Today's blog in the #BeTheRippleBlogs series is a thought-provoking piece from Gethin Nadin entitled 'Finding the 'HR' in A Christmas Carol'.
Gethin is a frequent speaker and writer on the subjects of global employee engagement, HR, the employee experience, employee benefits and financial wellbeing. You can hear him speak next week at Kindfest USA. We are extremely proud that he is also a Champion Rippler for the #BeTheRipple movement.
You can find Gethin on LinkedIn: Here and on Twitter: @WorldofGoodBook.
Over to Gethin:
For a long time now, I’ve felt that business needs to be less about making money and more a force for good. We talk a lot about employees having a purpose at work, but working for an organisation with real purpose is fast becoming a big motivator for employees.
Over the last few years, the world has started to divide politically perhaps more than it has for a long time. This divide is breeding a new type of employee that has become sick of the ‘me first’ attitude many leaders and organisations have developed. We’ve seen banks bring people to their knees, austerity strip our communities of the basics and politicians put their own agendas firmly ahead of their country. But the tide is turning and employees in particular, are taking a firmer stance. Employment in Government, finance, defence and oil and gas, are all reporting to be less desirable to employees as they seek out more purpose at work. Employees (and consumers) are showing strong preferences for companies that do social good. The idea that even in a small way we can affect real change in the world by choosing who we work for more carefully, it’s becoming very apparent.
Now this might seem like a contrived blog post (but stick with me). To me, Christmas has always been a really strong pull. I genuinely believe in the season of Good Will and the idea that for just a few days, everyone is a little bit nicer and appreciate their lives that little bit more than during the rest of the year. It’s a time of year that gives us all some great life lessons, not least of all, employers. In particular, I think the classic story A Christmas Carol can give us the best workplace lessons.
A Christmas Carol is a genuinely great book and has spawned some very good adaptations. The great historian Thomas Carlyle went straight out and bought himself a turkey after reading Dickens’s tale of the redemption of Scrooge. Novelist William Thackeray (not always an admirer of Dickens), called A Christmas Carol a “national benefit”; one American entrepreneur gave his employees an extra day’s holiday as a direct result of reading the book. The Christmas classic is a strong tale of a money grabbing employer, who has no time or thought for the wellbeing of his staff. It was a story of the time. A time when people worked long and hard for little money, when work houses were common and the welfare system almost non-existent. It’s hard to accept that today, poverty and homelessness in the UK is significantly on the rise. 60% of those living in poverty in this country are working families. More than a third of those who call debt charities are full time employees. You are as likely to call a debt charity for help if you are employed as much as if you are out of work. A Living Wage is still out of reach for millions of UK employees. Sometimes Dickensian London doesn’t seem that far away.
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another”
So says John Rokesmith to Bella Wilfer in Charles Dickens’ book Our Mutual Friend. The importance of employee wellbeing has grown so much, not just because of the benefits of a healthy and happy workforce, but because of the appreciation that our employees arent resources or assets, they are humans. For centuries, work has been the greatest source of stress and woe for millions, and we are seeing more and more that working is increasingly responsible for our poor mental health. Looking after the wellbeing of your staff isn’t a USP anymore, it’s an expectation. Your employees have beating hearts and complex minds. They deserve to be treated well and have their burdens lifted. HR has a unique and honourable position to be able to do just that. The lessons we learn at Christmas can help us to re-realise what we should be doing for our staff during the rest of the year. “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year” says Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Carol.
In the 1980’s revamp of A Christmas Carol, Bill Murray plays Frank Cross in ‘Scrooged’. Frank Cross ends the film with a live TV monologue;
“It's Christmas Eve. It's-it's the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we-we-we smile a little easier, we-w-w-we-we-we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year we are the people that we always hoped we would be”
With the stress and deadlines at work, it’s really easy for us to snap at colleagues, see them as workers and not humans. It’s easy for HR to follow processes and managers to stick to the rules. I recently learnt of an employer who was about to make an employee redundant. When realising the employees’ husbands medical bills would no longer be insured if redundancy went ahead, this employer reallocated the employee within the business for the next 12 months to make sure cover remained. In the book ‘The Hard Thing About Hard things’, a CEO does the same. Ben Horowitz pays $20k to cover the medical bills of an employee he never met and was about to get rid of. Imagine a world where every CEO was more like Ben Horowitz and less like Scrooge. Doing the right thing will become so much more important in the future of work.
I feel very strongly that we should be creating workplaces where people are free to be themselves. free from discrimination, paying everyone equally and supported them emotionally. An employer should be judged by how well they treat their employees on their worst day. When employees are happy and looked after, they produce great things. This isn’t just a left wing ideal anymore. This is fact. There is now enough research to back up why we should be looking after our employees and why people should most definitely come before profit. And for those who don’t believe or buy in to this, they are destined to a fate similar to that shown by the ghost of Christmas yet to come.
Charles Dickens’ last reading of the book took place in London in March 1870. At the end of his live reading, he told his audience:
“From these garish lights, I vanish now for evermore, with a heartfelt, grateful, respectful, and affectionate farewell.”
There was a stunned silence, broken by cheering, hat-waving and the stamping of feet. With tears streaming down his face, Dickens raised his hands to his lips in an affectionate kiss to the audience and departed from the stage - for ever. He died shortly after aged just 58. To me, A Christmas Carol is his greatest legacy. A reminder to us all that we have a choice as to what kind of person or employer we want to be.
“He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew.”
Thank you so much to Gethin for sharing this lovely piece. Wouldn't it be lovely if we could all keep the Christmas spirit all year round and if organisations could be more a force for good, prioritising people over profits.
I'd love to know what your thoughts are around this topic and I'd also love you to join our movement. If you are not yet a member of the #BeTheRipple community, we would love you to join us. You can find us on Twitter: @BeTheRipple2020 and/or in our LinkedIn community: Here
Thank you once again to Gethin for sharing this piece - I absolutely share the passion and the message within - people should be treated as people, be supported, accepted, welcomed for who they are and always be treated with kindness and care.
If you would like to submit a blog for this series, please send your work via email to: firstname.lastname@example.org or send to me via LinkedIn.
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