The traditional employee/employer relationship excludes more than it includes. One of the reasons for exclusion lies in risk avoidance of populations of workers. These avoided populations include the disabled, those with mental health diagnoses, and veterans, to name a few. While laws have worked to diversify the workforce, a lack of understanding of value and understanding of personal stigmas continues to perpetuate even though the actions taken remain at best unethical and at worst illegal.
Consider a recent example: a disabled veteran was hired and provided an ADA work accommodation. The lack of understanding of the ADA law, coupled with the personal stigmas of the mid-level managers and the director, constantly jeopardized the veteran’s employment. The veteran’s director claimed, “Since you have received an accommodation, you do not need another accommodation, ever.” Then the director, refusing to become ADA compliant, proceeded to pressure the veteran to terminate employment. The legal technicalities were satisfied since there had already been an accommodation. The written ADA guidelines reflect that ADA compliance is an ongoing and adaptive process as the needs of the employee changes from the disability suffered. Hence, the personal stigmas of the director, coupled with a lack of understanding, closed out a potentially lucrative employee/employer relationship. Although the director’s actions are technically legal, they are certainly unethical and problematic for the veteran and the veteran’s family, along with setting a negative tone for current and future employee relationships and the business’ culture and reputation.
Corrigan (2007) wrote an exciting article on stigma, what stigma does, and the impact of stigma on society. Employees in a particular business organization form a society where the impact of a single stigma, especially from a leader, produces dramatic negative results creating a biased culture and a hostile work environment. Corrigan (2007) cited other professionals in discussing the problems of stigmas, and the results track national research studies that lead to the conclusion that beliefs produce stigmas, stigmas produce opportunities of change, and the smart business leader will use the power of change to effectively manage personal stigmas while combatting stigma breeding grounds in closed-minded individuals.
Actions indicated for overcoming the stigma problem includes opening new opportunities for classes of people through knowledge vending opportunities, not traditional employee/employer employment. Consider the veteran mentioned above. The veteran has value, has needs, and has a disability. If the risk for continued employment reflects too much risk, why not shift the pattern of thinking, or paradigm, and consider options.
- Knowledge vending places the impetus upon the vendor to produce results. Dictation of contractual relationship relates to both accommodation and dictation of productivity while leaving freedom to accommodate in the hands of the vendor.
- Knowledge vending places the costs for accommodations upon the vendor, not the employer, and removes both an excuse for not hiring and the inherent risks of workstation adaptability costs from the employment paradigm.
- Knowledge vending promotes the person to a position of action outside the normal hierarchy, and the outside/inside influence spurs innovative and entrepreneurial thinking throughout all the remaining employees.
- Knowledge vending removes the risk for continuing employment, thus spurring opportunities for the vendor to manage and grow alongside the business organization.
Leading to the question, “Why do American business leaders remain reluctant to employ a vendor relationship model for day-to-day services instead of employment in the traditional employee/employer model?” America lags the rest of the industrialized world in offering variety to the traditional employer/employee model. Entire classifications of people are untapped due to the internal stigmas of the intermediate business leaders, mid-level managers, and hiring decision-makers. Risk avoidance is crippling the disabled and veteran communities like no other plague (Haipeter, 2011; Husted, 2002; and Stone, 2012).
Suggested actions to reverse this trend include:
- Open the possibility to current ADA qualified staff members to become a knowledge vendor contracted to your branded organization. Contact your best workers. Offer the opportunity to them to become a knowledge vendor contracted for services to your branded organization. This promotes the entrepreneurial spirit in long-term employees that can change the morale, thinking, and more importantly, the attitude of those with genetic organizational knowledge.
- Train interested staff members in operating his or her own business or engage a third-party trainer to aid in the transition. In fact, many in the ADA community already have the resources to obtain training to become their own small business. Advise and support in the transition only if the person is open to transitioning. Do not force adapting to vendor knowledge worker as this creates more detrimental problems for the all parties involved.
- Change the organizational structure from one of direct reports to one of sharing information. Think horizontal linear instead of vertical linear organizational charts.
- Your vendors, especially the current vendors, have a unique perspective on your organization. Tap the vendors regularly as a valuable resource and use the information gleaned to empower organizational change.
- Promote leadership and internal customer service over all other business standards and “flavor-of-the-month” quick-fix ideas. Using knowledge vendors taps into additional potential in all employees, and knowledge vendors’ innovating ideas on processes, procedures, and the daily “how” of work is valuable to the business overall. Be willing to change the organization to meet the demands of vendors and you will be surprised at the results.
As education, experience, and genetic knowledge harbored by older, disabled, or veteran employees increases, so too does the pressure to find and use an alternative solution to tap into these resources. Knowledge vendors as independent contractors remain a viable and cost effective solution to current problems and future needs. Innovative thinking on meeting needs generates opportunities, and the leader, who will succeed in the current business environment, will consider knowledge workers an asset to the current problems thus positioning the business for future growth.
Corrigan, P. W. (2007). How clinical diagnosis might exacerbate the stigma of mental illness. Social Work, 52(1), 31-9. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/215269747?accountid=458
Haipeter, T. (2011). ‘Unbound’ employers’ associations and derogations: Erosion and renewal of collective bargaining in the German metalworking industry. Industrial Relations Journal, 42(2), 174-194. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2338.2011.00615.x
Husted, K., & Michailova, S. (2002). Diagnosing and Fighting Knowledge-Sharing Hostility. Organizational Dynamics, 31(1), 60-73.
Stone, K. (2012). The Decline in the Standard Employment Contract: Evidence from Ten Advanced Industrial Countries. UCLA: The Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. Retrieved from: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/1wj7c2tb
© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury
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