Added by Craig Steel
The future of work - Part 3/5

To understand the issue, we need to look back at the nature of the employer > employee relationship.

Team of three collaborating over desk

To understand the issues facing the business world today, we need to look back at the nature of the employer > employee relationship and how problematic practices have evolved over time.


A timeline of transformation

  • Centuries ago, everyone who could work did. Not in paid employment, but in carrying out activities to survive.
  • However, as time passed, our forefathers recognised that some people could do things better than others and indeed, some regions produced better materials than others. We started to trade. 
  • While this brought about significant advantages, not everything was considered equal. As a result, we placed different values on different goods and services which led to differing levels of return.
  • Further to this, goods that had once been made by hand started to be produced by machines. 
  • As a result of these changes, populations around the world were forced to migrate to industrial centres in search of employment (fuelled by the Industrial Revolution) which fundamentally changed the way we worked.
  • Instead of the average person being able to secure what they needed to survive off the land as they used to, they started accruing costs they needed to cover which shifted the balance of power.
  • Also, because factories needed their workers to be productive, they created working conditions that favoured the business.
  • Over time, labour became exponentially cheaper in comparison to the value of what was produced. 
  • This enabled industrialists to increase their dominance while lessening the relevance of the individual. 
  • As the decades rolled on, dissatisfaction amongst workers led to the establishment of trade unions, which ultimately cemented the scenario of ‘opposing positions’ (employers versus employees). 
  • Because working conditions had been so poor, the public largely supported a shift in power as they could see the effect of the imbalance. 
  • While this encouraged Governments to introduce legislation to protect workers, it also resulted in companies adopting increasingly stringent ‘command and control’ practices to manage their workforce and improve productivity. 


How the past limits the present

Because we perceive the paradigm of opposing positions as fact, we assume the only option is to try and get more out of the other party to improve our lot. However, this presumes revenue is finite. What if we were to think about revenue not as a fixed resource, but a consequence of the value we add? Both parties could benefit, meaning they could focus on finding new growth rather than squabbling over current earnings. 


Seeing through a different lens

An analogy I have often used to highlight this point can best be seen in sport. As we know, the owners and managers of a sports team need their players to perform to realise their aspirations. Equally, the players themselves need those in charge to invest in their development to succeed as individuals. If both parties understand they are on the same team and will therefore win or lose together, they will find a way to make things work. However, if they believe they are on opposing teams and therefore focus on trying to extract what they can ‘from’ the other, they will compromise their chances of success, destroy the integrity of the relationship, and enter a meaningless race to the bottom.

While the flaws of opposing positions are obvious in sport, it’s important we acknowledge that this is how the vast majority of organisations around the world continue to operate today. Most business owners see their people as a resource they need to run their company rather than the key to their success as a company. Equally, most employees believe their employer wants to get as much as they can out of them, hence they remain distant (and often resentful).


Choose transformational leadership 

The point is, it’s not our lack of technology, markets or talent that holds us back. It’s the fact that we continue to use outdated compliance-based practices that not only undermine the power of workplace relations, they also destroy the very mindset businesses need to embody to reach new heights.
The notion of ‘opposing teams’ remains the primary issue that plagues organisational productivity globally. Being on the ‘same team’ doesn’t just improve outcomes for both parties. It has the potential to completely transform their relationship, and give them an unassailable advantage in the market.


This article is part of our white paper ‘The future of work: A performance-focused insight’. To request a copy, please email us at



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