Coca Cola encourages a casual approach to labour
Lord Digby Jones (below), formerly head of the CBI, is up on his high horse about the labeling on a brand of bottled water owned by Coca Cola. The label states: ‘If you’ve had to use sick days because you’ve actually been sick, then you’re seriously missing out.”
The ex-CBI chief is only echoing the sentiments of Forum of Private Businesses which said it was ‘unacceptable to encourage workers to throw ‘sickies’ in order to sell a soft drink.’
Curiously enough I’ve never been influenced by anything written on the side of a pop bottle but clearly there are feckless, impressionable workers out there who will down tools at the drop of hat, or on the instruction of soft drink manufactures.
Aside from this brief insight into the way business and its representative’s view the common or garden employee, Digby should be less concerned about absenteeism than presenteeism. This occurs when people continue to go to work despite being ill, and it’s very common; worryingly so.
A recent report from The Work Foundation has highlighted the greater likelihood of employees showing up for work when they are ill than taking time off when they are sick. The research was carried out through interviews and on-line surveys of AXA PPP Healthcare staff and it found that 45 per cent of employees reported one or more days sickness presence compared with 18 per cent reporting sickness absence over the same period.
The cost of ill health to employers and society is high in the UK, estimated to be around £100 billion a year. But according to the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health the cost of ill health at work and presenteeism could be just as high or even higher. It estimates that presenteeism accounts for 1.5 times more working time lost than absenteeism with the costs to UK employers of mental health problems alone estimated at £15.1 billion per year.
Why do people turn up on the job when they are clearly unfit for work? The Work Foundation report is rather coy on this point; it cites personal financial difficulties; work-related stress; and perceived workplace pressure (from senior managers, line managers and colleagues) to attend work when unwell. We might summarize these reasons as fear: fear of losing money; fear of losing your job; fear of your boss.
I have a theory that once ‘progressive’ management made a huge pretense of caring about employees and taking account of them in the decision making process. Making workers feel wanted and secure was seen as a way of improving performance and productivity. Then, sometime in the 80s (coinciding no doubt with the New Right’s assault upon the unions) it occurred to management that you could actually motivate your staff just as effectively by instilling the fear of God in them.
Suddenly all those bluffer’s guides to ‘good’ management were swept of the book shelf, replaced with Machialvelli’s The Prince, selectively read, of course. It was Machiavelli who notoriously said that a leader should strive to be both loved and feared but because it is difficult to be both it is safer to be feared.
Coca Cola’s reference to the joys of skiving is only possible because absenteeism just isn’t a serious issue these days, since a regime of fear keeps workers in line. Coca Cola is itself a ‘responsible’ employer who we can be sure would not want to encourage a laissez faire approach to work among its own employees.
The fact that it can confidently evoke the work-shy speaks volumes about capitalism’s confident domination of employees. In the same way that mobile phone companies deploy the spirit (and sound track) of the 60s counter culture; Iggy Pop sells car insurance; and the miners strike can make cameo appearances in Hovis bread and Virgin airline adverts, the notion of the merry worker is such a distant and non-threatening memory that it can be considered politically anodyne.
So Digby needn’t fret. Like a Che Guevara t-shirt bought from a high street boutique, drinking Coca Cola’s bottled water gives you the appearance of rebelliousness without any of the troublesome substance.
Anyway here’s a great old paean to the art of loafing and skiving to get you by until the shackles of fear are lifted off us poor working folk.
I’m a celebrated working man from work I never shirk,
I can hew more coals than any man from Glasgow down to York.
And if you’d like to see my style, call around on me
When I’ ve had several beers in the bar room.
In the bar room, in the bar room, that’s where we congregate,
To drill the holes and fill the coals and shovel back the slate.
And for to do a job of work I am never late,
Thats provided that we do it in the bar room.
At puttin I’m a dandy, I hope you will agree,
And gannin along the gannin board I mak the tyun’uns flee
Your kelly sweeps and back-over turns they never bother me,
When I’m sitting on the limmers in the bar room.
I can judge a shot of power to a sixteenth of a grain,
I can fill my eighteen tubs though the water falls like rain,
And if you’d like to see me in the perpendicular vein,
It’s when I’m setting timmers in the bar room.
And now my song is ended, perhaps we’ll have another,
Now don’t you fire any shots in here, or we will surely smother,
The landlord here would sooner pull beer than go to all the bother
To put up the ventilators in the bar room.