Article: Freedom at the workplace: What employees prefer

Employee Engagement

Freedom at the workplace: What employees prefer

The scope of development in organizations must go beyond the boundaries of developing employability, competencies and skills. Employees prefer organizations that enhance their social as well as economic entitlements

development requires the removal of major sources of ‘unfreedom'-poverty,tyranny, poor economic opportunities,deprivation of social opportunities & neglect of public facilities


Employees engage with the organization more productively, when they experience democratic processes


The scope of development in organizations must go beyond the boundaries of developing employability, competencies and skills. Employees prefer organizations that enhance their social as well as economic entitlements

Human resource as a function has to seriously connect with other social sciences to broaden the scope of human resource development. This thought is neither unique nor rare; only needs a renewed attention of HR policy makers and implementers.

The challenges related to human resource development have been dominating the minds of people for quite some time. The several new phenomenon developing at the fringes may be somewhat blurred at this point and difficult to derive the exact meaning and impact of those tiny variables now, but it cannot be ignored as they are important elements of ‘change’, which necessitates integrating HR with the varied learning emanating from other social sciences like economics, history, political science, etc.

A must read for all HR professionals/HR policy makers, and those engaged in the field of management education is ‘Development as Freedom’ by Dr. Amartya Sen. The book is based on the lectures that he gave as a Presidential Fellow at the World Bank in 1996 and 1997.

‘Development’ can be seen as a process of expanding ‘human freedom’ that people enjoy, says Dr. Sen in his book. As he explains, development requires the removal of major sources of ‘unfreedom’ - poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as deprivation of social opportunities (opportunities for healthcare and education) and neglect of public facilities.

In the context of ‘freedom’, Dr. Sen emphasized three aspects which require the attention of HR policy makers:

a) Relation between individual freedom and access to social & economic development: What people can positively achieve is influenced by economic opportunities (economic entitlements – creating income and wealth within ethical limits, opportunities individuals enjoy, and utilize the economic resources for the purpose of consumption, production, or exchange), political liberties (includes political entitlements associated with democracies like political dialogues, dissent and other participatory mechanisms), social powers and the enabling conditions of social opportunities such as good healthcare, access to basic education, etc.

b) Transparency guarantees: This explains the need for openness that people can expect, i.e., the freedom to deal with one another under guarantees of disclosure.

c) Protective security: Protective security is needed to provide a social safety net for preventing the affected population from being reduced to abject misery, and in some cases, even starvation.

The analyses of these three pertinent points provide a mix of directional and operational agenda to expand the contextual meaning and sphere of the HR function, and also creates an opportunity to relook/rework HR policies to make it more relevant to ‘human freedom’. ‘Human freedom’ contrasts with the more narrow views of development, such as identifying development with the growth of Gross National Product (GNP), or rise in personal incomes, or industrialization, or technological advances, or social modernization. The growth of GNP or individual income can be important means to expanding the freedom enjoyed by the members of the society. But, freedom also depends on other critical determinants, like economic and social arrangements, as well as political and civil rights. Development, if it means expanding ‘human freedom’ at the micro level (organizational level), the scope of HRD initiatives/policies must go beyond the boundaries and scope of developing employability, competencies and skills. In this context, it would be appropriate to state that HR policies should ideally be governed by the concept of ‘development as freedom’.

Let us examine the first factor i.e. relation between individual freedom and access to social and economic development. Employees in an organization aspire for an environment that promotes ‘human freedom’, where they can perform to the best of their capabilities to advance their economic interest, that is, securing better compensation/bonuses and continuously improving income opportunities needed to enhance their ‘freedom’ and minimize or eliminate elements of ‘unfreedom’.

In addition, they also like to work for an organization which is high on social index and where the opportunities for continuous ‘learning and development’ leading to re-skilling and overall career growth and advancement are available. Work-life balance which, addresses both social and wellness needs has gained substantial ground in today’s context, and is considered an important social success indicator, particularly by the Gen Y employees. Employees today like to work for an organization where they see an opportunity to enhance their social and economic entitlements.

The organizations are treated as an extension of the society. Most fundamentally, political liberties and civil freedoms are important for the well-being of a society in general and the economy in particular. It is often observed that even though people enjoy all the economic entitlements in the society, they tend to experience psychological disengagement while being denied the rightful opportunity to take part in crucial decisions regarding their aspirations and lives. Similar reflections can also be seen in organizations – the employees engage themselves with the organization more productively when they experience democratic processes – opportunities and entitlements to ‘dialogue’ without inhibition, participate in decision-making processes and experience democratization of information as well as other enabling mechanisms promoting liberties like ‘workers participation in management’, ‘town hall’, ‘feedback inherent in performance management system’ and ‘polls’ on the company’s intranet and many such innovative platforms.

The second factor which Dr. Sen emphasized is ‘transparency guarantees’ which has gained enough ground in the corporate world in the form of ‘employee code of conduct’, ‘corporate governance’ and emphasis on ‘integrity first, performance second’, leveraging technology to promote ‘transparency’ and other similar approaches. The need for ‘transparency guarantees’ is very high in today’s context. The wind of transparency and governance is blowing both within and outside the organization, further clarifying ‘ethical dilemmas’. The third and last factor is ‘protective security’. The organizations and the law makers/regulators are providing the social security net in the form of PF, gratuity, ESI, workmen compensation, maternity benefit, innovative health insurance, pension policies, etc. However, the practice of ‘hire & fire’ has largely destabilized, the ‘protective security’ is influenced by certain circumstances like economic downturn and rightsizing of the organization for its very survival, and high compensation vs. individual performance issues, which deserves serious attention of the HR policy makers.

If development is seen as a process of expanding the real freedom that people enjoy, the approach of HR as an enabler of ‘human development’ will transform dramatically. Dr. Sen emphasized that if freedom is what development advances, then there are arguments for concentrating on that overarching objective, rather than on some limited means. This presents the best chance of successful integration of human development with the development of the nation, the organization and most importantly, the society in general - an interesting recipe for HR policy makers to try and implement.

Praveen Sinha is the Chief General Manager – Corporate HR, Escorts and has experience in varied industries like healthcare, chemical, financial services, textiles, retail and engineering.


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Topics: Employee Engagement, Culture, Life @ Work

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