A corporate co-worker friend used to complain about the dirty looks he got sitting in his office reading The Wall Street Journal. As the corporate media relations manager, he was charged with the responsibility of knowing current industry trends, responding to business publicity developments and personally handling stockholder relations. That duty required keeping up to date on financial news so he could respond appropriately with his subsequent communications; but he appeared "lazy" to others. They judged without full knowledge, letting an impression based on false premises bias their assessments.
Passersby disapproved of his apparent neglect of Important Business (whatever that means). Many suit-wearing people found in stiff-necked corporate headquarters seem to jump to conclusions based on quick superficial judgments. After all, anyone with an office in the C suite must be focused, intense and harried ... right? Well, such self-important executives certainly expect their peers to be seen acting a certain way in order to be deemed worthy. It is not enough to be effective; you must also LOOK busy.
Arriving early and leaving late in order to be witnessed "working" on site might be passé in this era of remote access and virtual office relationships, but the old attitudes about appearances trumping reality still linger in many organizations ... and are increasingly reflected in labor laws. As discussed before, American employers face increased pressures to substitute the superficial external accidents (in metaphysical terms) of work for the fundamental essential necessities that create economic justifications for compensation.
Government prefers that wages should be decoupled from productivity output and based on process inputs like time instead. That kind of thinking can usually be ignored when it is merely theoretical (unless you are deeply immersed in transactional communication or philosophical debates). But when the context is a rule controlling the compensation element of human resource management, it demands our close attention.
What counts for worker compensation is an important question. Modern management theory has emphasized results produced, but the American regulations governing worker payments require (with limited exceptions) that remuneration be rationed by time spent rather than related to the production generated from that work time. Business values work results; government insists pay be based on time spent working. When regulators order employers to ignore results in favor of measuring methods, it creates a dramatic dissonance in occupational job evaluation priorities - and perhaps even in worker behaviors.
This resonates in certain cultures where compensation is based on behaviors rather than on objective productivity. In some societies:
· how something is done is more important than what is accomplished;
· external trappings outweigh essential elements;
· academic theory displaces practical experience;
· style takes priority over substance;
· and appearance trumps reality.
Those are not the principles found in the reward programs that have successfully created the major economies of the world. Cultures that place primacy on input methods over output results tend to flounder and struggle in their futile attempts at prosperity. Similarly, enterprises that value worker inputs more than outputs find it difficult to survive. Managers who routinely confront these issues understand what is at stake. Evaluation concepts are relevant to business decisions like what skills are needed for mission accomplishment, how individual employee performance is evaluated for adequacy and what is required for correction/improvement.
Take a moment to consider what we value, because it is not always what we pay for. Have we lost sight of where we want to go? Can we find our direction any more?
E. James (Jim) Brennan is an independent compensation advisor with extensive total rewards experience, specializing in job evaluation, market pricing and pay budget distribution. He worked in every phase of corporate HR, consulted throughout North America and served as Senior Associate of pay survey software publisher ERI . A prolific writer (author of the Performance Management Workbook) and speaker, Jim gave expert witness testimony in many reasonable executive compensation cases both for and against the Internal Revenue Service and also serves on the Advisory Board of the Compensation and Benefits Review.
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