Business and Karma – An Ethical Decision

Karma, according to Wikipedia, is “…the concept of action or deed… which causes the entire cycle of cause and effect”. A closely linked topic is that of the Golden Rule, one variation of which states:“avoid doing what you would blame others for doing” Thales and is commonly quoted as “Do to others as you would have done to yourself”.

In recent months, we have watched as dozens of people and companies have been charged with unethical behaviour in their business practices. This is a clear demonstration of bad karma –  a company steals money from its shareholders will eventually pay the price (although the shareholders themselves will likely not get their full investments back). On the other hand, companies which have maintained good business practices, along with providing clear information to the public, find themselves able to weather the economic storm, and many of these will survive.

Good karma in a business is not just how you treat your employees, or your shareholders, or your clients and customers. You must treat all of your associates with respect, with consideration. In hard times, you will need to rely on all of these people to help you, even at a cost to themselves.

As an example, I read this morning in the National Post that 800 British Airways employees will be working without pay for up to a month, and thousands of others have agreed to  pay cuts. While it can be argued that this behavior is self-serving in that it ensures that these employees will retain their jobs, the fact that the cuts were voluntary speaks loudly of the good karma British Airways has with its employees.

As an example of the reverse behaviour, here in Toronto there is a strike of the unionized municipal workers, including garbage collectors and daycare workers. Part of the issue which demonstrates the bad karma is the fact that city councillors have the option of a pay freeze (but it is not mandatory), while trying to enforce a freeze or cut on other city workers. While I personally don’t agree with the requests of the striking unions, their argument of unfair discrimination is valid. (It should be noted that several councillors did take the voluntary pay freeze.)

When dealing with employees, clients, and shareholders, it is necessary to look to the future. While at the moment it may be costly to ensure a postive relationship, when the times are tough, it can become necessary to ask them to make sacrifices on your behalf. At this point, they will examine your past behaviour in great detail. If you, as a business owner or manager, were ethical and upfront with all interested parties in the past, you will find people willing to work with you in the hard times. On the other hand, if you were unethical in any manner in the past, you may be looking at spending some time in substandard federal housing.

The past can come back to bless you, or haunt you. Without a crystal ball to predict when the past will return, you’re better off erring on the side of caution and always being ethical and upfront with your actions.