This September I went to the opening of RIBA's opening event for their Europa Launch. It is a series of lectures given by young European practices and the aim is to demonstrate that Brexit is not the end of a fruitful collaboration between the UK and mainland Europe. The inaugural event was a conversation between UK architect David Chipperfield and Marcus Fairs, editor and founder of Dezeen.
Chipperfield has made his personal views on Brexit clear several times and this event was no exception, however this post seeks to highlight another aspect that surfaced during the talk. As the head of an international office, including an office in Berlin, Chipperfield reflected upon the Anglo-Saxon culture of deregulation in comparison to the highly regulated German work environment.
Deregulation is supposed to be 'good for business' and in the UK the general notion is that it is working. Over the past few decades London has established itself as the financial capital in Europe. How come Germany is far superior in other sectors such as manufacturing industries and development of advanced technology? Chipperfield presented this as a paradox.
The British system of deregulation is based on easily quantifiable variables. The culture of 'hire and fire' enables companies to expand and contract easily according to demand and required expertise. Also, with Europe still in crisis, UK companies can pick and choose amongst the brightest talent in all of Europe. The extreme competitiveness results in 60+ hours work weeks, unpaid overtime and of course if an employee can not put up with it, they can easily be replaced with an equally or better qualified person. All this is surely good for business, right? However, this policy does not give much regard to non-quantifiable variables such as personal development and ownership.
I believe ownership is the key to the German success. In the extreme competitiveness and deregulated culture of 'hire and fire' encountered in the UK how can an employee develop ownership to the workplace and the projects they are involved in? After all, 60 hours of work and up to 10 hours in commute on top of that might not be enough. On the contrary, in Germany the worker finds himself in a much more secure environment. The fear of loosing the job and the constant pressure to overachieve is far less prominent. As a result the employee can focus their energy on the job itself. In such an environment it is also easier to find a healthy work/life balance, which in in turn further enhances work performance and general happiness.
Quality over quantity
It is fairly obvious that quantitative commodities are easier to monitor than qualitative commodities. That is also why a large number of corporations prefer to push numbers over other less tangible variables. Hopefully though, countries such as Germany can be an example in proving that it is fundamental to take care of workers and to provide them with the opportunity to flourish, take responsibility and develop ownership to what they are doing. The sum of all this will eventually result higher quality output. That should appeal to any corporation, also in the UK.