For many organisations, employees are the life blood. They keep the organisation functioning, possess knowledge that is instrumental to achieving organisational success and are also the architects of winning strategies. In today’s competitive business environment where possession of knowledge is essential, for example, for gaining access to new markets, suppliers and customers, new product development etc, having such such like-minded personnel on board differentiates winning organisations from losers.
In one of my previous posts, How to manage worker productivity, I mentioned how organisations should treat their employees as an asset rather than a cost. This is true especially today where intangible assets have overtaken physical assets as drivers of business performance and hence organisational value.
The recent events in Cairo, Egypt where a bus driver shot dead six construction workers and injured others travelling in his vehicle are sad but also alarming. According to a report released from Cairo, it is understood that the driver, an employee of Arab Contractors, one of Egypt’s biggest building firms was depressed after being transferred to a new position within the company.
The pain suffered by the families, friends, relatives and other loved ones of the victims is unbearable. However, the cost to the business, Arab Contractors, is also huge. Not only is the cost in terms of lost life, but also compensation payments that will have to be paid to the surviving families, friends and loved ones of the victims. Though no details have been made available on how long the victims have worked with the organisation, replacing them is going to take some time and also cost more.
Some of the surviving injured employees, shocked and horrified by this incident might consider leaving the organisation. The effect is also the same on some of the long-serving or newly employed workers who were not travelling in the vehicle at the time but are now mentally affected. This also, is going to affect the processes of the organisation and hence business continuity.
The big question is, “Is it possible that this tragedy could have been avoided?” Based on reports so far suggesting that “depression” led to this killing, the answer could be a resounding yes. It could be that the depression was work-related or it was as a result of personal circumstances. Either way, this could have been avoided.
So often, employees are moved around the organisation to perform tasks, some which they enjoy and others which they do not. In most cases, when the employee is not enjoying his/her work, this shows up in their approach and attitude towards work. The morale is usually low, there is less interaction with peers or they always question the way things are done. It is the responsibility of the manager to monitor and trace these changes in employee attitudes.
Lessons can be learnt from this shooting incident. To a certain extent, managers need to know and understand what is happening in their employee’s personal and work life. This will help quickly identify any changes in behaviour and deal with them immediately before they escalate into a big problem. Managers can promote interaction, reduce employee isolation and depression by implementing one or two of the following measures:
# Arrange social work events where employees can get to know each other better and what’s happening in their lives outside the premises of the organisation. This helps reduce too much focus on work related issues.
# Promote a culture of balancing work and life. This can be achieved by offering sabbatical, part-time work, work from home or shared employment opportunities.
# Promote team work where reward is not all about individual effort but team effort.
# Have a counselling or mentoring programme within the organisation where employees can air their concerns confidentially and also learn from their peers.
# Ensure that the right people with the right skills set are matched to the right jobs to avoid or reduce any work-related boredom.
# Constantly find out from employees how they are performing in their job and what changes and improvements they would like to see brought in.