It seems inconceivable that a country with so much to offer in terms of wealth, expertise, experience, and compassion for the rest of the world, can no longer muster the same for its own people. While America seeks to solve the woes of third world countries, what is happening to the very citizens that make it possible for us to offer a helping hand? Putting politics and religion aside for a moment, let’s explore what may very well be the greatest loss ever suffered by the American people: “The lack of basic human kindness.”
Everyday, it seems we do our best to ignore the homeless we see on the street. We no longer notice those cardboard signs declaring “I need help to feed my children.” We don’t rifle through our pockets in search of loose change to put into those red kettles that feed and clothe the poor. We trash usable clothing and throw away pounds of food – – much of it unopened and still eatable – – rather than bothering to take it to the local food bank. I think most of us are aware of these obvious issues even though we may wish that we could dismiss them. Do not get me wrong. These are definitely critical issues. However, there is something that is even more basic: Respect for our fellow man.
Let me share a couple of examples with you that might bring focus to this lack of respect. I know of someone who was laid off from his job earlier this year with no warning. The worker had no strikes against his record. The individual was well respected and thought of by other employees. The person in question was a conscientious and dedicated worker with lots of sick days and vacation days still left on the books. But one day, he was happily working and the next day he was not. Later it was discovered that the company in question was in financial trouble (and has since been sold) and that they laid off that particular employee simply because he made slightly more per hour than the other employee – – hired after him – – who did the same job. But rather than explain that situation to the employee, the employer just let him off without warning and without explanation; simply because he could. Virginia is a “work at will” state which means the employers do not have to cite a reason for dismissal.
In another example, I know of an employee who was hurt on the job due to the employer’s negligence. Following all the Workers Comp requirements, seeing the doctors required by the employer, and following everything laid out, this employee went back to work as quickly as allowed by the doctors. Welcomed back with what appeared to be open arms, this employee began a regular routine and tried hard to make up for lost time. Unfortunately, in a little more than a month’s time, he suffered a heart attack that required emergency surgery. Still eager to be a good employee, he followed every step necessary to get back to work in a timely fashion and did so in less than ten days after surgery. But low and behold, upon return, the employee was fired with no notice, no blemish on his record, no explanation, and no apology.
To add insult to injury, the employer blocked the employee’s attempt to collect unemployment for the first time in his entire life; now stating some kind of “misconduct.” However, it begs the question: How can there be misconduct that was not announced at the time the employee was let go and never documented, counseled, or verbally reprimanded for? What it will eventually come down to now is which story will the judge believe?
In both instances noted above, these employees were treated with less than human kindness. No thought was given to the repercussions of the employer’s actions. In fact, the employer didn’t really care what happened to the employee or his family. Now, to bring this into focus let me share that these two separate actions happened to the same individual. This individual formerly held the same job for 10 years straight. He is also a retired veteran of the U.S. Air Force. He is a husband, father, and grandfather. He is a respected member of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). It just so happens that this individual is my wonderful spouse of almost 38 years.
Having worked in business development for 10 years, I can say without reservation that I have never seen the kind of cavalier, we don’t give a hoot attitude that my husband’s last two employers exhibited. In our 10 years of training business managers, my partners and I spent untold hours drilling into them the importance of treating employees with respect and dignity.
I am not a fan of the “work at will” policy. It was supposed to help protect employees but, in fact, it leaves them open for the worst kind of manipulation and cruelty by employers who care about nothing more than their bottom line. While I admit that for years, employment law heavily weighed in favor of employees to the detriment of business, that doesn’t mean that it should now sway totally in the opposite direction. Somewhere there must be a happy medium!
One of the major complaints that businesses talk incessantly about today is the lack of employee loyalty. If these businesses exhibit even a modicum of the same kind of nonchalant disrespect as the businesses described in this article, then they do not deserve employee loyalty. I’ll say it once and I’ll say it over and over and over again until it sinks in: Loyalty is a two way street. If business expects loyalty from its employees, then it must be willing to demonstrate the same loyalty to its employees. If it doesn’t then it will never achieve the kind of success it desires; nor should it. The fact that the law allows for injustice like the firing of employees for any reason (in a “work at will” state) doesn’t make the action right or justifiable.
If we, as Americans, cannot even muster the simplest amount of human kindness for our own countrymen, then how can be possibly hope to be the saviors of the world? The truth is that we can’t. It is that simple and that true. We must first look within ourselves and correct our own internal flaws before we have the right or even the capability to truly help others. Until we recognize that, this country can not and will not ever be great.