Imagine a World of George Baileys
Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, the 1946 Christmas classic, is an allegory that brilliantly captures the difference between a business that works to help everyone in the community and one that works to strip mine employees and customers of every available resource. In both, profit can be made. But only when the customer, the employee and the community are equally important do you want to live in Bedford Falls.
That world can feel like a true Hollywood fantasy in today's economy, where disposable employees litter unemployment data, calculated to be closer to 10 percent when including discouraged workers. More part-time jobs have been created than full-time employment, with men, young people and low-skilled workers suffering the most. Or, as the New York Times put it, "In essence, the poor economy has replaced good jobs with bad ones."
Experts feud over causes -- blaming economic, political or corporate villains. But for those caught in dead-end jobs or without jobs at all, a culprit is not the main issue. For those looking for hope and a future, who's hiring is the real question.
Through my teams' work as business educators and mentors at Crown, we teach business leaders and entrepreneurs how to be the proverbial George Bailey in their own communities. One way to jump start this economy begins with all businesses, no matter the size, expanding their understanding of corporate goals to include the well-being of everyone who comes in contact with them -- from the customer, the suppliers, the employees and not just the shareholders and business owners.
The importance of getting paid is Biblical, and it's the employer who is on the hook.
Numerous scriptures advise employers to treat their workers fairly and to pay on time. "The laborer deserves his wages," notes Paul to Timothy. James is even more direct: "Behold, the wages of the laborers...which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts."
A tightfisted employer may feel safe in refusing to take care of those who work. Some clearly do. As the New York Times reported, as employers have noted the lack of other job options their employees have, they "feel no pressure to raise wages for those who are working. As a result, the average household's take-home pay has declined through the recession and the recovery to $51,017 in 2012 from $55,627 in 2007, after adjusting for inflation."
But taking account of employee needs is part of being in leadership -- if you're doing it right. The Book of Proverbs notes: "Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty."
One reason for that poverty may be that any business seeking to offer the barest of services and the poorest of care looses the trust and respect of those who deal with them. The result is an exodus of quality workers and customers. While it takes money to make money, it takes people to purchase products, create demand, and work in alignment with company goals, while spreading the good word about a business.
A good reputation is as valuable a resource as money in the bank.
Considering the needs of the poorest among us is also part of running an ethical business, and it's trending in the marketplace.
Today, a growing number of companies seek programs to achieve greater corporate social responsibility as a goal that comes from recognition that without people, businesses fail. But these can't be public relations stunts or ultimately, no one will be helped.
The goal of every business should be that on every interaction, all parties win. That begins with a respect for those involved, and with a plan to care for the least of these. It includes businesses built with regard for employees who are not disposable or manipulated to remain in a part-time trap, but are important members of the team.
Imagine a community where everyone acted like George Bailey. Imagine a community governed by the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you want them to do unto you."