The demands of the Enterprise on the worker

If we turn to the demand of enterprise and worker on each other, the first question is: what must the enterprise demand in order to get the work done?

The standard answer to this is the catch phrase “a fair day’s labor for fair day’s pay”. Unfortunately no one has ever been able to figure out what is fair either in respect to labor or to pay. The real trouble with the phrase is, however, that it demands too little, and demands the wrong thing.

What the enterprise must demand of the worker is that he willingly direct is efforts towards the goals of the enterprise. If one could “hire a hand,” one could indeed demand delivery of fair value for fair price. If one could buy labor, one could buy it by whatever nit applies to it; but “labor is not an article of commerce,” as the law knows. Precisely because labor is human beings, a fair day’s labor is unobtainable. For it is passive acquiescence the one thing this peculiar being is not capable of giving.

The enterprise, if it wants to get anything at all, must demand something much bigger than a fair day’s labor. It must demand, over and above fairness, willing dedication. It cannot aim at acquiescence. It must aim at building aggressive esprit de corps.

This will be particularly important under mass production of uniform parts and their assembly into diversified products, under process production, under Automation. For these systems of production that almost every worker take responsibility for actions, for the simple reason almost every worker controls and determines the output of the whole through the way in which he performs his job, runs his operation, maintains his equipment. A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, consciously or unconsciously, assumes a system of production under which the worker does nothing but what he is being told to do. It really assumes the technology in which the ditch digger with his shovel represents production at its most advanced stage. For the ditch digger technology “a fair day’s labor for a fair day’s wage” may not be too bad a slogan; this, however, is a main reason for its being an unproductive technology. For the new technology ahead of us it is absurd and complete misdirection.

The enterprise must expect of the worker not the passive acceptance of a physical chore, but the active assumption of responsibility for the enterprise’s results. And precisely because this is so much bigger a demand, we are likely to be able to realize it where we have never obtained the fair day’s labor. For it is a peculiarity of man that he yields best to high demands, that, indeed, his capacity to produce is largely determined by the level of the demands made on it.

There is a second demand the enterprise must make on the worker: that he be willing to accept change. Innovation is a necessary function of business enterprise; it is one of its major social responsibilities. It requires however, that people change their work, their habits, and group relations.

The human being has a capacity to change beyond all other animals but it is not unlimited. In the first place, while man can learn amazingly fast, his unlearning capacity is much lower (fortunately for the race). We know today that learning capacity does not disappear with age. But the more one has learned the more difficult is unlearning. Experience rather than age, in other words, is the bar to easy unlearning and with it to easy or fast learning of new things. The only way to get around this is by making ability to unlearn itself part of what a man learns. This requires that one learn by acquiring knowledge rather than simply by experience. It requires “teaching” rather than “training” programs many of the typical programs of today make a man rigid, rather than flexible, tech tricks of the trade rather than understanding. And the need to train workers in the ability to unlearn and to learn will become greater as the skill and knowledge level of the worker increases.

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