Employees are not production means and employers not the horn of plenty
In most market economies, the two constituencies that most influence government decisions are the employers and self-employed on one hand and workers and employees on the other. This underlines the gravity of the inner conflict outlined above. Moreover, the countries with the greatest weapons arsenals all lay claim to the one true ideology: one promises to fight for workers’ rights, for example, the other for unfettered business and private capital. Each side has more than once threatened to unleash nuclear weapons to protect their standpoint. If, however, conflict between employees and employers is rooted in corrigible short-circuits in our brains rather than in fundamental constraints, then it would be advantageous to shift our focus from the behavior of others to the actual site of the conflict, namely our own brains.
We are all aware that the root of all this enmity lies in the way the spoils are divided. At the same time, economic development would clearly be impossible without orders being given and orders being followed. As long as our early ancestors about 2 million years ago were organized in small groups of hunters and gatherers that slowly gained the upper hand on the plants and animals around them, as long as human populations had room to spread across the continents, these extended clans could enjoy some semblance of harmony. This is not to say that hierarchies in command were non-existent, or that those in higher positions did not receive a larger share than their underlings. But this arrangement enjoyed acceptance – as long as things were not taken too far. Avenues were available to attain higher rank and, after all, only few had the courage, commitment, and ability to do so. The others were generally quite satisfied to have someone competent make the decisions and take over responsibility. At any rate, all clan members ultimately pulled together and stood up to the common foe: competing clans. Personal enmities were quickly buried in the ensuing battles and wars. Later, when human populations became sedentary and grew faster, transactions in business settings changed the situation dramatically. The radiation of new professions and trades led to decisive conflicts of interest within the clans – and the psychosplit yielded the first semi-predators in the ever larger communities.
We can begin by examining the tradesman who set up larger production centers and had to hire employees as coworkers. The employer-employee relationship also involves exchange or transactions: the former pay the latter a certain sum of money and in turn receives that person’s collaboration.
We don’t need much imagination to recognize that employers, who initiate the process, will be tempted to yield to predatory instincts and seek to obtain the most work for the least pay. When the tasks are simple and clearly defined, or when the pool of workers is large, then this approach can succeed for quite some time. Nonetheless, in the past and even more so today, it clearly runs counter to the optimal barter or optimal business strategy and ultimately works to the employer’s disadvantage.
An additional instinct control mechanism reinforces this process, namely the oldest strategy common to all organisms – the drive to successfully compete with others. Since the origin of “life” about 4000 million years ago, the organisms that fueled the evolutive process have all functioned based on a division of labor. The individual components of each such “system” were responsible for some specific task. And the more rational this process, the more competitive that organism. Any innovations that boosted fitness, or any other “rationalizations”, were the main weapons in competition. Those who achieved the best overall capability or the best self-defense – with less effort, more quickly and with a lower error rate than the others – were at an advantage. They survived and reproduced, whereas the others fell by the wayside and perished. This inevitably promoted rationalization in all organisms, a process fully in line with the economic principles in the business world (compare Fig. 17).
Naturally, the behavioral mechanisms that “higher” animals learned through experience were also tailored to fulfill the necessary functions quicker, better and more efficiently. Once humans began to conduct business, triggering the conflict we define here as the psychosplit, all these once highly successful and positive strategies suddenly took on negative implications – at least in this key sector.
Even today, every freelancer and every company strives to maximize yield, performance, quality, customer satisfaction and market response while at the same time minimizing energy input – thus maximizing profits. The available resources must be employed as effectively as possible and superfluous costs avoided. While this is valid for acquiring tools, designing facilities, or deploying machines – it is invalid for humans as a means of production! If I hire someone – if I make that person my “additional organ” – then a whole new scale of values and reactions enters the picture. Rigorously applying the criteria of supply and demand here, and attempting to maximize output while minimizing input, leads to disadvantages and losses that far outweigh the advantages.
Every business that hires people as “additional organs” is automatically and irrevocably subject to archaic developmental and behavioral maxims that steer every organism that ever existed. And these maxims urge us to avoid extraneous costs both in acquiring and maintaining any means of production. This therefore also applies to business transactions and reflects the OBS criteria. Human “tools” are the crucial exemption. Why? Because they are versatile and can develop into much more powerful organs under the proper leadership. Who hasn’t heard about some low-level employee who rose through the ranks and to ultimately steer the fortunes of the company!
Mewes told me the story of a woman who founded a dynamic company but whose initial successes had ground to a halt. She solved her problem by making her two chief co-workers into partners, going as far as giving them one-third shares in company profits. Her lawyer was exasperated and urged her to retain at least 51% ownership. The gist of the story is that, within a few years, her personal income was twice as high as it had been when she still had full ownership. Her success was also enhanced by a very clever profit-sharing system she devised for the benefit of all employees.
Two factors therefore severely obstruct true partnerships between employers and employees despite the potential advantages for both partners. First, the psychosplit activates the employer’s self-interest strategy. Second, the employer’s instincts tell him or her to rationalize, to view coworkers as “just another means of production”, leading to major miscalculations and abuses.
Such abuses once prompted Marx to formulate his call for an overall ban on the ownership of production means. This ultimately turned out to be a serious flaw of logic with tragic consequences. The communist states that implemented this line of thought and strove to give every worker a fair share of the profits, themselves became huge enterprises. Even with the best intentions, they were forced to diversify immeasurably and proved incapable of satisfying the demands of such vast numbers of customers. At the same time, the “share-holder”, the worker and citizen, became so removed from the profit-and-loss level that the motivation for true commitment was lost. While Marx was correct in considering the “added value” that humans , as opposed to all other means of production, could create, he failed to recognize the added value that private businesses contributed to the common good due to their initiative, their spirit, and their willingness to take risks.
The grave dissonances that the psychosplit has triggered
in the behavior of employers toward employees are accompanied by a spate
of no less serious problems.
Innate behaviors in animals are not restricted to foraging or hunting, but also involve recognizing enemies and initiating the appropriate flight, hiding, or defense reactions. Detecting and dispatching prey requires focused concentration, which inevitably lowers defense mechanisms against foes. This can easily lead to situations in which the would-be predator ends up landing in someone else’s stomach.
Additional control mechanisms developed to counter this risk, among them the typical “securing” behavior shown by most mammals. Feeding monkeys automatically look back and to both sides at regular intervals. Although such behavior might seem superfluous for humans in modern civilization, where predators need no longer be feared, it has been retained. I was able to show this in all corners of the world by using a hidden camera to take time-lapse films of people eating.50 Once you are sensitized, you can recognize the phenomenon in every restaurant, especially in people sitting by themselves. Their eyes involuntarily dart back and forth from side to side.
This “caution” we exhibit when consuming our food belongs to the predatory behavior repertoire of almost every higher animal is activated by the psychosplit and impedes OBS-guided strategies in business. The problem is not our physical head and eye movements, but the exaggerated caution and attentiveness toward potential predators. We shouldn’t be surprised to hear that this behavior is inevitably expressed in mistrust towards employees. After all, experience and logic dictate that such “subordinates” represent potential enemies (and theft is certainly not a rare phenomenon in business). The damage is all the greater if industrial espionage is involved and important information falls into the hands of the competition. Every employee is “inside the fortress walls” and can take advantage of that insider position. Whereas animals can innately recognize their enemies, we have much greater difficulty determining what intentions our fellow man harbors.
In order to motivate employees to view the company as their partner, they must be treated fairly, and in a friendly manner, although this can also lead to difficulties. As we have learned, predators and semi-predators alike may well interpret – and exploit – such friendly behavior as a sign of weakness. The solution is to create mutual trust that motivates employees to identify with the company and its philosophy. Surveillance and control are not necessarily the appropriate means. Neither is overly friendly behavior.
How can we solve this dilemma? How can employers and employees forge a partnership based on mutual trust despite these instincts, whose origins most are blissfully unaware of? The above-mentioned businesswoman who made her two employees into equal partners provided me with the answer: “The goal can only be achieved in a series of small steps! Only such small steps reveal whether outstretched hand is actually being accepted and the concessions are not being interpreted as weakness that will one day be exploited.”
The psychosplit exerts another major influence on the employer-employee relationship. Beyond occasionally resorting to theft or joining forces with competitors, employees can become the competitors themselves, a common and no less damaging event. They have gained valuable knowledge and experience, made important contacts, and then, one day, steal off on their own, more often than not taking any number of once-trusted clients with them. From the evolutionary standpoint, this process is very simple and easy to understand. After all, every animal, even though it is unaware of the underlying process, plows all its gains – its “profits in the business sense – into a reproductive effort that ultimately creates new competitors. No other animal is better equipped structurally and behaviorally than members of your own species: conspecifics are the toughest competition. Although many innate mechanisms help prevent members of the same species from seriously injuring each other (e.g. submissive postures and gestures), this is only a drop in the bucket. The fact that the conspecific feeds on precisely the same prey means that it is ideally suited to inflict major damage, unless it is a member of the same pack,. We humans have reached a point in which no one necessarily needs to invest all his or her gains into producing “more of their own ilk.” No ironsmith is forced to fund additional ironsmiths. Excess profits can be used for entirely different endeavors, for example opening a restaurant or a hairdressing salon, which represent as little competition for the ironsmith as a bee for a wolf. Our many additional organs and enormous range of new professions means that no one needs to compete directly with another person. Individual business careers are as diversified as the feeding strategies in the animal world51.
Predatory instincts are therefore mirrored not only in caution toward other would-be predators but also in vigilance toward conspecifics as key feeding competitors. This tendency is supported by conditioning (i.e. via the psychosplit) and inevitably pits employers against employees at the workplace. Logic and experience chime in, “Be careful. As much as you may like this or that person, they can become competitors at a moment’s notice.” These motives make it difficult for employers to build optimal, partnership-based relationships with employees.
Employees are in the same boat. For them, employment, i.e. selling their services in a transactional process, is how they earn their money. The psychosplit talks them into looking out for their own best interests as well. The employers’ suspicions that employees are out to take advantage of them is precisely what the psychosplit is animating the employees to do.
The ambitioned careerist in a larger company is confronted
with a difficult question. Who, according to OBS guidelines, is my target
group? The client whose problems I am supposed to solve expeditiously?
My immediate superior? The department manager? The overall company? Or
the business sector itself, in which case I should switch over to the competition
because I can serve them better? Or perhaps an entirely different business
sector because they are in more dire need of my services? And how can I
make the influential contacts I need? A wide range of books provides advice
on these matters, and Vance Packard very vividly described how to scale
the rungs of the career ladder in larger U.S. companies52.
A witticism that every businessperson should take to heart is, “Everyone
looks out for themselves, I’m the only one looking out for myself.” The
goal is to overcome that attitude. A crucial aspect from the OBS perspective
is how, by creating awareness for and then neutralizing the mutually disadvantageous
predatory instincts triggered by the psychosplit, inner tensions can be
relaxed and “inner friction” reduced in both employers and employees. The
more a business forges itself into an entity that functions to everyone’s
satisfaction, the more successful its output53.
The take-home message: employers should not view employees as a means of
production, and employees should not view their employers as the horn of
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