Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘ethics’

Stupidity on Steroids

Monday, August 29th, 2011

Image: Bob RosnerA Wethersfield, CT city councilman summed it all up when he observed, “Common sense lost it’s voice on this one.”

Turns out that there was an ethics compliant against the local school board’s chairwoman because her son had taken a $400 high school course for free.

The town’s ethics board then conducted more than 60 hours of hearings over 11 months. The bill, $407,000 in legal expenses.

Remember this is over a $400 course.

Eventually the ethics board voted 3-2 to uphold the complaint and ask the chairwoman to pay for the course.

But then the board voted to absorb all of the legal costs involved. $407,000.

This perfectly describes how lost most of our institutions have become. And don’t tell me this is just in the public sector, my email is full of these kinds of stories from private companies too.

Don’t get me wrong, we need lawyers and rules to keep things running smoothly. But we also need common sense to be sure that $407,000 is spent on education for the kids of Wethersfield and not on absurd follies like this investigation.

Common sense seems so uncommon in so many organizations today.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him viabob@workplace911.com.

2009 Labor Day

Monday, September 7th, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

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When I was growing up Labor Day was the most, maybe the only, sacred holiday of the year. My parents were both ardent labor union activists. My mom was a member of Local 1199 in NY – the health care workers union. She worked in a pharmacy and that was the union for workers there. My dad was a member of District 65 which was then part of the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Workers Union – he was a camera salesman. They both served as shop stewards during my childhood and I think before I was born they both held other positions in their unions with more responsibilities.

My parents met at an event my mother’s union was holding. They were showing a film and my father was hired as the projectionist, in the days before you could just slip a DVD into a computer to watch a film. I don’t know too much about their courtship, but their union came about because of union activities. I’m pretty sure that is not a unique situation.

I grew up going to Labor Day parades in NY – my stroller covered with streamers. I was so pleased when I got to be in a parade as a union member myself. It was 198? , the year that Reagan went all out to destroy PATCO. I belonged to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 3; I worked for a cable television company.

For this Labor Day, I’ll be going to a rally in Boston Common which will both celebrate labor, and the need of all people to have good health care.

The issues that arise on Labor Day are so closely related to an Ethical Culture view of the world. In Ethical Culture we follow the Kantian notion that all people are ends in and of themselves. We attribute worth and treat them with dignity and respect just because we are people. And here’s the part that’s most related to labor issues – we do not use people as means to reach our own ends. Seems to me that point has been missed by lots of people in the corporate and business world. I’m glad to say that there are also many who bring a very ethical and caring approach to their endeavors, there are those who form cooperatives, there are those who consider others and the natural world around them as they conduct their business.

But there are also many who see a business primarily as an opportunity to use the labor of others to make a lot of money for themselves. When workers join together in unions they have a chance to have greater influence on their working conditions, on how much they are paid for their work and what benefits they receive. The share holders of a corporation are very much like a “union” of business owners, looking out for what is best for them.

Corporations do not have to jump through hoops to organize the people with an interest in the profits of the corporation. Yet, others, workers, often do need to jump through hoops, or around other obstacles to be able to organize in labor unions. Even though workers, employees of a corporation also have an interest in the success of a business, they are not usually allowed to have input into the decision making which affects the business, and certainly not into the decision making which affects them directly.

Labor unions have been successful in providing a strong voice for employees, both on an individual level and on issues of local and national importance. At a time when unemployment levels in this country are incredibly high, I seeit as especially important that workers can organize for good working conditions. While many might say this is a time when businesses can’t afford to accommodate unions, I see it as a time when even more attention needs to be paid to not taking advantage of people – workers- not using people as a means for creating profit for some, but not for the people doing the work. As I understand it, the Employee Free Choice Act is a bill which would create a fairer process for union organizing. You can find out more about it in the Ethical Action section of the newsletter.

What is your experience with labor unions? How do you see a connection between Ethical Culture and Labor Day or labor issues?

About the Author: Susan Rose is the leader of Ethical Society Without Walls.

This article originally appeared in Ethical Society Without Walls on September 5, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.

Surviving the Four Kinds of People at Work

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Everything that I need to know about people at work I learned in Online Dating. Amidst the dull dates, intrigue and ships passing in the night, I’ve learned stuff that you can take to work. Trust me, knowing about the four groups of people will save you a lot of pain at work.

Group One. This is the smallest group. I call them the “Whole Truth and Nothing Buts” group. These people are scrupulously honest. I’m not sure they could lie, even if they wanted to. You always know where these people are coming from.

Group Two. This group is slightly larger than the first group, but still a relatively small slice of life. These are the pathological liars. They lie even when it doesn’t serve a purpose. One HR manager commented that the good part about a pathological liar is that they lie so indiscriminately, you can usually catch them by just checking little details, like if the dates they worked at a certain job are accurate. Lucky for all of us, this group is relatively small.

Group Three. This group is much bigger than groups one and two, combined. I first was introduced to this group when a woman who was six feet tall thought that was too tall to list in her online profile. So she put herself down at 5’10”. Unfortunately the great guy she found at 5’10” was really only 5’8”. Needless to say, they didn’t exactly see eye to eye. I call this group the “Rounding Errors.” It’s not really a lie, they just rounded things a bit.

Group Four. Unfortunately this seems to be the biggest group out there. To understand this group, I need to refer to one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes. It was one where Jerry needed to pass a lie detector test. So he went to the best liar he knew, his friend George. George said, “Jerry, there is one thing you must remember. It’s not a lie, if you believe it to be the truth.” I call this group the “Self-Deceivers.”

Think about the people you’ve come across at work. Chances are that you’ll find a lot of examples of “The Whole Truth and Nothing But…,” “Pathological Liars,” “Rounding Errors” and “Self-Deceivers.” Hopefully this will help you to better navigate your workday and to be a bit more charitable to groups three and four, because their mistruths probably aren’t intentional.

One final thought. These four groups also apply to you. Yes, it’s time for a small bit of humble pie. Talk to friends and colleagues to see which of the four groups you fit into at work. Chances are good that you may be surprised by where they place you. As hard as this information is to hear, I’d much rather learn it myself from friends that I trust.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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