Perspectives on the World of Work

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Every business has the right to manage itself badly, but why would you want to?

When I was a trade union organiser, I was fortunate enough to have a mentor who really showed me the ropes and imparted an endless supply of one-liners. One of these was: “Remember that every business has the prerogative to manage itself badly, and not even the courts will interfere with that”. What I heard was: “Injustice will be sanctified by the courts”. What he meant was the courts will not interfere with exercise of a management prerogative..

Employment contracts are based on service rendered by an employee in exchange for remuneration by the employer. The nature of this contract is hierarchical, and employers give instructions to employees, which employees must obey. This is a very simplified explanation of the process and there are distinct nuances that must be respected, but at the basis an employer is granted the right to make decisions and give direction. For a much better explanation, read Tanya Adonis’ MPhil dissertation here: (it’s a masterpiece).

If one follows this hierarchical reasoning, this means that employers’ decisions will not be questioned unless there is a gross overstep. For example, if an employer decides to change suppliers and it ends up costing the business more, leading to the implementation of cost-cutting measures like retrenchments, that is a bad decision and not an unreasonable decision. If an employer decides to change suppliers and utilises the business of a family member of the chief executive officer, it ends up costing more and leading to cost-reduction measures, such a decision might warrant interference.

However, there is a better way. Customers build relationships with businesses based on their interactions with businesses. Wouldn’t you rather have those interactions be positive, because you behave in an ethical way and make sound decisions based on objective criteria?

My union mentor was correct about businesses and their poor decisions, but there is a better way. Base decisions on core values of honesty and integrity and you will see the rewards in employee productivity and customer relationships. Every decision will not be the right one, but all of them should have sound intentions.

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