT breakdown: the €100bn Brexit bill Retrieved 6th May 2017 from https://www.ft.com/content/29fc1abc-2fe0-11e7-9555-23ef563ecf9a
BBC (2016) EU referendum and Brexit: Key quotes from non-UK figures. Retrieved 9th May from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-36474345
Bock, L. (2015). Work rules!: Insights from inside Google that will transform how you live and lead. New York: Twelve.
CBI (2017) Making a success of Brexit, retrieved 8th May 2017 from http://www.cbi.org.uk/insight-and-analysis/making-a-success-of-brexit/
Cooper, C (2016) Brexit will not be an amicable divorce. (Saturday 25th June) London: Independent
Elliot, L, & Monaghan, A. (2016). British economy begins to show signs of post-Brexit slowdown (Thursday, 28th July). London: Guardian..
Elsbach, K.D. (2003). Relating physical environment to self-categorizations: Identity threat and affirmation in a non-territorial office space. Administrative Science Quarterly, 48, 622-654.
Knight, C.P., & Haslam, S.A. (2010). The relative merits of lean, enriched, and empowered Offices: An experimental examination of the impact of workspace management, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 16, 158 – 172
Locher, D. (2011). Lean office and service simplified. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Merrick, J. (2017) Brexit talks turn dirty, retrieved 7th May 207 from http://edition.cnn.com/2017/05/02/europe/may-juncker-brexit-dinner-disaster/
National Office of Statistics (2016). International comparisons of productivity – Final estimates: 2014, retrieved 9th May 2017, from https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/economicoutputandproductivity/productivitymeasures/bulletins/internationalcomparisonsofproductivityfinalestimates/2014
Nieuwenhuis, M, Knight, C.P., Postmes, T., & Haslam, S.A. (2014). The relative benefits of green versus lean office space: Three field experiments. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. Vol 20, 199-21
Rankin, R. (2017) EU’s Brexit negotiator wants to stop UK getting ‘soft transitional deal’ Tuesday, 29th November) London: Guardian.