By Teddy Jamieson

BEST-SELLING Dutch historian and writer Rutger Bregman has attacked the hierarchical structure of most businesses. Bregman, who in the past has called for universal basic income and a shorter working week, now argues that management structures need to be much more egalitarian.

Speaking to The Herald Magazine, Bregman said he was highly sceptical of hierarchy in the workplace. “The burden of truth is always on those at the top, so they should explain why they are so important. And if they can’t, well, maybe they should be doing something else,” he said.

“There are a lot of really interesting case studies of very successful companies and organisations that have a much more egalitarian working culture.”

In his new book Humankind, Bregman looks at the working practices of the Dutch health care company Buurtzorg, which employs 14,000 people and has been voted Dutch Employer of the Year five times.

Buurtzorg, which started out employing four nurses in 2006, has no managers, no call centre and no HR department. Targets and bonuses do not exist. Workers are divided into teams of 12 who plan their own schedules and employ their own co-workers.

The company is led by Jos de Blok who told Bregman: “Managing is bull****. Just let people do their job.”

“It seems a bit too simple to be true,” Bregman said. “He [de Blok] sounds a little bit like a soccer fan who’s talking in the pub.

“But then you realise that he has actually built one of the most successful health care organisations in the world and there are experts from around the world coming to visit him because they want to see what makes his model so successful.

“And I think the basic answer is pretty simple he just trusts his employees and he doesn’t think he knows better how to do their job. He thinks they know better how to do it.”

Bregman’s new book attempts to challenge our idea of humanity as being naturally competitive and self-interested. He believes we are a co-operative species, but hierarchies have a vested interest in suggesting otherwise.

This is also the case in business, Bregman claims. In his book he argues that business administration practices which use financial incentives as motivation are too cynical and misunderstand what motivates most employees, citing academic research that bonuses, for example, can blunt employee’s motivation and erode creativity.

Bregman also reports studies that suggest that there is a greater percentage of CEOs (four to eight per cent) who have a “diagnosable sociopathy” than is found among the general population, where the figure is just one per cent.

Rutger Bregman on why we are better than we think in The Herald Magazine tomorrow.