Prior to Mr. Henry Ford, I do believe that the work place was part of a person’s life that was more enjoyable. Although many of the jobs were dirty and difficult, they provided a sense of accomplishment and often times the responsibility to complete, in a satisfactory and rewarding way, some particular, essential task. Since men made up a majority of the workplace until World War II, women worked hard keeping the homefront in order and raising the kids. Both partners worked hard, long hours and they gained some satisfaction for a particular job being well done. The war came and women were needed to build machines of destruction while the men gave their lives in the war effort. The combination of Henry Ford’s factories, the war, lawyers and the acceleration of the industrial and technological revolution was the perfect storm in terms of changing the work place. Ford’s automotive factories attempted to turn humans into robots; the war created an environment that people accepted this work place as the norm, lawyers began creating a hierarchy of legalese; the industrial revolution offered a rosy world of the future and technology dreamed of a world of untold riches and leisure. As I write this, parts of it sound tempting and maybe good but as in most everything, the proof is in the details.
So, lets look at the modern workplace. The first and most damaging is the binder of rules that usually accompany a new job. There are some jobs where the employee could be fired for being minutes late! In many cases there are rules in these documents that contradict other rules. Gone is the word ‘common sense’ and discussion of the issue, we simply have to find the rule in the book and take the appropriate stated action. More important than a rule book, is the loss of responsibility. No one is responsible. Every decision must be passed up the chain of command to some chap sitting in an office who may have no idea what is actually going on at the job site. This is because no one will make decisions due to fear of being sued or fired. A good boss gives his or her employees the power to make decisions and once they are made, backs them up. If the employee makes repeated bad decisions and talking with them has no effect on their decision process, fire them or move them to a job more suited to their talents. We have become so scared of being sued. Almost every decision made at any level must ask the question, ‘ARE WE GOING TO BE SUED?’. When some moron orders HOT coffee and spills it on himself while driving a car and sues the vendor for making the coffee too hot, AND WINS!, I feel confident in my assessment that we have lost our way. I once met a European who asked me why there were so many guard rails on the roads? He said there are far fewer side rails in his country. His feeling was that if people did not have the sense to drive reasonably on the road, they should not be driving. There is no arguing that making things safer is a good idea, but at what point do we say enough is enough. There must be a point when the cost of sanctifying every possible stupid thing people can do will simply not be cost effective.
Sorry, I got off topic, but it is related in a way. We cannot make rules that guarantee everyone’s safety all the time! We cannot have workplaces that work perfectly all the time. We cannot make rules that cover every possible situation. The world, and more importantly, we, are not perfect in any way. We make mistakes and sometimes bad stuff happens. If you believe that you can create a world where bad stuff never happens, good luck with that! In fact, it is the chances that make life interesting! Its the chaos in the universe that keeps us from falling asleep. Just imagine a perfect world if you can. I’m pretty sure it would be quite boring!