Opinion

By Tom,

slave, worker, employee or servant?

Take our Quiz! Select the correct term for each definition…

But first… What is a slave?

A slave is a person who is owned by another person. A slave is not free. Typically, a slave has no rights and is forced to work, day after day, without pay. Slaves are fed a modest diet to keep them fit for duty and usually provided with some kind of living quarters to allow them to sleep and wash. To be clear, these allowances are not born out of any sense of kindness or compassion on the master’s part, but simply to ensure that the slave is able to perform his duties to the very best of his ability.

If a slave falls ill, he may receive some level of medical care, at the expense of his master. This is in order to get him back to good health as quickly as possible and hence enable him to return to his post. Some masters will recognise that, in order to get the best performance out of their slave (or slaves), it is a good idea to give them little incentives. Nothing too costly, of course. Perhaps a meat dish and ale for dinner, instead of bread and water, or maybe a more comfortable bed or new work boots. Basically something which is of fairly insignificant value to the master but may be highly alluring to the slave. The Carrot and Stick approach, in other words.

In time, some slaves may begin to experience feelings not dissimilar to those attributed to Stockholm Syndrome (wherein hostages sympathise with their captors) because of perceived acts of kindness. In time, a slave may even forget that their masters are the very ones who enslaved them in the first place and will begin to settle rather snugly into the role of slave. Alas, they may even begin to forget what freedom was like, perhaps even growing to fear or even loathe the very idea of freedom. This is exactly what the master wants – complete loyalty and submission.

So what’s an employee?

An Employee, on the other hand, is a person who is employed by another person or a company. An employee usually has some rights, such as the right not to be sexually-assaulted or racially-abused whist working but really, once they’re ‘on the clock’, so to speak, they are for all intents and purposes at the disposal of their employer. An employee will likely have a fixed contract of working hours. Some may even be required to ‘clock-in’, upon arrival, and ‘clock-out’, before leaving so that their employer can keep a record of their attendance and make a note of any discrepancies. Whilst at work, employees are closely monitored by their superiors, of which they will often have many. Some employers choose to count, or even time, their employees’ trips to the toilet, cigarette breaks and personal phone calls so as to ensure uninterrupted productivity.

Employees, particularly those at the bottom end of the infrastructure, will be provided with a basic salary which usually amounts to a fraction of that of their superiors. This, really, is merely to enable them to feed, clothe and house themselves. In some cases, the salary provided will just barely cover the employee’s living costs, making it almost impossible for them to save up any money, and thus keeping them trapped. Those with families and mortgages would likely face financial ruin if they were to lose their positions which creates an atmosphere of fear and desperation. Many companies, particularly those that operate in countries without state funded healthcare, will provide some level of healthcare for their employees so as to keep them fit, healthy and ready for duty.

An employee will often be required to work long hours for no additional pay and, if he refuses, may face the threat of dismissal. An employees’ Terms of Employment, so to speak, will be painstakingly stipulated, point-by-point in a handbook which he will have signed upon joining the company. If an employee is seen to be misbehaving – i.e. not pulling his weight, turning up late or not following protocol – he can expect to be disciplined, often publicly, to make him aware of his shortcomings.

Alternatively, if an employee is seen to be exceeding expectations he may, in some cases, receive some small token of appreciation from his employer – a slight raise in pay perhaps or maybe a little gift like a watch, or he may even just be afforded the thrill of being named ‘Employee of the Month.’ An honour, indeed. Any reward would be of insignificant value to the company – a drop in the ocean really – but, in the employee’s eyes, it could be seen as quite an incentive. The receipt of these little treats will sometimes cause the employee to utter phrases such as “he’s not such a bad guy really” and “at the end of the day, he’s only doing his job” in reference to his malevolent superiors. If he maintains his good performance and attitude, an employee may one day receive a promotion. And then, he’ll be management. And he’ll be all the more bitter and twisted for it because he suffered for so long at the hands of his sadistic supervisors. “Well nobody cut me any slack!” he’ll protest. “We all had to do that when we first started,” he’ll reason. “Stevens, I’m afraid this just isn’t acceptable,” he’ll warn.

Ah yes, the transformation will be complete. He’ll have made it! He’ll be just like them.

Is there an alternative?

We are of course being a tad facetious in our slave/employee comparisons and it is certainly not our intention to offend anybody. Our aim was simply to make the point that being an employee, particularly in the traditional and perhaps outdated sense of the word, isn’t really something one should aspire to, in our humble opinion. Without getting too tangled up with semantics, it is more the attitude and history that’s synonymous with the term, rather than the title alone, that offends our fiercely egalitarian sensibilities. During our work with our diverse clientele, we have picked up on a general shift in attitude occurring in the workplace. ‘Employees’, so to speak, are dressing more casually, working more flexible hours, and, as far as we can determine, seem all the more happy, fulfilled and, perhaps most importantly, productive for it. Many ‘employees’ have even managed to shed that dreaded title – along with their suits, ties and bad haircuts – and achieved the slightly more palatable status of Partner. This really is our aspiration for all our clients. Partners. Teams. Teamwork. That’s what we’re all about. Speaking purely from our own experiences with both our own business and our clients’ businesses, this approach has really made a difference. Not rigid hierarchies and disciplinary procedures. Not Employee Handbooks with guidelines on hand-washing and water-cooler etiquette. And not backward trade unions that serve to perpetuate the ‘us and them’ attitude. Just simple, honest, old-fashioned teamwork. And if a business is able to create the right kind of working atmosphere, they’ll often find the rest just falls into place.

Test your knowledge! Select the correct term for each definition…

“A person who is excessively dependent upon or controlled by something”

“One who works for someone else or a company in exchange for wages or some other agree-to compensation”

“One who expresses submission, recognisance, or debt to another”

“A person who works hard”

“A person who does a particular job to earn money”

“A person whose job does not involve managing other people”

“A person who works very hard without proper remuneration or appreciation”

“A person who is employed”

“A devoted and helpful follower or supporter”

“A person employed by another”

Pencils down.

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