The Proper Gander Column from the July 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
How many of us get through the working day’s frustrations by dreaming about how better our jobs would be if the boss wasn’t around to make all the decisions? For the staff at the workplaces featured in Channel 4’s Running The Shop, this wish comes true, for a few weeks while the cameras are on them, anyway.
The show’s format sounds like it was ‘thought showered’ by a focus group mashing up The Fixer and Don’t Tell The Bride with The Apprentice. But apparently it came from ‘inspirational entrepreneur’ Hilary Devey, whose ‘brave solution’ for floundering companies is for the senior managers to take a temporary break and allow the employees to manage themselves and implement their own ideas. The programme treats this as a ground-breaking notion, as if no-one else has ever thought that workers are capable of running organisations.
The first episode visits Taskers The Home Store, which flogs furniture, appliances and DIY goods to the folk of Aintree. Its mission statement: ‘give people a BMW, charge them for a Ford’. Managing Director John Tasker is very hands-on, and keeps everyone else’s hands off all the important decisions. So while he’s away, the staff enjoy the opportunity to put into practice their new approaches to advertising, and different product ranges. Without being held back by hierarchies, they find more confidence and creativity in working together. Unfortunately, their motivation has to come from wanting to keep Taskers financially viable, and getting their boss’ approval when he returns, rather than doing a good job in and of itself. But squint a bit, and you can see something of what work could be like – people freely discussing ideas and democratically deciding what to do. Hopefully, later episodes will see the staff getting ambitious enough to think about how changing the workplace’s structure would be even more rewarding.