Friday, 25 July 2014

And the Monkey In The Corner Wrote the Lesson In His Book....

It was Kirsten’s link that got me thinking;

She’s a social worker so she’s entitled to highlight this particular issue. It’s certainly one I understand, not just from being close to her, but also from working in a social care company for a couple of years and hearing first-hand about the daily difficulties. I had huge respect for the social workers in that company. Most of us, when faced with some of the situations they were almost daily, would react very negatively (perhaps even violently) whereas they showed enormous patience, commitment and care for the young people they looked after. They were exceptional people, true unsung heroes of society, and so often criticised by those with no idea.

I’m divulging no secrets to relate that, some years ago, the owner of that business had taken into his own home several challenging young people because he hated the brutal way they were being treated within the “traditional”system.  His “reward” was for his house to be burnt down by one of them. So he rebuilt it, and took that lad back in, to try and provide him with upbringing, guidance and love that would assist him in the transition into adult life. Such people are often targeted, by the media and the politicians (as he was, with journalists camping out on his doorstep) and yet they are the very foundations without which our society would disintegrate.

And, as I pottered out for a trot up Glen Nevis the other night, it got me thinking, not just about social workers, but about all those positions in society which are either demonised or, perhaps even worse, dismissed as being unimportant.

There were more headlines in the news today about how the economy is booming and back to where it was before “the crash” and yet, at the same time, productivity has fallen and those in power can’t understand why. That says much more about them than about the general workforce.

I’d like to think I’ve always had a grounding and an understanding of the value which anyone and everyone brings to society in the functions that they fulfil. But I was lucky enough, quite a few years ago now, to work in a company where we truly tried to put some of these philosophies into practice.

As one of the “bosses” of the company (ha! I can imagine some people reading this will be more than a little surprised to hear I ever held such a lofty position!), I was very much involved in the setting of pay and conditions, along with two of my fellow directors who were both “working men” who’d started out on the shop floor and worked their way to being part of the board. And yet, unlike so many others, they’d never forgotten their roots and both fought hard for the right conditions and the right incentives for their staff.  And that’s what we did, paying, in the main, decent salaries and offering bonuses, sharing profit etc. And, in the main, what we got back was commitment and productivity.

I had many a run-in, with the Ops Director in particular and I was probably right to do so on a number of occasions. But, in retrospect, I can appreciate what he was trying to do to support those he trusted to do a good job. And, as much as he feathered his own nest, he was also willing to help those under his management do the same. Those are decent principles in the end and those who wonder why productivity has dropped so much these days might do well to look at such examples.

And then, thinking about that company, got me remembering the cleaning lady. She was in her 60s and, truth be told, she wasn’t the best cleaner in the world and we’d quite often have to patch up a few of the areas she hadn’t touched. But, of course, society in general would dismiss cleaners as the lowest of the low and unimportant. Try doing without them!

I used to work late back in those days, and she’d turn up around 6pm every evening to do her rounds. It became routine to stop work and chat to her for 15 minutes, about all sorts of things. And, as I got to know her better, I discovered that this little old lady, dismissed by some as “just” a cleaner (and one who didn’t do her job at that!) had an alcoholic, disabled husband at home, a son in prison for murder, various other family problems, and she was working 2 jobs just to try and hold everything together. And yet here she was, with a smile and the very personification of kindness and friendliness.

I was also reminded of the boss of my very first job in industry. It was only a small company, and Stephen took the time to talk to, and get to know, each and every member of staff (we’re still talking 50+ staff). He’d know about their families, their troubles and their plans. And he wouldn’t forget them. If someone’s daughter had got married at the weekend, he’d have remembered and he’d be down on the shop floor first thing on Monday to ask how it had gone. Likewise, when someone was having troubles outside of work, he’d offer support and he’d make allowances.

Maybe I was just lucky to work for such people, or maybe I was open to learning the ways they managed and looked after staff. Whichever, it has always seemed to me that, if you want people to do a job with commitment and passion, then it’s a two-way process whereby you have to give back to them (and it’s not enough to say “well we pay you don’t we?”). That’s what seems to have gone from business these days – the personal element. People are treated as objects, useful only for their economic contribution and, if that falls below par, get rid. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a social worker, a cleaner, a boss or a banker, first and foremost you’re a human being who should be treated as such and generally, the commitment and understanding you’re shown will be repaid. It’s not a quick process and it requires effort from both sides, but if there really is a desire for a better, more “productive” society for the future, then it’s the only  way forward.

All of which crossed my mind as the sun glared down and I trotted along the rough path up the glen, the striated rocks of Stob Ban towering above me.  It certainly took my mind off the drop down into the gorge on my right, that I couldn’t help but notice. It was good to be out again, despite the heat. The tourists had pretty much gone home now and, apart from one elderly gentleman making his way down after a round of the munros, all was quiet and serene.

It seems a long time ago now, almost a different life, when I was involved in those businesses. I couldn’t return now. I’ve learned those lessons and will keep them with me. But, with a beautiful little girl growing up fast, and a garden that’s starting to take shape as a vegetable production system, there are all sorts of new things to learn, which are just as (if not more) valuable and exciting.

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