Is Humanism in business a good thing? Or is it being misused?
There is an interesting article that was prepared for Human Resource Development Quarterly in 2005 about why Humanistic practices in HRD don’t work.
Download pdf here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=818164
The argument that is made is that while Humanism is a cherished underpinning of HRD (Human Resources Development) such that it enjoys privileged status within the field (who knew), it’s being misused.
As a Humanist, whose business includes teaching Humanism to HR Professionals (see https://humanistlearning.com) this article interests me greatly.
On the one hand I agree with the central argument of the piece, which is that humanistic approaches to HR creates a myth of convergent interests. And this is a problem because in reality, the interests of the worker and the business are divergent. Or to put that in plain English, humanistic approaches to HR management are used, quite effectively, to convince workers that their needs and the needs of the business are the same, when they actually aren’t.
Humanistic management rests on a social contract between employer and employee that the employee will give of time and resources in service to the company in exchange for security and income is not how things really work. The problem is that in a competitive marketplace, the employer has no ability to make good on the social contract and to compensate, employees must consider themselves sole proprietors of their own business, which is marketing themselves as labor – in a continuous marketing process devoid of any real social contract between employer and employee.
Which brings up the question of this essay, is it ethical to use humanistic tactics in an environment where there is no social contract? The authors argue that it is not. And I agree.
The illusion of a humanistic work environment isn’t enough. It has to actually be a humanist work environment to work. If you use these techniques to create voluntary compliance but then abuse the social contract you created, you are misusing and abusing your employees. And that isn’t ethical and it isn’t very humanistic, in the long run.
In order to resolve this conflict, we have to redefine what the goal of business is. If the goal is shareholder value and to make money, there will always be a conflict between the humans who are used as human resources to create value and the shareholders for whom the value is created.
Humanistic Management calls for a redefining of corporate interest. Consider carefully who your real stakeholders are. Who are they if not your employees and customers. – not your shareholders.
Stop selling illusions to your employees and deal with your employees on realistic terms. If you don’t really care about them because you only really care about shareholder value, be honest about that. Yes, you will have more problems in your staffing, but employees have a right to know the true terms of their employment with you so that they can decide whether what they are trading you for their work is worth it. That approach is more humanistic than lying to them about your true intentions.
And if this sounds a lot like ethical relationships, it is. The rules of ethical humanist conduct are the same whether you are talking about interpersonal relationships or employment relationships. The humans at the heart of those relationships matter and they deserve to know the truth. If you truly want to have a humanistic work environment, don’t delude yourself. Realign your goals so that they are consistently focused on delivering to your employees and customers what you promise and profits will follow.