Most fundamentally, in the 1950s and 1960s CEOs saw their job as balancing their obligations to shareholders, customers, employees and the community – so-called “stakeholder capitalism”. Now shareholder interests dominate. Few leaders seem to understand that when people come to work for them, those individuals have placed their physical and psychological well-being in the leaders’ hands.
But some leaders are taking this idea of stewardship seriously. Companies such as Patagonia, Collective Health, SAS Institute, Google, John Lewis Partnership – which is employee-owned – and Zillow provide a template of what might be different.
People get paid time off and are expected to use it. Managers don’t send e-mails or texts at all hours – people work, go home and have time to relax and refresh. The organisations offer accommodations so that people can have both a job and a family life. People are treated like adults and have control over what they do and how they do it to meet their job responsibilities, not micromanaged.
Most importantly, the companies are led by individuals who take their obligations to their people seriously. SAS Institute has a chief health officer whose job is not just to control costs but also to ensure employees are as healthy as possible. Bob Chapman recognises that everyone who comes to work at Barry-Wehmiller is “someone’s precious child” or family member.
And the founder of Patagonia famously wrote a book entitled Let My People Go Surfing. In a very competitive industry, every Patagonia employee gets health insurance from the first day on the job and every other weekend is a three-day weekend so that people can enjoy the outdoors.
People need to choose their employer not just for salary and promotion opportunities but on the basis of whether the job will be good for their psychological and physical health. Business leaders should measure the health of their workforce, not just profits.
And governments concerned about the health-care cost crisis need to focus on the workplace, because workplace stress is clearly making people sick. None of this necessary – no one should be dying for a paycheck.
Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University. Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance—and What We Can Do About It was published in March, 2018.