A few weeks ago, we had a brief discussion about the our moral obligation to people who work with us as employees or contractors.
I had a similar conversation at the end of last year with the head of a larger agency, and a few weeks before that I had the same conversation with my accountant. Because it’s important.
Last month, I read an article on The Intercept detailing the Human Resources abuses of insurance bohemoth Aflac. I encourage you to read it, especially if you are an entrepreneur or small business owner who uses full-time and contracted talent. It’s also important for jobseekers who may find themselves nebulously affiliated with organizations who use their knowledge, skills and abilities to meet corporate objectives.
Economic pressures can cause leaders to make short-sighted decisions that are not aligned with their stated values. And that’s a dangerous thing to do. It’s bad business. It’s bad branding. It’s just bad. Clever (note the decision to not use the word good here) marketing and advertising can conceal business practices that harm employees, consumers or other stakeholders who find themselves in an organiation’s orbit. However, when the story you tell yourself and others ceases to align with the stories of real people affected by corporate decisions, then something has to give.
That is what seems to be happening with Aflac. Their public profile is incongruous with its day-to-day operations, specifically how it recruits and treats the individuals who drive success in the company.
At Fahrenheit Creative Group, we try to do things the right way. Granted, we’re significantly smaller than Aflac, but I don’t think that makes a huge difference. As leaders, we get to choose how we want to engage the people who make our businesses run. It doesn’t make it our workforce numbers one or 1,000.
One of the most simple, and arguably the most important, obligations we have to our workforce is to compensate them based on the value they provide to the organization and at a level that honors their need to maintain a decent standard of living. We can quibble over the meaning of the phrase decent standard of living, but at the very least, we must agree that people should be able to afford safe, quality housing, healthy food, and reliable transportation as well as being able to save for their future as a result of their contribution to corporate success.
Now, that will look different across different industries. In the professional service industry where overhead is relatively low, it’s somewhat easier to pay decent wages and salaries. In the manufacturing or logistics industry, that can be a little bit more challenging. But it’s not impossible. The California grocery chain Stater Brothers starts employees at $26 an hour. In the same community, Amazon only pays $12 an hour. That’s a big difference in wages and in values.
I don’t have a simple formula to help you determine how this should look for your business, but I do encourage you to keep this question at the top of mind when you make decisions that affect your employees—are the choices you are making regarding the welfare of your employees consistent with your institutional and individual values?