Employees of the Market Basket supermarket chain in Massachusetts captured international attention when they went on strike to demand the return of the company’s CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas. According to news reports, Mr. Demoulas, a generous soul who insisted on liberal employee benefits and regular social contact with his workers, was recently forced out by a profit-minded Board of Directors that’s reportedly controlled by his cousin. (That’s gotta hurt.) Despite alleged management threats to replace them, however, workers continue to protest and urge customers to stay away until their beloved boss is returned to them.
The British Daily Mail is cheerily calling the workers’ actions “The ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Protest.” Personally, I’d call it long overdue.
News stories nearly always oversimplify things, going for an engaging tale rather than a thorough reporting of facts. Nonetheless, the story of employees going to bat for the boss who cared about them as people and thought their welfare was more important than wringing out every last penny of profit for the owners is compelling. That they’re banding together to help him despite the risk of losing their own jobs is positively inspiring.
Job search websites continually assert that it’s especially difficult for older people in management to find new jobs if they get laid off or, as in Mr. Demoulas’ case, forced out of their positions. Senior execs can’t afford to get too comfortable, we’re told, and that may be true. But the Market Basket protests offer at least two lessons that I think executives are wise to heed. First, when pushed hard enough, employees are still willing to band together to fight for decent working conditions. Second, if you’re smart and good-hearted enough to make sure they’re treated decently, the boss they’ll fight for just might be you.Posted in business communications, Business Ethics, corporate responsibility, ethics, Personal Ethics, Social Ethics | Leave a comment July 24, 2014
President Obama made history this week when he signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination against federal workers and government contract employees who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual. This executive order fills in gaps left by the one President Clinton signed in 1998, which prohibited discrimination against LGBT federal employees based on sexual orientation. The new order restates that prohibition and goes further, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity as well. It’s an important next step in the fight to grant equal employment rights to the LGBT community, and President Obama deserves praise for taking it.
I’m just sorry that the order was necessary.
Employers discriminate among their employees for lots of reasons. Some are sensible – top performers should be treated better than the folks who barely warm a desk chair every day – but many of them are downright dumb. Gender, skin tone, age, or ethnicity, for example, are utterly irrelevant to most jobs, so discriminating against employees because of those attributes is stupid and, quite rightly, illegal. If there’s anything dumber an employer can do than discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity, however, it’s hard to say what that might be. Discrimination on those bases usually comes from ignorance and hostility, which makes it bad enough. But the simple reason it’s especially stupid is that sex is irrelevant at work.
Don’t let the sitcoms persuade you otherwise. Employees come to their place of business to work. Not to hook up, not to flirt, to work. If employers waste time wondering what their employees are doing with whom on their private time, it means they’ve lost track of their own responsibilities. If Taylor is doing a great job, Taylor’s personal life is none of the boss’ business. Better the boss should focus on keeping the trains running than on wondering who Taylor will be meeting for cocktails after hours.
Again, I applaud President Obama for taking this important step. Here’s hoping, though, that someday employers will recognize that the personal lives of their employees are not company property.Posted in Business Ethics, corporate responsibility, ethics, Legal Ethics, Social Ethics | Leave a comment July 14, 2014
The Justice Department announced yesterday that Citigroup had agreed to pay $7 billion to settle a federal investigation into the megabank’s handling of subprime mortgages. It’s the biggest settlement yet arising out of the 2008 financial meltdown that tanked the world economy and brought on a recession that still hasn’t entirely ended. The payment reportedly will be broken down into a $4 billion in a civil penalty and about $2.5 billion in consumer relief (not sure where the other $.5 billion will go). Justice Department officials, apparently satisfied, are reportedly lauding the settlement as the largest civil penalty of its kind. But this settlement isn’t enough, and here’s why.
According to news reports, the $7 billion payment represents only about half of the $13.7 billion in profits that Citigroup brought in last year. Citi can pay this penalty without losing even one year’s profit. Investors have allegedly shrugged off the settlement, and the price of Citi’s stock actually rose when the settlement was announced. Worse, we haven’t heard much about high-profile Wall Street financiers going to prison for knowingly making or trading bad loans. They haven’t even paid the penalties themselves. This settlement is a corporate expense that will be paid by Citigroup’s shareholders, not its top executives. So much for incentivizing reform.
Citigroup was not, of course, the only financial institution to participate in the feeding frenzy that destroyed the world’s financial stability. It’s a major player in financial markets, though, and where Citi goes others tend to follow. $7 billion may soon come to represent a not unacceptable cost of doing business in the minds of Citigroup’s management. If Citi returns to business as usual, so will other investment banks and mortgage lenders and, in a decade or two, the whole ugly mess will happen again. This settlement is nowhere near enough to protect us all from international meltdowns caused by corporate greed. DOJ has made a good start, but we need to see more.Posted in Business Ethics, customer relations, ethics, Risk Management, Social Ethics | Leave a comment July 2, 2014
It’s always great when circumstances provide me with opportunities to combine my legal work with my ministry. Consequently, I was absolutely thrilled when Beliefnet.com, one of the largest and most eclectic spiritual websites on the Internet, agreed to publish an excerpt from Art of the Apology.
There are, of course, as many venues for apologies are there are places where people mess up. This particular excerpt, however, deals with apologies in the workplace and, in particular, to your boss. In my experience, apologizing to your boss can be an incredibly stressful experience. Knowing how to prepare and what to say can reduce your anxiety and increase the likelihood that you’ll be forgiven form whatever you did wrong in the first place.
Apologies can strengthen working relationships, restore trust and even prevent lawsuits and firings. They also have another advantage. A workplace where apologies are routinely given and accepted is almost always a kinder, more productive environment than one where mistakes aren’t tolerated and second chances are never extended. Every person who learns how to give and accept an apology at work makes a business environment better for everyone who works there. For that reason alone, knowing how to apologize yourself and making it easier for your colleagues is a skill well worth pursuing.
To read the excerpt on Beliefnet.com, click: http://www.beliefnet.com/Wellness/Articles/Apologies-in-the-Workplace.aspx?p=2
Posted in Apologies, business communications, Business Ethics, customer relations, ethics, Lauren Recommends, Social Ethics | Leave a comment June 25, 2014
Just imagine my delight when Art of the Apology won the “Self-Help” category in this year’s International Book Awards! Art of the Apology joins a list of wonderful books in over eighty categories from a wide array of publishers worldwide. I’m honored and humbled to see my book among them.
Relationships are important, and knowing how to heal a relationship after a mistake is an essential life skill. While I initially envisions Art of the Apology as a business book, I’m delighted that it’s useful to a wider audience. Business and work are important. So are friendships, families and communities. Here’s to building a more forgiving, more apology-friendly world.Posted in Apologies, customer relations, ethics, Personal Ethics, Social Ethics | Leave a comment May 29, 2014
It was fun for me to contribute to a recent article on LawCrossing.com titled, “Top Questions Clients Should Ask Attorneys But Don’t.” Several contributors focused on the questions a client should ask an attorney before committing to hire them about qualifications, experience, fees and the like. Their questions were good, as were various questions about what to do or not do when a lawsuit is pending and how a lawsuit is likely to progress. I was particularly entertained by a set of funny questions that included “where should I hide my drugs?” (Here’s a hint – not in my office.)
From my perspective, however, the thing that always surprises me is how rarely clients ask how to reduce their litigation risk up front. Lawsuits don’t appear randomly out of thin air. People and businesses get sued because someone thinks they’ve done something wrong. That’s where ethics come in. A company or professional who incorporates good ethics into daily business is much less likely to say or do something wrong, and when the risk of error is reduced, so is the risk of litigation.
There are lots of good reasons to “do the right thing” that have nothing to do with litigation risk. Clients and customers who know they can trust you to be honest and fair will do business with you again and again. Contractors who know you’ll honor your agreements will be eager to provide you with products and services. Employees who know you to be ethical will respect you and work that much more diligently. Good ethics create great relationships, and that’s wonderful for business.
People can get so focused on expanding their business and growing profits that they forget to consider their ethical obligations. But it’s a good idea to consult an attorney, myself included, on practices and policies that foster good business ethics. Yes, it’s an investment, but one that can yield great results and reduce the risk of an expensive lawsuit coming your way.
To read the LawCrossing article, click here: http://www.lawcrossing.com/article/900041434/Top-Questions-Clients-Should-Ask-Attorneys-but-Dont/#Posted in business communications, Business Ethics, corporate responsibility, customer relations, ethics, Professional Ethics, Risk Management | Leave a comment May 23, 2014
It’s been a marvelous time to be author of Art of the Apology: How, When and Why to Give and Accept Apologies. I’m honored that the kind folks at the 2014 Nautilus Book Awards awarded my book a Silver prize in the Relationships/Communications category. Congratulations also go to my publisher, Fine & Kahn, for receiving an Honorable Mention for Art of the Apology in the Small Press category.
Winning recognition from the Nautilus Awards is especially meaningful for me because of the nature of the awards themselves. Specifically, the Nautilus Book Awards program “seeks, honors, awards and promotes print books that inspire and connect our lives as individuals, communities and global citizens.” I’m delighted that the judges thought Art of the Apology fulfills that vitally important function. My thanks to Marilyn McGuire and her team for this wonderful honor.Posted in Apologies | Leave a comment May 13, 2014
It’s always exciting when a major news outlet actually wants to know what I think about something. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when CNN requested my take on Donald Sterling’s interview. Sad to say, I continue to think that Mr. Sterling’s interview was the worst public apology I’ve ever seen. Still, he got a few things right (read the op-ed piece to find out which ones). For his family’s sake and the well-being of his team, I sincerely hope someone will keep him off the air for the foreseeable future.
To read my op-ed, go to http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/13/opinion/bloom-sterling-apology/.Posted in Apologies, business communications, Business Ethics, corporate responsibility, customer relations, ethics, Lauren Recommends, Personal Ethics, Social Ethics | Leave a comment May 12, 2014
It’s hard to imagine how Donald Sterling, former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, could have disgraced himself any more deeply after recordings of appallingly racist remarks he made in a conversation with a friend came to light. There’s unpleasant, there’s nasty, there’s “I can’t believe anything that vicious actually came out of the man’s mouth,” and he managed to exceed even that. Those comments, including a personal attack on superstar Magic Johnson, literally left me speechless, and led the NBA to fine Mr. Sterling $2.5 million and ban him from basketball for life.
I haven’t written about Mr. Sterling’s initial diatribe before now because it took place in a private conversation. Disgusting as his remarks were, I’ll admit to struggling some with the ethics of criticizing him for comments that he never intended to see the light of day. Nonetheless, Mr. Sterling’s non-apology during an interview with Anderson Cooper has taken me off the fence. He did the old “sorry if I offended” dance (gee, Mr. Anderson, ya think?), argued that 35 years in basketball should somehow counterbalance his comments, and blamed the whole thing on his friend, as if she put those hateful words in his mouth by “baiting” him. From what he said, Mr. Sterling isn’t sorry – he just wants to keep the team. It was an appalling performance that, to me, demonstrated that he doesn’t get it and probably never will.
Unlike many mothers, I don’t necessarily believe that every famous human being on the planet has to be an ideal role model for small children. However, both the law and common decency require employers to protect their employees from virulent racism, and that applies to sports teams as well as corporations. I believe that the NBA has an obligation to protect the Clippers from Donald Sterling. If he truly wants to make amends, he should sell the team and let his suspension stand.Posted in Apologies, business communications, Business Ethics, corporate responsibility, ethics, Lauren Recommends, Personal Ethics, Risk Management, Social Ethics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment April 22, 2014
A few weeks back, I wrote a post wondering if BP would do a better job with the Gulf oil spill than Exxon did with the Valdez spill in Alaska. This Earth Day is a great time to take stock of how well BP has done so far. Sadly, the answer seems to be “not well.”
According to the League of Conservation Voters, four years after the spill the Gulf still hasn’t recovered, wildlife is still suffering and a major mess remains. Worse, BP has gotten permission to start drilling in the Gulf again, and reportedly has bid $42 million for the rights to do so. The company still hasn’t finished cleaning up its last oil spill – why would anyone in their right mind allow BP to drill again and maybe spill some more?
Even little kids know that, when you make a mess, you’re supposed to clean it up. BP made an unbelievable mess and apparently intends to leave a lot of it behind. That’s bad ethics, bad business and just plain bad. If you agree that BP needs to do better, please click on this link to sign a League of Conservation Voters’ petition calling on BP to finish the job: http://www.lcv.org/media/blog/after-4-years-the-gulf-has.html.
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