Remember when employees cared about their jobs and cared about the company for which they worked? We call it a work ethic. It meant that an employee felt like he, too, was part of the company.
One of the reasons we see such poor work ethic today, such reluctance to get back to work after COVID, and such complacency to be on the dole is that companies give employees little autonomy and force them to become soulless robots.
When you punish workers for showing any initiative, why would you be surprised when they show none?
Here’s a perfect story. On Father’s Day at the King Soopers in Centennial, three brazen thieves loaded up a shopping cart with scented laundry detergent (laundry detergent, really?) and rolled it out to their car to load it up and speed away.
King Soopers employee Santino Burrola was there to witness it. Trained not to physically intervene in any theft, he pulled out his phone to video the event.
His color commentary was priceless. As the idiots were frantically shoving laundry detergent into their car he mused to them, “Really bros, you gotta resort to this? The economy is not that bad.” As they speed off Burrola peeled off the aluminum foil they had covering their license plate, getting that on video as well.
After posting his video on social media, which was shared by many including rapper Snoop Dogg, the police arrested the driver who (surprise) had multiple felonies but wasn’t behind bars ( Yeah, Colorado!).
For his good work in catching thieves, caring about his employer, and saving customers money from shoplifters Santino Burrola didn’t get a hardy slap on the back or even a “job well done” from his bosses at King Soopers. Instead, he got fired.
We’ve all heard these stories of heroic employees who stopped shoplifters and held them until police came, only to be fired for their courageous deed. It boggles our collective minds to punish heroes, as well it should.
We were raised seeing such people rightfully praised, in hopes that others would emulate such behavior. Society would be better and safer for it.
As bizarre as it seems, from the company’s point of view it makes perfect sense to fire this well-intentioned employee. It’s not the type of behavior they can allow to be encouraged.
Stay with me on this one (don’t worry, they’re still wrong for firing him).
Encounters with criminals could easily turn bad and end up injuring or even killing an employee or bystanders, causing a liability nightmare for the company. The payout after the lawsuits that would certainly follow would be immense. Thus, the company is justified in firing these people who were doing the morally right thing.
Looking at it by the numbers, one could say, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”
In fact, it might not be King Soopers’ call at all. It might be their insurance company demanding such firings. To keep their liability insurance, King Soopers may have little choice but to enforce a zero-tolerance policy against employee intervention.
God bless lawyers.
And that’s a fine corporate way to look at it. Corporations must look after the best interest of their shareholders.
But I would argue turning employees into automatons, trained to witness criminal acts and do nothing, is ultimately destructive to the bottom line.
The King Soopers where I shop in Boulder was home to a horrific mass shooting that the company did not prevent. The ultimate cost of passivity.
A heroic employee not trained to just passively witness such revulsions, might save a company from colossal and crippling lawsuits.
That is, a courageous and intervening employee could also prevent liability lawsuits.
It’s only the hypersensitive, see-everything-as-risk, fear-based lawyers who push businesses to strip employees of their humanity and autonomy.
Current employees become the farm team for future leaders and management for any company.
Trained in unresponsiveness, beaten into robotic submission, and taught that caring for the company and taking personal risk to protect shareholders and clients is a fireable offense makes for a hiring pool of weak, ineffective, non-creative leaders. This is certain death for a company in the long term.
There was something else we used to teach employees — discretion.
The more we take it away from employees, the less they’ll know what to do with it if they actually get some.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.
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