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Comfort, Leadership, and Ethical Treatment

This is an excerpt from my book, A Worker's Worth, available here.

Comfort is an incredibly relative concept. For many billionaires, the money they have isn’t enough. Yet, there have been people living in huts that have dirt floors who can be happy and satisfied with life. Our egos may demand that people treat us a certain way, whereas wisdom teaches us that the way others treat us is merely a reflection of that person’s inner workings. That wisdom isn’t applied in many organizations, where people feel the need to compete for any scrap of power or step on each other for attention and “respect.” It’s a big game.

Thankfully, contemporary research findings have shown evidence that it is the servant leader or the democratic, approachable, transformational leader that frequently inspires the best performance and organizational engagement from followers. While different types of companies and cultural needs are going to merit the need for different leadership styles, the gist of this knowledge is that empowering employees to do their best and learn through guided experiences creates a powerful backdrop for a cohesive and well-running organization. When leaders are seen as opportunistic and prioritizing only their personal gain or are seen as hostile or obstructive to mutual goals, this harms employee performance and engagement. Our emotions are always on, running in tandem with our thoughts, and they influence how we see the world.

According to a 2019 Gallup poll, people who live in the U.S. have experienced an increase in anger, stress, and worry since 2006, although the number of recipients reporting anger seemed to start high in 2006, dip, and then climb back up. When asked if they experienced any of these emotions during the previous day, 55% of participants experienced stress, 45% experienced worry, and 22% reported experiencing anger. On LinkedIn, several professionals shared this news with a reminder to engage in emotional regulation, and it’s wise to remember that we can have control over our emotions and how we choose to respond to situations. However, when we don’t feel valued or heard, it’s very difficult for people to engage in emotional regulation. Many might even find it insulting to insinuate that if they’re given nothing and treated poorly, they’re still expected to behave better than how they’ve been treated. Even though wisdom indicates that we should act our best no matter how we’ve been treated, it’s not easy to do that when we’re experiencing negative emotional states with little to no support. We can become strong enough to continue learning how to control ourselves more and more as we mature, but having a supportive environment that teaches us and empowers us to respond as our best selves provides the most ideal scenario for success in properly coping with anger, stress, and worry, and to be able to express ourselves constructively. While we demand that people are held responsible for their behavior, we can also build a world where we attempt to understand and meet the needs of others: Personal responsibility and sensitivity can co-exist.

In the current state of affairs, too often we see leaders and public figures using defensive tactics and de-value as weapons to protect their status. It’s unfortunately normal because admitting mistakes is tackled as a weakness by their opponents, and they’re forever climbing a social and political ladder that’s an illusion created by our history and modern way of living. It’s a perpetual state of one-upping another person: Instead of working together to find a common balance through valuing each other’s perspective, they try to dominate each other and very little gets accomplished. It’s completely illogical and irrational. They frequently attempt to de-value each other, justifying the attacks because many in our society seem to think it’s more important to paint the other person as “bad” in order to elevate their own status and control rather than spend time focusing on something constructive and meaningful that will bring value to our entire society. Instead, we fight so hard to prove others wrong. There is the possibility that we all want the same thing but have different beliefs about how it can be achieved – but it’s difficult to see that when we don’t understand the true nature of value.

In a 2014 Journal of Business Ethics article, Domènec Melé discussed the concept of “Human Quality Treatment” (HQT) and compared it to other types of quality we find in a business: As ensuring the quality of a product or process is typically a vital part of an organization, Melé made the argument that “dealing with persons in a way appropriate to the human condition, which entails acting with respect for their human dignity and rights, caring for their problems and legitimate interests, and fostering their personal development” was just as important as other types of business quality management processes. Historically, it could be argued that HQT has been slower to develop than processes designed around products: Profits have always come before human life when we look at societies which have used slavery, oppression, and unethical practices to churn out items or services for the main goal of attaining as much profit as possible.

In counseling, research has shown evidence that it’s the relationship between the helping professional and the client which determines the success of therapy. It doesn’t matter what kind of counseling technique the helping professional uses; it’s all about how much the client trusts them and feels valued by them. In business, it’s the same: When leaders value co-workers, and co-workers value each other, those strong value-laden relationships drive positive outcomes.

We are coming to understand that valuing human life and human experience boosts productivity and worker engagement, but so many companies attempt to do so again only for the main goal of attempting to hit the best profits possible. A lot of employees see through this. The employees see that their companies are pretending to value them and the employees understand it’s a lie. Many even feel as though these token methods interfere with their performance and engagement because the attempts are distracting, disingenuous, and sometimes even insulting. The distracting part comes when the attempts seem unnecessary to the workers and pull them away from their jobs. When the attempts are not genuine, workers frequently report feeling like something is being forced upon them, and the environmental culture doesn’t improve – it may even get worse because it’s possible employees may feel like they either have to be fake or aggressive in order to get their message across. The attempts become insulting when employees need something to help them improve their lives or their ability to do their jobs, such as a pay increase, better job support, or the right tools, but they are instead given rewards which seem useless and petty in return. For example, pizza parties and ice cream socials can be nice get-togethers for those who enjoy the social interaction and have the time to engage in them, but they can be infuriating in environments where workers feel as though management is giving them the token events instead of what they actually need: “They expect me to do all this and instead of giving me a raise for my family or tools that would help me do my job, they think I’m going to be happy with an office party?”

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