Monday, July 7, 2008

The Nature of Business

Businesses exist to satisfy people’s wants or needs. No business will survive if nobody wants the good or service the business offers. A smart businessman understands the wants and needs of his or her customers and works to satisfy those needs. In this most basic sense, businesses are very good. Society has benefited greatly from the creativity of several businessmen and women who saw a need and worked to fulfill that need. The result of a good business is a good profit. Earning a profit is a reward for doing good business. Profit is also essential in order for a business to survive. This is where businesses may run into ethical questions. Are you in business to satisfy the needs of your customers or are you in business to make a profit? The obvious answer is both and that would be the correct answer, but what takes ultimate priority? When businesses place so much focus on the bottom line, they often become tempted to cut corners and behave unethically. This is why I feel it is essential that a good business always value the needs of the customer and its own employees above profit and all else. When the needs of customers and employees are disregarded, businesses will ultimately fail and history will back up my opinion. Businesses who strive for profits are not necessarily greedy because it is in the best interest of everyone for businesses to succeed. Often chasing profits will force businessmen to keep in touch with customer and employee needs. It also breeds a competitive edge to become the best at what you do. The problem is when businesses take the attitude of “at any cost” to gain profit.

One way to increase profits is to increase productivity. If you can produce more goods in the same amount of time, you can sell more goods. It goes back to the famous line, time is money. An employee who is more productive is more valuable to the business because the productive employee makes the business more money. One employee may be more valuable than another employee, but both employees are human and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I believe that in an effort to increase productivity, some businesses flirt with dehumanizing their employees. When an employee just becomes a number or a tool to produce a profit, their dignity and humanity may become irrelevant to the employer. There are several viewpoints to look at here and there are occasionally reasons to treat employees differently, but every employee should be treated with dignity, honesty and respect.

As an employee, you have a responsibility to work hard for your employer. You are hired to do a job and it is disrespectful to not work hard or not try to do your job to the best of your abilities. It is disrespectful to the employer and yourself. Those employees who are intentionally unproductive on the job should expect to face consequences. I am not suggesting that employees who are intentionally unproductive have justification for being unproductive. My focus is on the employer and the methods the employer puts in place to become more productive.

A perfect example would be working on an assembly line. Henry Ford found that employees would be most successful if they focused on one task and became an expert at that one task. Work would consist of constant repetitive actions. As long as employees were paid adequately they often didn’t mind the repetitive work. Often they were just happy to have a job. As technology advanced, much of the repetitive work done by employees could be done more cheaply and efficiently by robots. Now those employees were out of a job and the only skill they learned was how to put a nut and bolt together. That is why it is important for employees to constantly look for ways to learn new things and diversify their skill set. I think the employer should also take a greater role in encouraging employees to do so. In the situation with the assembly lines, the employer encouraged employees to specialize and even frowned upon the possibility that an employee try to learn new skills. The employer should always encourage the employees to learn new skills. This not only empowers the employee but it gives the employer more options as well. Chances are this will make the employee much more valuable and even more productive in the long run.

While I don’t think employers should force employees to specialize in just one skill or task, I also don’t believe that the employer should go the extreme opposite route. If an employee doesn’t have a strong understanding of his job or task and is constantly asked to learn new skills, the employee never truly becomes good at any job. When an employer hires several employees with the same job description, they risk devaluing each individual employee as a person and view them only as a person to fill a job description. The employer must hire the person not the position. Each employee brings a uniqueness that can not be duplicated or replicated. The very things that make each person human and unique including the knowledge they possess should be valued. If an employee gets a sense that they and their work is not truly valued, the employer runs the risk of losing that employee’s trust.

In short, employees are not just a number or a tool for profit. Employees are human beings. All humans deserve to be treated with dignity, honesty and respect. Whenever an employer violates one of these three things, they are disrespecting and dehumanizing the employee. It goes both ways. Employees should treat employers with dignity, honesty and respect. I believe that dehumanization is at the root of many evils we see today. When an employer or anyone for that matter can look at a person and try to strip away their humanity, they can justify in their own minds terrible actions. Employees are humans just as the employers who hire them are humans. The most and least productive workers are human and their very life is valuable whether the work they do is or not. If we look at human beings as people who are made in the image of God, we will never dehumanize them and we will treat them with dignity, honesty and respect. That is what God calls us to do: love our neighbors as ourselves. God bless!

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