An advocate for real diversity

Diversity is a hot topic in today’s society. Organisations go through enormous shifts due to being faced by external factors such as digitalization or increased global competitiveness. What we see is that the phrase “Promoting Diversity” seems to pop-up in every company’s mission statement. But are all those company really serious about this and channel financial resources to fostering diversity? Might there not be the possibility that clever HR managers also know that young, well-educated talents look for a workplace that offers diverse, new, exciting and challenging tasks? Let me explain to you why I come up with such a teasing thesis: In order to achieve real diversity, a company’s employee profile should represent widely differing individuals with respect to ethnicity, gender, personality and age. Exactly – age is one of the dimensions that promotes diversity, thus innovative thinking and increased efficiency. Why is it then that some company focus heavily on establishing internship schemes and graduate binding programmes but scarcely engage in creating a more elderly-friendly workspace?

This Australian consultancy’s advertisement video has motivated me to dig up some misconceptions about elderly in the workplace and how a responsible business can make use of yet untapped potential.
Let me first explore what misconceptions companies may have regarding older keeping older staff and then introduce some measures that could be introduced to create a smooth transition from employment to retirement, both benefitting the company, as well as the employee.

Misconception #1 Companies may think that their staff is getting too old and they rapidly have to catch up by employing fresh graduates from university and laying off the loyal, experienced employees. They might not see that they could face a skilled labour shortage when transforming the employee age structure too drastically and abruptly. Yes, companies may observe a rise in the average age of employees but this is natural since the whole population is ageing in most developed countries. People tend to enjoy their retirement usually for at least fifteen years nowadays and the company could easily increase its capacity by retaining people with long work and business experience as well as recruiting new employees. Surveys show that older staff demand more flexibility and in return they are willing to compromise on payments when allowed to be part of concepts such as job sharing or longer unpaid leave. In addition, the older more skilled staff can still be valuable to the corporation for mentorship programs.
Misconception #2 Older workers are less efficient, cannot learn quickly enough and are just not cost-efficient. This claim is not only age-discriminating but also indicates how some managers are trying to deny their responsibility to offer regular corporate training to form their workforce to be a competitive advantage for the company. Ability to learn is a matter of capabilities, not of age. Furthermore, the UK government provides the example of a fast food chain in which the multigenerational workforce has increased performance by 20 percent as hard working ethics have been passed on to the younger ones.

Diversity in teams is an important concept for businesses today because, when applied under certain preconditions such as adequate leadership, the team may be more creative, innovative and goals-driven. Therefore encouraging older workers to stay longer can pay off for the organisation. As mentioned earlier, flexibility is a goal to strive for: part time, shift split, temporary contracts, homeworking and project-based assignments are just examples of how to reduce cost-burden for a company but still make use of the employer’s skill. Furthermore, effective inhouse training prepares workers of any age for challenges at work. Early succession management and the idea of filling one position with an older mentor and a fresh graduate may also benefit all parties involved.

Consequently, despite companies not feeling the pain point of a lack of skilled labour yet, they can prevent this event from happening by enhancing their diversity and not only supporting youngsters to start their career but also by creating processes for older workers to shift into retirement more conveniently.

Compensating emotional labour

Inspiring article by Sarah Jaffe – The truth behind “service with a smile”

As we have been discussing money as a motivator to work as well as the concept of emotional labour, first introduced by Arlie Hochschild, in this first blog entry, I would like to discuss the question of compensation regarding emotional labour: “To what extent is it fair to compensate efforts resulting from emotional labour?” The article “The truth behind: Service with a smile” by Sarah Jaffe, that inspired me to discuss this question, was published in February 2013 in a left-oriented online magazine called “In these times with liberty and justice for all”. Jaffe mainly argues that low-wage service employees, females in particular, are compensated with too little wage, considering the emotional exertions experienced during the job.

Let me first consider arguments that may legitimize a higher pay for those working and potentially suffering from emotional labour in their daily work. As introduced by Jaffe, employees, especially at franchise outlets i.e. Pret a Manger, are faced by high group and competitive pressure to perform well at their emotional labour. Due to constant checks by mystery buyers, employees learn that by exercising emotional labour to a higher degree, they will directly receive a higher pay, thus being a direct incentive to smile more often. Another argument that Jaffe addresses is fairness: When a worker has to change his or her personality and suppress personal feelings, should this effort not be compensated considering that we are living in a society in which effort is perceived to be positively correlated with reward? Furthermore, the author feels that workers’ pride is largely exploited.

In the previous argument I have addressed the importance of society and culture that leads to the individuals’ perception of fairness, especially regarding compensation at work. It may be true that in an ideal world effort should translate into output, however in reality employees are usually measured by their output. It is next to impossible to measure a single worker’s effort to exercise emotional labour and compensate for satisfaction or dissatisfaction gained from the job. Furthermore, we commonly assume that an applicant knows what kind of requirements to expect from a future job. People working in the service sector, therefore, usually mostly gain satisfaction from exercising emotional labour as their job is of vocational nature. A hairdresser that does not like small-talk with his or her customers should not be compensated for overcoming his/her dislike to talk to customers. In my opinion, Jaffe also neglects that there are also jobs in the higher wage-sector that require emotional labour such as being a lawyer or doctor. Considering this argument, one can see that wage is therefore largely determined by demand and supply of certain labour, rather than the amount of emotional or cognitive labour exercised: a specialised doctor is harder to find than a waiter.

In order to demonstrate a different approach rather than claiming that workers suffer from emotional labour, largely fake it anyways and should receive a compensation for their efforts, I would like to introduce the example of a well-known company and their human-resource strategy: Starbucks discovered what the organization should focus on when offering the “2nd home feeling”: its employees. Their strategy to empower employees and offer many benefits was completely new and resulted in Starbucks leading the ranks of employees’ top choice, indirectly relating to better perceived customer experience. By formulating and implementing a corporate culture, Starbucks employees did not view their work as exhaustive emotional labour anymore but it somehow became a vocational-type of job. The organization did not raise wages to compensate for emotional labour but rather changed their employees’ attitude to make it attractive to behave in the Starbucks way. However, those efforts did not last long as focussing on employee satisfaction is expensive and the company was not able to sustain those programmes in the long run.

Overall, we can evaluate organizations’ efforts that focus on their employees as a positive sign. Those organizations have discovered the mutual goal of achieving customer satisfaction through improved employee satisfaction. There is an alternative to compensating dissatisfied employees with more money: Public discussion will hopefully turn the exertion experienced by emotional labour into satisfaction from motivation gained by living a common corporate culture in the long run.