Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

The Benefits Of Working For an Ethical Company

Chapter 6: The Invisible Hand Of the Company part 10

Throughout much of the chapter, I have argued that it is extremely difficult to change company culture.  It’s so hard in fact, that I don’t think it’s worth trying if you aren’t the CEO, and even then it may not be possible.

But the good news is that there is a wide range of company cultures.  One of the greatest myths about the workplace is that “everyplace is like this.”  That isn’t true.  It is true that no place is perfect, but there is a dramatic difference in the ethical climate between companies.

The business ethics literature describes an ethical culture as a company with a focus on the “wellbeing of multiple stakeholders such as employees, customers and community,” whereas a culture that encourages unethical decisions has an “everyone for herself” mentality.[i]

And how can you tell which type of company you work for.  To state what is probably obvious, one place not to look is the written code of conduct.  According to a large statistical meta-analysis of the business ethics literature, the presence of a code of conduct is not correlated with actual behavior in the company.  What matters is that the code is enforced uniformly across the organization.[ii]

So how are people treated in your company?

Are bullies tolerated?  Are vendors treated fairly?  Are the leaders held to different standards?  Are certain people allowed to get away with swearing while others will get talked to by their manager?

The small things matter, because they are clues to what will happen when the big things come up.

For a happier, more balanced life, the long term solution is to separate your identity from the company.  More on that in the next chapter.  But in the short run, the best answer may be to change companies.  In my opinion, all things being equal, it is better to work for a company that treats people well because you will be treated well.

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[i] Bad Apples, Bad Cases, and Bad Barrels: Meta-Analytic Evidence About Sources of Unethical Decisions at Work.  Kish-Gephart JJ, Harrison DA, Treviño LK. . J Appl Psychol. 2010 Jan;95(1):21

[ii] Ibid

Discover Why You Can Never Let the Company Down

Chapter 6:  Corporate Culture -The Invisible Hand of the Company Part 1

The good news: I got the product out on time after leading the team through twelve months of crisis product development.  The bad news:  it did not perform well in customer hands.  The only surprise for me was how surprised senior management seemed to be. Prior to launch, the executives would stop me in the hall to ask if we were on schedule, and remind me how much revenue was on the line.  I loved the attention, and I was going to make sure we delivered what they were asking for.  They did not say ‘We will support any decision you make,’ or ‘protect the long term relationship with customers.’

After launch, I was too depressed to effectively defend myself from the storm of criticism because I felt that I let the company down.  What a ridiculous thought.  The company isn’t alive, and can’t be let down.

What I understand now, that I didn’t understand then, was that the company had a culture of making the date, and if I hadn’t been leading the team, someone else would have been.  It was expected that vacations would be canceled if need be, and they were.  I even led a conference call for several hours on the Fourth of July to help make the date.  I was at a family reunion at a resort in New Mexico, standing outside in the one patch of ground that had two bars of cell coverage – just enough to be heard.  If I walked more than ten feet in any direction, it dropped off.  It kind of symbolizes the impact of corporate culture on workplace behavior.  In theory I could walk anywhere I wanted to, but if I wanted to be heard, I had limited room to maneuver.

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