Several weeks ago (on a dark and, stormy night), we decided to order in a pizza from one of the new shops where they advertise fast, free delivery. When the pizza arrived an hour and a half later, we asked the teenage driver what had taken him so long.
“Give me a break!” he replied. “Have you seen what’s it’s like outside? There’s an ice storm out there. The driving is horrendous, and it’s taken me 90 minutes to get here from only 10 blocks away.”
“Why on earth are you still delivering?” my wife asked him. “We have too we’ll be fired,” he answered. “One of our drivers refused to drive and was fired on the spot, and our boss said the same thing would happen to anyone else who couldn’t take it.”
We could scarcely believe that any intelligent manager would take such an attitude, and on a night that turned out to be one of the worst in years in terms of accidents. How stupid, we thought. Not only was this boy’s boss breaking the law by forcing his employees to endanger their lives, but he also obviously thought pizzas were more important than people.
Bosses like this, and firms that allow them to treat people as disposable assets to be used and tossed away, are heading for trouble. One of the major differences between profitable companies and those experiencing constant internal strife and financial woes is that the former have high ethical standards, which are reflected in how they treat their employees and their customers. The best firms know the value of good business ethics and act accordingly. They also reap the rewards of having a dedicated workforce, good internal relationships, and high productivity.
Contrast this with places like the pizza shop, where the staff were threatened in order to make them work anywhere the work was downright dangerous. There are many places like this. Cases have been recorded of firms where the working conditions were truly deplorable. In one of them, workers spent much of their time ankle-deep in fibers. At the end of their shift, when they wanted to clean up, they had to wash their feet in the toilet bowl because there were no other facilities available.
If you think that is incredible, you would be astounded to learn that this situation had existed for years and that the management simply ignored it. You can imagine the message this sort of thing conveyed to the workforce. Obviously, this company’s attitude towards people was pretty dreadful. (Since this was written, the company was first unionized and then went bankrupt. You can draw your own conclusions.)
Unfortunately, there are many cases like this. Some firms have such poor and unsafe working conditions that they have to mislead inspectors in order to avoid being closed down. This is sometimes done by stopping operations that create internal pollution a few hours before the inspector arrives. One company that had fewer than the required number of fire extinguishers fooled the inspector by playing a sort of hopscotch with the extinguishers it did have on hand. As the inspector toured one area, the extinguisher from the department he had just visited was rushed to the one he was to visit next.
In this way, the firm managed to cover the entire facilities with four extinguishers instead of the 10 that were needed. Usually, it is the top-level managers who set the tone and the standards. Companies that don’t care about their people are dumb, unethical, and generally get what is coming to them. Their employees are unhappy and distrustful of management. Such firms are deserving targets of union organizers.
The lack of ethics in these firms also shows up in the minimal interest paid to quality and customers. A company that doesn’t give a hoot about people cannot be expected to adopt a caring attitude towards customer satisfaction or product quality. Poor ethics are pervasive and affect every aspect of a firm’s operations. On the other hand, good business ethics can also permeate a firm, with wonderful results.
Ethical standards have never gone out of style. They should not only exist, but they should be written down and posted where everyone can see them and measure performance against them. Managers who think that pizzas are more important than people simply aren’t good managers at all. Both they and their firms are on thin ice.