Dying to Perform
I have a friend who works in the human resource department in a finance company in Manhattan. She has repeatedly described the office culture as back-biting and non-cooperative. It is anything but a pleasure to go into work each day. Not long ago, a woman working in the office called my friend's line to just let her know that she was not feeling well and was just going to lay her head on her desk for a few minutes. A little time passed and my friend went to check on her co-worker. To her astonishment, she found her dead at her desk. A 35 year old mother of two died on the job. Her heart simply gave out. A week went by, but after a single work week the boss walked into human resource, announced "I need a body in this desk," and walked on to the next task. For my friend, this is symbolic of the overall character of the office.
Does it matter how we treat people in business? As long as they perform, it's just business right? I'm not so sure. When we employ someone, we are doing more than incorporating them into our money-making machine. We are taking them into our care. They are entrusting the welfare of their family to our leadership and management practices. For their service, they are depending on the company for retirement, health care, a family vacation, or the ability to pay their child's tuition. Basic needs such as food on their table or decent housing originate with their contribution to the business. The welfare of workers is the ethical concern of the leadership of any business.
Besides the moral issues, how well does a business really do if its people are unhealthy, it's employment base regularly turning over, and the office is characterized by tension? Business performs better when its people perform better, and people perform better when they are living healthy lives finding satisfaction or even joy in their work. When the workplace is a place of suffering, overall performance diminishes. Employees will perform at their very best when they are treated as more than bodies.
Imagine an office where everyone performs at high levels, teams collaborate willingly, and individuals enjoy their work. There are steps that can be taken to develop this type of work environment. However, the first step is to realize that business is people. It starts there. No one is a cog in the wheel. Everyone is an important player doing their part. If we want to maximize the performance of any business, we start with our moral responsibility to the people in our care.