Friday, January 20, 2012

The Workers

There are days when our language seems trapped in the Thirties.

The term"worker" is sometimes used exclusively for employees, but not for managers or executives. It feeds the image that people in the higher ranks resemble the little rich man in the Monopoly game and implies that they go to meetings, read The Wall Street Journal, and do little beyond chat up business prospects on the golf course. I'm sure there are exceptions, but the executives and managers I've encountered work extremely hard, usually far beyond 40 hours a week, and they devoted years of labor to get into their positions.

There is another implication that is equally inaccurate; the idea that one group works while the other plans and thinks deep thoughts. To be sure, there are jobs that require little brain work, but successful organizations want people who can take initiative, juggle priorities, and spot ways to improve regardless of their job title. Even many of the old stereotypes about educational credentials no longer apply as you can find grad school alumni at a large variety of organizational levels in large companies.

A similar problem arises with the leaders versus managers distinction. Those are responsibilities, not a caste system. You want a workplace in which everyone, under the appropriate circumstances, can act as a leader and where all manage. They may perform those responsibilities well or less so, but they perform them nonetheless. It is not hard to find executive assistants who exercise as much leadership as division heads.

In short, language can be a label that restricts inquiry. We need to be wary of the implications. They can blur our view of many people.

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