The beauty of conflict

In the course of labor relations it is inevitable to face points of conflict, but with a strategy focused on dignified treatment, the involvement of all parties in the design of the organization and negotiations based on productivity an integral benefits program can be achieved.

Nota publicada el 3 de julio de 2024 en  sección Capital Humano, por

 

Note published on July 4 2024 in eleconomista.com.mx, Human Capital section, by Blanya Correal Sarmiento.

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“Things are not what they are, they are what we make them be”, this phrase inspired by Sartre undoubtedly motivates a deeper vision of situations that could seem difficult, but that in the end turn out to be opportunities for learning or for developing capabilities that we did not know could arise in us.

One of the most difficult labor experiences that I had to go through took place in Venezuela, right in the midst of Chavismo and with multiple unions in various business units. Every day, there were one or two work stoppages due to labor complaints and there was a 24-day strike, but above all, an environment in which nothing was surprising anymore as every day seemed to be more difficult than the one before. Nevertheless, I would be happy to relive this experience, as many times as I could, not only because of what I learned, I would do it particularly for what I lived and for what remained with me at a professional and at a personal level.

In such a complex, and probably chaotic situation, in which life seemed more like a game in which you had to reach the next levels by passing tests on a daily basis, the most fun characteristic of the experience appeared, and it was that you could dare to do and test many things; nobody expected it to work anyway, so we had nothing to lose!

When you are in the most difficult part of a conflict situation, everything that comes next is going to be better, and in the labor and the union arena, this works in the same way  and thus, in the midst of these circumstances, we made good use of the opportunity to develop three labor practices that were fundamental in the achievement of many changes that contributed to a drastic improvement of the situation:

» 1. Labor culture is a matter of going back to the basics and pinning small details

In one of the work centers with higher conflictivity we implemented the most simple and effective practice: “Greet by name, say please and thank you”, just this, no sophisticated strategy could have been more effective.

As people, we always value being treated with kindness, and even though in the beginning no one was betting on the positive effect of this simple strategy, we witnessed how the environment progressively improved, relationships and even results were consolidated; additionally we were even able to have these actions reach the families of the collaborators, which truly consolidated a positive culture that people started to value and cultivate, even above material issues.

We sometimes think that conflict is due to material interest, but the root normally is more transcendental and human

» 2. Conflict is a tool for transformation

After a strike of almost one month, we went back to the plant; we had two options, to return to the status quo or to seize the moment to build a better culture and environment. That is how “The plant that I want/love [quiero]*” was born, a process of transformation in which every person could be a part of the design and, at the same time, enjoy the benefit of a better workplace.

With this double meaning of “wanting/loving*”, because you dream of it or because you have affection for it, we worked with the thousands of workers who joined this effort to make of this work center a positive bubble in the midst of a very complex social reality.

Conflict is a watershed and, if it is properly used, it is possibly one of the better ways to achieve changes.

[* “Want” in Spanish is “Querer”, which can mean both “want” and “love”]

» 3. We all win with productivity

In such a complicated context, collective bargaining was also a great challenge; but without much to lose, we opted for a change of paradigm: “Tying the growth of the benefits to productivity in the CCTs [Collective Bargaining Agreements].

In an environment of high inflation and total uncertainty, there would be no sense in integrating fixed costs to the employment contract, the worker stands to lose because the value of the benefit is quickly outdated, and the company loses because an obligation that is not necessarily sustainable is generated.

The solution: a variable CCT based on productivity; to the extent that the business goals were achieved, the workers received better conditions, not only by means of productivity bonuses, but many benefits also became variable, such as food subsidies, scholarships for education, vacation days and many other things that promoted a culture of mutual commitment and mutual benefit.

And even though not all unions joined this initiative, the ones that did discovered a very effective tool for reaching their objectives; the advantage is that in this context no one loses, and it is easier to negotiate.

Today, union negotiations are still win-lose in many cases; each party wants to take a piece from the other one and means for applying pressure are even used to achieve this. Negotiation based on productivity makes the cake bigger and, thus, growth facilitates distribution and, therefore, the energy that is drained in a strike can be put to better use in finding the factors that can generate savings and, with them, benefits.

Without a doubt, I would gladly relive this experience, where the role of Human Resources had a clear impact on the business and on the people, above all where the effect of the positive culture became very clear.

In our current reality, we take the things that we have for granted. Unions fight to improve their conquests, companies to increase their profitability and everyone, from their own court, loses the possibility of reaching a much higher level of benefits, not only economic, but also in the work environment and in labor peace.

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