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Welcome to the June 2009 issue of Alignment Solutions! We are pleased to announce that the recording of our May teleseminar, "Is Your Organization Ready to Pass the Employee Free Choice Act 'Test?'" is available on the Business Alignment Strategies web site. If you missed the live call, you still can learn about the impact that proposed and new federal legislation will have on employers, why taking immediate action is critical, and the four key areas of employee concern you must assess.

Our new article series called Research News You Can Use selects findings of academic research that are applicable in the workplace, and suggests how you might implement them in your organization.

June Topic: Help Employees Get Out From Under Their Desks

Premise:Two important and related concepts, observational learning and self- and collective efficacy, directly affect how employees think, behave, recover from set-backs, and motivate themselves. Find out what four things managers can do to enable individuals and groups to become or remain productive even in challenging times.

This month's theme is "priorities." For the last few months I have been writing about the upcoming tsunami of change in the workplace that will be triggered by political actions (e.g., legislation, Executive Orders, rulings by the National Labor Relations Board) that already have made, and will continue to make, organizing workplaces very easy for unions. Did you know, for example, that federal contractors and subcontractors are required to "remain neutral" if union representatives decide to organize their workplaces? That means they cannot give their employees any information or tell their side of the story. Similar provisions have been inserted into other legislation currently pending in Congress. Is it really in employees' best interests to force them to make decisions about unionization based on only one side of the story? Unions' interests seem to be trumping employees' need to make informed decisions. I am convinced that, absent significant change in the Administration's and Congress's thinking, employees will become collateral damage in the labor-management battle. Management is focused on its interests and politicians in Washington seem to be intent on significantly boosting unions' interests. Who is watching out for employees? Indeed, they appear to be at the bottom of the workplace priority list.

The Feature Article, "Employees: Beneficiaries of EFCA or Collateral Damage?," submits that employees are likely to be the major losers in the current tug of war between management's interests and unions' interests. Workers seem to be very low on everyone's list of priorities, including the federal government's.

In "Prevent Your Employees from Becoming Collateral Damage in the Labor-Management Battle," the Business Solutions section lists nine ways that management can help mitigate the potential damage resulting from the low priority that government, employer, and union leaders are placing on employees.

In the Personal Solutions section, "Just Open the Door" reminds us that sometimes we make things more complicated than they need to be, leading to unnecessary frustration.

I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com to find other articles and resources that may be of value to you and your colleagues. I welcome your feedback!

 

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Employees: Beneficiaries of EFCA or Collateral Damage?

In the desperate tug-of-war between unions and employers, exemplified currently by the battle over passage of the proposed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), will employees emerge as winners or as collateral damage? A brief background will shed some light on why the latter seems more likely at this point.

By giving most employees the right to form and join unions of their choosing, Congress' intention was to level the playing field - i.e., to establish a balance of power between employers and workers. The legislators' purpose clearly was to protect employees from abusive practices and provide a process through which their interests would be considered seriously. Fifty years later, that balance has yet to be achieved. Instead, the initial legislation and subsequent amendments have tilted the scales back and forth between management and unions. As proposed, the EFCA and related actions that have the force of law (e.g., Executive Orders, National Labor Relations Board rulings) are poised to favor unions to such an extent that the elusive balance may never be achieved.

At what point did employees become spectators on the field instead of players? When Congress legalized unions as the third player in the labor-management process and believed they would be workers' protectors. Although most people assume that the terms "employees," "union," and "labor" are synonymous, they are not. While unions have a fiduciary duty to represent employees, the fact is that they have their own agenda - as does management. For both management and unions, the first order of business is survival. The fact that survival is a priority raises the possibility of occasional conflicts of interest when dealing with employees. For example, owners of new businesses may have every intention of paying workers well, capping the work week at 40 hours, and providing good benefits. Yet in the frequently cash-strapped, frenetic early months and years, organizational survival takes precedence over those intentions. Often employees are willing participants, choosing to believe that hard work now will pay off handsomely in the future.

In short, management's and unions' respective struggles to survive and prosper often leave employees out in the cold. The fact that the labor-management relationship tends to be viewed as a zero-sum game results in the two sides squaring off as adversaries instead of collaborating as partners. Rather than focusing on how to treat employees fairly, the emphasis often is on the power struggle between union and management, with each party portraying the other as the "bad guy" with its own interests at heart.

What can be done to mitigate the damage to employees by a system that seems to be failing them in its intended role of protector? Workers need accurate, complete information in order to make informed choices about whether or not to seek third party intervention in the workplace. For example, they need realistic assessments of what both management and union can and cannot do, and what each is or is not willing to do for them. They also need and deserve a labor-management process that makes employees a priority. Without such information, and absent a more employee-centered Congress and administration, workers are likely to become collateral damage. Absent these two key changes, when all is said and done there will be union and management "winners" and "losers;" employees will be merely an afterthought.

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Prevent Your Employees from Becoming Collateral Damage in the Labor-Management Battle

While members of Congress talk about improving the workplace for employees, the actions of many indicate that they are far more interested in serving the interests of either management or unions than they are in securing better conditions for workers. Unless this attitude changes quickly, employees are likely to become collateral damage in the on-going tug of war between labor and management. Here are nine ways managers can help workers mitigate or avoid such a fate.

  1. Inform employees of what's going on in Washington (e.g., proposed legislation, relevant Executive Orders, expected changes in National Labor Relations Board rulings) and how these actions will affect them. For example, a new Executive Order as well as provisions in pending legislation will result in employees' ability to hear only the union's side of the workplace story.
  2. Provide them with factual information about unions.
  3. Accurately present management's case for maintaining union-free status NOW: very soon organizations may be prohibited from presenting their side of the story. (Federal contractors and subcontractors already are subject to this restriction.) Be honest and factual, presenting both positive and negative features. Being untruthful or presenting unrealistic expectations sets you up for failure in the form of employees' unmet expectations.
  4. Address any deficiencies in the four areas that influence employees' assessment of how management treats them on a day-to-day basis: interactions with the immediate supervisor, organizational culture, organizational processes, and rewards and recognition.
  5. Provide access to a knowledgeable third party as a resource - i.e., a source of unbiased information.
  6. Provide workers with a list of questions to ask union representatives so they can develop a realistic preview of what unionization would entail - e.g., how much union dues would be, what the money is used for, what the union realistically would be able to do for them.
  7. Train all managers and supervisors to act only in ways that are both legal and ethical. For example, refrain from making threats or acting in an intimidating manner.
  8. Set high standards for management behavior, and enforce them diligently.
  9. Communicate early and often.

Informed employees are less likely to become collateral damage than uninformed employees. Organizations that make their workers a high priority and treat them well on a daily basis won't have to worry about what legislation is passed. It's management's choice - for a limited time.

For information about a tool that will guide the assessment mentioned above, visit the Special Resources section of the Business Alignment Strategies web site and request the Employer Performance Scorecard .

 

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Just Open the Door

Have you ever felt like you are struggling to do something you know you are capable of doing, but no matter how hard you try, you just can't do it? I've felt that way a lot recently in my quest to educate employers and employees about the upcoming transformation of the workplace that will result from actions taken by Congress and the President. I know this information is invaluable, yet the majority of people who will be affected by it have no idea what is about to hit them. The analogy that comes to mind is the warning of the impending "big one" (i.e., massive earthquake) that seismologists regularly broadcast to southern California residents. Well, the employment equivalent of "the big one" is about to occur, and I have felt stymied in my efforts to sound the warning.

For a while I described my high level of frustration to colleagues as being trapped in a large, soundproof box. I could see people who desperately need to hear my message out there, but they could not see or hear me. Even by jumping up and down, waving my arms frantically, and yelling as loudly as I could, I couldn't get their attention. The effort exhausted me. Then one day I had an epiphany: instead of struggling against barriers I never would be able to overcome (represented by the sound-proof box), I realized that the box had a door. All I had to do was open the door and walk out. Once outside, my voice would be heard. It was as simple as that.

What soundproof box is keeping you from voicing your message or sharing your talents? Now that you know the door is there and that you have the power to open it, how will you change the world by stepping up to your unique place in it?

 

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Date of Publication: June, 2009
Pat@BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com
www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com | 562.985.0333
Copyright 2009 - All rights reserved, Pat Lynch