Painful reflection of life as it shouldn’t be

first_imgRelated posts:No related photos. Depressed by plunging stock markets and the prospect of war with Iraq? Wellcheer up, The Office is back for a new series. All of us will have come acrossreal-life versions of David Brent, the hideous back-office boss portrayed inthe sitcom. Brent considers himself the epitome of the progressive caring, sharing,charming and team-playing manager. But to the onlooker, he is not onlyself-deluded but boorish, sexist, selfish and inadequate. It is tempting to dismiss bosses like Brent as the remnant of an out-of-dateworkplace culture that is gradually giving way to progressive people managementpractices. Yet the reason The Office is so successful is precisely because itoffers a painful reflection of where working life appears to be going, not whereit has been. Despite the HR emphasis on the importance of employee ‘buy-in’ andcommitment, people management is being styled as much by structural change inthe economy as by efforts to construct a progressive psychological contract atwork. The typical private sector organisation is now quite small – only 30 percent have more than 50 staff – and even in larger commercial or public bodiesgreater autonomy has shifted to back-office units or teams. As a result the employment relationship is becoming more personalised. Thismakes life very difficult for people whose bosses don’t come up to scratch.They will find themselves stuck with the likes of Brent – incompetents who putjobs at risk – or will have managers so ambitious or fearful of their own superiorsthat they adopt a crudely intense management style. This ultra-personalised workplace presents a major challenge to the HRprofession. Most managers adopt the language of HR, even if only at the level of cliché:”My people are my greatest asset,” proclaims Brent in the openingscene of the very first episode of The Office. But even where words are acted upon there is no guarantee that this willtranslate into a positive and productive workplace environment. This is because the HR message tends to be addressed to organisations in afairly simplistic practice-orientated way: introduce this or that method ofmanagement and you will get more out of your people. What is often missing is afocus on the spark of human relationship needed to bring life to the body ofpractice. It is vital, therefore, that the HR profession places as much emphasis oneffective people management relations as it does on effective people managementpractices. Maybe then The Office of today will not be the workplace of tomorrow. Comments are closed. Painful reflection of life as it shouldn’t beOn 8 Oct 2002 in Personnel Today Previous Article Next Articlelast_img read more