Dear Ethix – Issue 64

Are there discussions regarding technology diminishing inner- office business relationship? My boss Facebooks with my (peers) coworkers, resulting in half-conversations and ongoing jokes (begun in Facebook and finished at the water cooler). This social dynamic in the office feels bad on so many levels.

A Reader

Clive Mather

I found your interview with Clive Mather life-giving, wholesome, uplifting, credible, and commanding of attention. He is in the arena, knows what he is talking about, and is trying to make a practical difference. I also appreciated your evaluation of Friedman’s book in the same issue, for many of the same reasons.

Craig Shugart
Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Your recent article on layoffs makes good points. I would like to suggest two more. What you focus on is the notion of “labor as a cost to be managed” and you make the point that managing cost requires understanding the true cost of labor. But, as you mentioned, people are involved. They don’t think of themselves as a resource like, for example, copper wire. They think of themselves as sentient beings with thoughts and ideas that could contribute. So, perhaps we should be searching for ways to give those people a voice in their own future.

Here are two ways to think of labor other than simply a cost to be managed. In the ’60s and through the ’80s many companies viewed computing as a cost to be managed. Some however argued differently. They argued that rather than manage the cost of computing, which was going to continue rising no matter what, we should be looking for ways to use computing to increase corporate profitability. At Boeing that argument was essentially won by the IT professionals with the result that the 777 airplane, now a very successful program, was never hampered by a lack of computing resources even though at one point it was threatened by the “cost to be managed” thinking.

Why not do the same with labor costs? Rather than trying to control and drive down labor costs, let’s think about how to use those people who are already familiar with the corporation to increase corporate profits. Not an easy task but as you so effectively argue, layoffs may actually increase the cost of labor in the short term and the long term. This is something to think about.

The other thought is that perhaps we should think about how to involve employees in decisions affecting their own futures. Think of it this way: Countries run best when people participate. That’s how we, no matter how imperfectly, run our country and that’s how we believe most people would like things run. The same should be true of companies with large employee populations. Make employees part of the solution, not the problem. Thinking that way could lead to just and equitable methods of adjusting employee hours and numbers and managing workforce levels.

David Ferguson
Issaquah, Wash.

Just read your article about layoffs. I completely agree!

Dan Hallack
Redmond, Wash.

I was reading your most recent issue on the bus recently. When I read the article about Alternatives to Layoffs. I was struck by how relevant it was to the work we’re doing with clients. We had been talking in our marketing group about getting information to senior HR people and other executives that would help them get perspective in a time when it seems sorely lacking.

I also wanted to see if you mind me sharing your publication with guests by putting my copy in our lobby (after I extract whatever pearls of wisdom there are).

Kevin Osborn
Seattle, Wash.

Editor: Feel free to share this broadly!

Ethics and Economics

There’s an obvious and direct correlation between the recent economic meltdown (in U.S.; financial services sector) and the deterioration of ethics throughout business, government, and society in general.

As someone who has held senior management/executive positions within financial services (insurance/mortgage/banking), I’m appalled and shocked by our current predicament.

I’m currently a member of the Oklahoma Business Ethics Consortium, and exploring other resources regarding this critical issue.

Greg Genua
Broken Arrow, Okla.