Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A matter of choice

Recently, I had an exchange with a colleague regarding business travel and I realise that, for many organisations, there is still a wide chasm between management and employees on this issue.

Here’s the situation: The company that I work for has organised a trade show in April in Hong Kong. Some employees have thus been asked to travel to Hong Kong on April 14 to attend the show and fulfil certain deliverables. (The show is scheduled to open on April 15.)

However, since April 14 is a gazetted (and religious) public holiday in the Philippines, I contended that choosing a suitable flight schedule for travel on this day should be the prerogative of individuals who are travelling.

Not so, according to my colleague. Apparently, management has impressed upon him that it is imperative for us to “make every minute count”.

At first, we have a choice of two flights – PR 300 (08:00) and PR 306 (14:55). Unfortunately, my colleague saw it fit to call for a meeting in Hong Kong at 5pm on the day of arrival, thereby obliterating the choice of taking the PR 306 flight.

Whether this should be construed as a sleight of hand tactic to compel individuals to arrive at the venue earlier than they would have preferred, I shall not speculate here.

The point is, given that employees have sacrificed what would otherwise be a long weekend for them (April 13 is a holiday in the Philippines as well), the least management could do is not to impose its business decisions on a day when it has no jurisdiction over how employees choose to conduct their private lives.

The issue of choice would have no material impact if there is only one flight out of Manila to Hong Kong on April 14. As it is, there are at least two flights on that day (more if we consider other airlines as well) and freedom to choose, based on the reasons outlined above, must be respected. Furthermore, in all fairness, employees are not taking advantage of their privilege to travel by opting for the last flight of the day.

I believe it’s time for management to recognise this; otherwise the phenomenon of job hunting on company time may be an inevitable end result.

With that, I shall leave you with a quote by C. Wright Mills: “Freedom is not merely the opportunity to do as one pleases; neither is it merely the opportunity to choose between set alternatives. Freedom is, first of all, the chance to formulate the available choices, to argue over them -- and then, the opportunity to choose.”

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