This is the first of a series of posts on Sharing Information with Employees, a 1942 book I've found that I believe is the first ever written on the subject of employee communication. I hope these posts, and the discussions they may inspire will amount to a white paper on employee communication. —DM
So as we stipulated yesterday, corporations are by definition social organizations, because they affect so many areas of our social life. So Boots readers agree with author Alexander Heron, who sets out to name the purpose—not of "employee communication," a term that I don't believe appears in this book—but merely of "sharing information with employees."
The first purpose, he says, is to inspire employees to take a sincere interest in their work, which appears to have been as difficult a problem 67 years ago as it is today.
Why aren't employees interested in their work?
Because organizations are big and work is so specialized that workers don't feel a sense of ownership. And since 1942 was closer to the Industrial Revolution than 2009 is, Heron could see the real and psychologically devastating shift in "ownership" that the typical worker had endured.
"Instead of his grist mill, the miller's son owns a number on a payroll," Heron writes.
Employers had failed to recognize that "a place on our payroll, a job in our plant, is the only 'property' the average worker possesses from which to derive his livelihood," Heron writes.
Employee engagement, anyone? And here's how Heron says it relates to employee communication:
Perhaps we should have given him a chance to see, or at least read about, the structure of the finished product and the place and importance of his specialized piece or part. Perhaps we should have let him know the important characteristics of the steel he handles and where it is made. Perhaps we should have told him the market outlook and how much 'livelihood' his job promises for next year. Perhaps we should hope to have him know the burden of taxes borne by his job, what the highly paid executive does to insure the existence of each job in the enterprise and a hundred other facts.
Heron's a good writer, isn't he?
It's amazing to read the above, because it's an at-once sepia-toned and freshly expressed echo of what employee communication consultants espouse now.
But in our next installment, which I'll post next week, what's amazing isn't the familiarity of Heron's ideas, but the jarring strangeness of his claim that employers "must recognize our inescapable obligation to manage the enterprise in such a way as to furnish middle-age security for those who spend their years of youth in the enterprise as wage earners."
How in blazes is he going to prove that point? Don't touch that dial …