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Employer-employee engagement, not division, is the future of work

The writer (right) chatting with employers from India

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The old conflict between labour and capital does not need to happen if there is engagement on all sides, writes Ronald Benjamin.

During my trip to Geneva in June 2019 for the International Labour Organization conference, I met some employers from India.

As we were staying in the same hotel, I had the opportunity to explore some of their labour practices.

In our short discussion, they complained that the ILO seems to be taking a black-and-white approach to labour issues. To them, the ILO tends to divide capital and labour, where the capitalist is seen to be unjust while the labourer is a victim of capitalism and needs justice in terms of upgraded work standards.

They told me that in India, especially in small towns and villages where there are small and medium-sized industries, employers and workers work closely as a family without any division, and this has brought great results. There is engagement among all without the so-called psychological and socioeconomic barrier and without the conflict between capital and labour.

Reflecting on this discussion, I realised the old conflict between labour and capital does not need to happen if there is common engagement on all sides. In this digital age, where knowledge and skills will dominate the context in which bargaining between employer and employees takes place, engagement becomes a strategy of competitiveness.

Research has shown that employee engagement is not about happiness or creating a fun club or going for picnics. It is about an emotional attachment to an organisation, where there is trust between leaders and the team, and this translates into productive results.

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Engaged employees are those who work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organisation forward.

Data has shown the correlation between revenue growth and employee engagement – the most successful companies in the world have the highest levels of employee engagement and are growing the fastest. Companies in the top tier of employee engagement outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share and have a 90% better growth trend than their competition.

With technological change, many organisations are moving towards a horizontal and team-based approach in building strong organisations where employees are empowered to make decisions. It is no longer appropriate to hold on to the master-servant relationship between employers and employees. It about engagement and solidarity.

It is sad that employers and unions in this country fail to grasp the complexities of the future of work that sooner or later will break up the vertical dimension of employer-employee relationships.

Organisations of the future function as a cohesive unit built on engagement and rooted in trust. Hopefully, a shift will take place between employers and unions in Malaysia where there would be engagement that built trust rather than division.

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