Caring business practices

Caring business practices

January 5, 2010

Managing for Society, The Manila Times

I always find the Christmas season an interesting time of year because people are warmer to each other. The point of the season, of course, is to remind us that we should care for each other all year round. It stands to reason that this is even more important for people we work with, right? Unfortunately, this point could be lost on people the rest of the year, especially in business organizations.

But the start of a new decade always signals new hopes. My own New Decade’s Resolution is to look out for caring practices of companies and celebrate them in this column. I’d like readers to help me by sending caring practices you’re aware of so I can share them here. We don’t have to name the source or even the company because this may put them on the spot. The focus should be on the practices themselves.

Why is this so important? For one thing, people who work hard in business organizations are human beings with basic dignity – not things or commodities – and they deserve to be cared for. For another, building a caring environment is a key to innovation and sustainable competitiveness. Krogh, Ichijo and Nonaka explain why in their book, Enabling Knowledge Creation. They argue that a caring organizational environment allows “organizational members to feel safe enough to explore unknown territories of new markets, new customers, new products, and new manufacturing technologies.” This generates knowledge which is openly shared, not hoarded, by members and which eventually benefits the bottom line.

What do caring practices look like? Basically, these are things that companies do which enhance the basic welfare, growth and productivity of people. Note that all three elements must be present. Companies that compensate well but do not enhance the work habits of people so that they are more productive in an ethical and sustainable way are not practicing care. They are “dis-enabling” their people. The US auto industry learned this the hard way when they started losing market share in the face of more productive, quality-focused and environmentally sensitive Japanese competition beginning in the 70s. The eventual bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler was the sad result.

Similarly, when one local company demands work beyond regular hours from its people but cuts off centralized air-conditioning even if the workplace has inadequate ventilation, it neglects the basic welfare of its people. There’s no caring there.

As I said, the point of my resolution is to focus on caring -- not uncaring -- practices. Let me share one that I learned from the research of my colleague and doctoral student, Margaret Que. The owner-manager of a popular clothing retailer noticed the high incidence of miscarriages among his pregnant retail personnel versus those from other departments. Deeply bothered by this, and thinking that the trend had to do with retail personnel being on their feet all day, he implemented corrective policies. Whenever possible, pregnant personnel were assigned to desk jobs. Also, Que reports that “employees can avail of up to two months leave with SSS benefits, and another four months before (for difficult pregnancies) or after giving birth without pay, but without risking their tenure and employment”. Miscarriage rates declined after the policies took effect.

Our local retailing industry doesn’t have the most positive employment reputation but I’m sure you’ll agree that practices like the above show us what caring is all about. Do you have similar examples from your own company or others you’re familiar with? Why don’t you email them to me. Let’s celebrate the spirit of Christmas all year round through the celebration of caring business practices.

Dr. Benito Teehankee is the Aquino associate professor of business and governance of the Ramon V. del Rosario Sr. Graduate School of Business at De La Salle University. Email him at