Thursday, May 29, 2014

We, the customers

We, the customers, are giving us as employees a hard time. This thought crossed my mind during the closing event of our Business & Society seminar at the University of Zurich. This year, the students conducted qualitative research projects on corporate health management. Besides discussing the benefits a company can attain by keeping employees healthy (achieving a return on investment), the discussion also addressed the limits of such measures. On the one hand, employees have to take  responsibility for their own health, thus the influence of the organization on their health is limited. On the other hand, another issue was raised: The closer a department is to the customers, the more pressure there is and the smaller the possibility of reducing the workload (an often mentioned stressor). The customers, in a competitive environment, determine their expectations towards a company. These expectations can be quite high and are only rarely met with a normal volume of work. As a consequence, corporate health management faces resistance as well.

What are the implications for society? We can hardly ever meet our own expectations. In the end, we are all customers (and at the same time employees) and thus part of the economic system. Even though the influence of the individual end customer is limited, especially on a global market, this bottom-up reasoning may have an impact on the overall system. If we approach an issue from various sides, the chances for it to improve increase. So I’ve asked myself what I could do in my role as a customer. Sometimes I catch myself waiting impatiently when there’s a delay at the shopping checkout or getting upset when my health insurance company doesn’t answer my emails immediately. Maybe slowing down a little, interacting in a more humane instead of mechanistic way with employees as well as a fostering a genuine interest for the other person, understood not as a replaceable workforce, but as an individual with his or her own interesting and maybe flawed properties, could lead to more realistic expectations. And even if this approach doesn’t have the intended effect, you can at least benefit from a more relaxed mood.

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