Zero Hours Contracts and Contracts in General

Recently I asked a handyman I get occasionally  to do a job for me, one that I couldn’t do or that he would do a lot better. He promptly came and did it and I was happy with his work. But, I know that when I get his invoice, unless it is extraordinarily high, which it will not be, I will give him more than he asks for.   Know why? Because he will invoice me for his work and his time and I will want to pay him for his work and the results of his work.   I will want to pay for the life–time he gave to the job, the skill he brought to it, and, most especially for the difference and contribution he made.

Hurting Itself

You see, I don’t really mean that my plum tree is stupid as mentioned above.  I love trees and love their wonderful intelligence.  But my plum tree produced so much fruit that two of its branches broke. I called my handyman, not just to save the fruit, but to save the branches and the tree. Whatever he was doing at the time he stopped doing it and came and did a wonderful bandaging and healing job on my poor tree. It is now alive and well and continuing to offer beautiful fruit.  It is that that I want to pay for, or rather to recognise, because how can you pay for saving a tree?  How can you pay, for that matter, for a piece of a person’s life and for the unique skills they have built up over years from their experience?

The Inadequacy of Contracts

And yet we do. We call it a contract. We agree what somebody will do, how  many hours they will give to it and, then, we pay them for that, as if that adequately dealt with it all.  But what about the contribution from the person in terms of their life–time, their skill, and the contribution or value they add?   It is a neat and clean way to deal with the exchange, -life, skill, contribution on the one hand, and money on the other – but it is a hopelessly inadequate one. It is this that is behind the comment one so often hears from workers  that nobody ever says ‘thanks’. “But didn’t they get paid for it?  What more do they want?”   They want, even if they could never articulate it, to feel that their life and contribution are received and appreciated and not written off or dismissed because it was paid for. How can you pay for a nurse’s  attention and smile  in a hospital? How can you pay for the courage of a policeman arriving on the scene of some tragedy?  How can you pay for  the patience of a bus driver who safely and reliably takes people to new places they want or need to get to?

Making the Company the Reward

The answer is, of course, you can’t. Nor would it ever be possible to quantify in monetary terms how these people or any worker who gives of their life–time  should be rewarded. This is the tragedy of zero contracts and, indeed, all contracts. They give the impression that once the money has been paid, the deal is over, no strings attached. But, with human beings, there are always strings attached; good strings. There are strings of appreciation, recognition, loyalty, belonging, sharing, gifting  and it is these strings that knit together and coalesce to form a Company.  ‘Company’  literally means ‘Con Pan’  (with bread),  being and sharing together and especially when we are together making something great happen.

This is what gets lost, thrown away, in published Mission and Vision statements that have no real value, like glossy book covers that bear no resemblance to the content within. And this is what can be regained when managers and leaders truly believe in a meaningful purpose for their organisations and invite and get everybody contributing to it, never failing to celebrate and recognise the life–time, the skill, and the value that people add.

My handyman may not understand if I pay him more than he asks. I don’t mind that. But, I’ve no choice. I have to recognise the life–time he gave,  the skill he used and the value  he added. I have to recognise that, not just on my own behalf, but on behalf of my lovely, generous plum tree.