FUNDAMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR ENFORCING DISCIPLINE IN THE WORKPLACE: MORAL OBLIGATIONS AMONG THE MANAGEMENT AND THE WORKERS
(A speech delivered during the LAMIPA/BIGMA/NCMB REGIONWIDE SEMINAR FOR EMPLOYERS, CEO’S, DIRECTORS, MANAGERS AND SUPERVISORS last 12-13 November 2007, at the Camarines Sur Water Sports Center (CWC), Pili, Camarines Sur)
Human labor, industrialization, and capital are among the concepts frequently flaunted and tossed around in academic discourse. The treatment of these matters however would be very different when discussed among people who are actively and substantially engaged in the management and sustenance of industries, as well as management and negotiations with significant labor forces. The gathering that we have today is an example of such situation.
Let me begin by citing that most of us here today are in one way or another immersed in our respective workplace. Some of us in production or manufacturing, others in service delivery, and others like me are in the academe. But whatever the nature of our economic undertaking is, we have all experienced the work place. And in that work place, we are organized according to the task which we have to perform.
The most common dichotomy among people in the workplace is the distinction between those who are in the labor/work force and those who are in the management. These labor-management relations as guided by, but at the same time, going beyond legal contracts/provisions.
I. THE WORKPLACE
The workplace therefore may be construed as a social phenomenon that is specifically organized for the economic endeavors we are pursuing. But like any other social reality, the workplace may be viewed from various perspectives. Each of us may have our own world-view of the workplace from which our behavior in it flows. Let me try to describe some of these.
• Area of cooperation and solidarity: the workplace is complex system made up of various inter-dependent parts, each performing a specialized function. As such, the emphasis in the workplace is cooperation and solidarity. After all, smooth operations will depend on each part’s performance of the task assigned to it. Any deviation will result in the disruption of the entire system.
• Arena of actual and potential conflict: the workplace may indeed be composed of various parts, but instead of cooperation and solidarity among these parts, there is actual or potential conflict. Thus the workplace is an arena of struggle and competition wherein groups are openly engaged in the process.
• Venue for individual interaction with the broader group: the workplace may also be viewed as interaction point, with each individual establishing a network of relationships and nurturing these relationships through regular communication and feedbacks via a common language. Thus, the workplace and the relationships in it evolve its own symbols, understandable only to those who are in it.
Take note that these perspectives need not be mutually exclusive. It is even possible that the workplace may be viewed best when we use a combination of or even all of these perspectives.
And like any other social institution that mankind has evolved, the workplace is also strongly affected by many vital elements of human interactions. Some of the thing that come to my mind are shared vision and aspirations, mutual respect for the dignity of each other, and a nurturing and caring environment.
II. DISCIPLINE IN THE WORKPLACE
To my mind then, talking about discipline in the workplace will never be a simple nor easy matter. Those who unfortunately happen to take this on as part of their job - such as the Human Resources or HR officer - description is facing some of the darkest days in his or her life, both figuratively and literally.
Among the difficulties would be the delicate balancing act that requires attention to the following factors which I briefly covered a few minutes ago: the actual legal/contractual/policy environment, the prevailing world-view or perspective of the realities in the workplace, and the accepted organizational vision and directions.
Another consideration would be the very personal and human dimension involved in assuming the multi-faceted role of a leader, facilitator, mediator, and even decision-maker. I know of some individuals who lost lots of friends and got more enemies when they assumed the role of the HR in the workplace. Some even had to resign because of the stress associated with their work.
What then can make discipline a regular phenomenon or even a staple feature in the workplace? At this point, I propose a review of some fundamental considerations in the appreciation of the human person, human work, moral values, and justice.
III. MORAL DIMENSIONS OF WORK
I will not attempt to preach for I am not a priest nor will I pretend to be a moralist for I am not an expert. Let me just share with you some important points for our consideration. First is on the nature of the human person and second is on the dignity of work.
Broadly defined, morality refers to the established notion of that which is right and acceptable, and that which is wrong and unacceptable. As such, it has both a personal and social dimensions. It is also influenced by culture. The Church has been widely viewed as an authority on moral issues. From this platform, let us then look at some points regarding the person and human work.
On the human person, it is said that every individual has an inherent dignity. In other words, you deserve respect not because of what you have nor because of what you do but due to your being human. You were imbued with this dignity when you were born. The person is a social being. You get into and nurture various relationships such as with yourself, your family, with others, and even with a higher being. And the person is also ambivalent. An individual has the inherent propensity to do what is good and right, but is also imbued with the capacity to do what is wrong or evil.
This peculiar understanding of the human person actually guides our views and attitude towards his/her labor. The Catholic Church affirms the dignity of work as opposed to its treatment as a commodity. Workers deserve living wage and justice for the working class is as valid a cause as the right to private property (Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, 1891). It is also through his work that the human person is transforming nature for himself and the person becoming more human through work. (Pope John Paul II, Laborem Exercsens,1981)
Thus we say that work or labor is not a commodity. It is an expression of the human person actualizing himself, asserting stewardship over the physical world. Work is an affirmation of the human person’s dignity. As such, issues and maters affecting human work becomes material for discourse on justice and human rights.
Justice maybe defined as the obligation to render to each one his due. Among Christians, such definition was even expanded to emphasize justice as the first requirement of love, more than retribution for wrong doing (1971 Synod “Justice in the World”, Vatican 2 in Giordano,SJ and Catan “Evangelizing Presence: The Challenge of Social Transformation”). They outlined three forms of justice: commutative, distributive, and social. Let us now look at labor-management relationship and the issue of discipline from this point of view.
Commutative justice refers to the relationship among the individuals in society. When we take it in the context of the relationship between the employer and the employee, it is possible to outline several imperatives. On the part of the workers: diligent work, provide labor (but not to be reduced as a commodity), form associations. Among employers: pay fair wages, provide human conditions for work, treat employees as persons (welfare, safety, health, protection from harassment).
Distributive justice refers to society rendering its services to the individual members. It is in this area that we may talk about the problems in taxation and corruption.
Social justice on the other hand is the broad interplay between the welfare of society, and our obligations to it. As such, some of the imperatives would be: economic and social institution should not dehumanize the workers or the entrepreneurs nor limit their basic rights as human beings in society; full employment with adequate pay; no discrimination in job opportunities or income levels (race, sex, or physical appearance); question extreme inequalities of income and consumption
Understanding the realities around us condition our behaviors. Our Christian faith inspires is to put people first. Understanding our moral obligations, fostering positive values, and upholding justice in our workplace goes a long way in developing productive interaction in the workplace.
Our world view, our people, our aspirations, our beliefs, and our convictions – in our workplace! The highest form of discipline is when you dream together and work for the attainment of that dream as a team! The highest authority is attained when people find it morally binding to uphold decisions and agreements made in a mutually acceptable process.