A small company in Utah recently went through a few rounds of layoffs. I bet you can repeat along with me how they announced it to employees.

  • It’s nothing personal, but . . .
  • Well, in these tough times sometimes you just have to . . .
  • The reality of 21st century business means we can’t be loyal for loyalty’s sake . . .

I’m sure you’ve heard it before. And I don’t want to come across as hard on them. Of course, sometimes these things are unavoidable.

But a friend of mine, between the second and third rounds of downsizing, decided he wanted to leave on his own terms. He found a great opportunity, and tendered his resignation.

Can you predict how the company reacted?

  • How could you?!?!?!
  • What ever happened to loyalty?!?!?!
  • You have no idea how tough it will be for us to deal with this!!!!
  • Is it really ethical to leave in this economic climate?!?!?

Again, so I don’t come across harsher than I intend, I’m sure they did consider my friend an invaluable asset, and were legitimately scared about what they would do without him. But yes, you read it right. When the company was the one being affected, out came the language of honor, dependability, and fidelity. When they were affecting others, the language was that of formality, neutrality, and everyone-for-themselves. It seems like a law of modern business.

But is it a law that we want to drive our economy? What is it that should drive our economy? Let me postulate that it isn’t the business need, but the human need that should be given priority. After all, weren’t the employees let go also counting on company loyalty? Won’t it be tough for them to deal with being laid off? And (dare I say it?) shouldn’t we think deeply about how ethical it is to let employees go in this economic climate?

This approach to business relations is not only evident in the employer/employee relationship. I’ve also noticed it in the field I’m most familiar with – education. Many schools, including the most prestigious universities, are starting to see themselves as little more than training institutes for big business (Businesses need well-trained employees, don’t they?). But we don’t ask about the consequences for the educational system, or ultimately the students who are being short-changed for life while they are being trained for jobs that might not exist when they graduate. I’ve even heard administrators who are reluctant to try innovative educational practices for fear of how their business partners would react (won’t it make it harder for them to select the most qualified employees?), rather than considering whether the innovation will help students develop into kinder, gentler, more compassionate people.

I want to live in a world where businesses value their employees not because of what those employees can do, but because of who those employees are. I believe that if employees trusted corporations to take care of them, they would take care of the corporation. After all, thatโ€™s what good relationships are about, aren’t they? Taking care of each other?

But I also believe there are virtues and behaviors that should be admired for their own merits, and not only when they are instrumental in achieving other, business-driven ends. Treating people right is just the right thing to do, even when it isn’t measurable by the latest Six Sigma Whatever. Aren’t we really interested in developing people who are capable of discovering and expressing the passion, wonder, and joy of the world? Shouldn’t we be?

Of course, it’s almost heresy to suggest this, isn’t it?

What do you think?