CEO Coaching: Lathered Over Labor

“Expenditure of physical or mental effort especially when difficult or compulsory”

— “Labor” definition, Merriam-Webster

I’m not a fan of the term “labor” to describe some of the workers in the economy. It comes from the Latin word labor which means to toil or trouble. I never viewed the people that worked in the organizations that I led as toilsome or troublesome. I also know that the executives that I worked with expended a lot of energy. Our language almost leads us to an adversarial relationship as in “labor vs. management.” Well executed capitalism is not feudalism. Aren’t we all just working?

Joe Biden promised to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen.” I wish, instead, that he would have advocated for well-run business rather than a combative structure. (Hold on a minute! I’m not advocating for abusive employment conditions!) The left often thinks all workers are screwed (they’re not), and the right often thinks businesses need no boundaries (they do). I’m in favor of businesses providing a great environment for their workers, and I believe sharing the wealth with them is the right thing to do and the right way to run a business. 

I’m pleased to see business leaders who treat people poorly get fired or go out of business. I’d be OK if Biden would’ve said, “We’re going to listen to science and data regarding the pandemic and also use the field of economics and data in our business practices.” There are more who ignore or misunderstand economics than there are anti-vaxxers.

In 2019, a Gallup poll found that 93% of people were either extremely or somewhat satisfied with their job. In 2020, the year of the pandemic, it was still 89%. I don’t believe union representation will improve this. 

Despite my low opinion of union practices, I loudly support business leaders who put their co-workers’ well-being ahead of most all. As Richard Branson said, “If you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your clients.” 

My experience says that the best way to run a business is to treat your people well. Does that mean no bosses or expectations and free cupcakes at company-provided lunch every day? Probably not. But committed workers are created in environments where they’re cared for.

One positive outcome of the pandemic is that CEOs worldwide are thinking about work conditions, from the shop floor to the executive suites. Current data shows that even though the pandemic has negatively affected many people, work enjoyment and productivity may have improved. Perhaps some of that will stick. If you took Econ 101 you know that increased productivity is one of the requirements for workers to enjoy increased income. As The Economist recently pointed out, “… helping workers by boosting productivity must not be confused with self-defeating attempts to protect them.”

We’re all inspired by our experiences. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with and for some great leaders who knew that the best way to run a business was to treat people with great respect (and expect great things!). I’ve also experienced firsthand the dysfunction of a union environment and watched a parent endure the shenanigans of a teachers’ union. 

Workers are empowered. Within reason, they can choose to work a job they enjoy, learn new skills if they choose to, and put in varying degrees of effort and initiative. 

Business leaders, however, also have many choices around how they treat co-workers. If you’re a business leader, make it a labor of love to find positive things to do for your co-workers. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll benefit as well!

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