Investing in People

Without your employees, you are nothing.

Greed powers the American economy. The vast majority of employers are hellbent on grinding every single ounce of profit out of their employees. If someone gets crushed under the corporate wheel, so be it. Another body will come along soon enough. If it weren’t for unions, most of us would be working 80 hour weeks for subsistence wages.

That may seem like a good idea for your profit margin in the short term, and it may make your investors very happy, but if you’re playing the long game, grinding your staff down is the most idiotic thing that you could possibly do.

The reason you even have a business is because of the people who work for you. If you’re going to invest in anything at all, invest in your people, because without them, you are nothing. Nothing.

Rick Steves understands this. You might be familiar with him because of the PBS show Rick Steves Europe, but here in the Pacific Northwest, he’s an even bigger deal than that. His headquarters are in Edmonds, Washington, and overall, he employs 100 people. (You may have also read my other post about him, which highlights what how he invests in his community.)

According to this article/video, Mr. Steves has made no profit whatsoever this year. As you might imagine, the travel industry isn’t the place to be in the COVID era. He had 20,000 tours booked, and he had to fully refund every single one of them. His office is currently closed.

But he understands the value of his professionals. He wants to keep them around. He could have laid them all off and saved a fortune on the front end, but many of them probably wouldn’t have been able to come back, and the money he would have had to spend on training, and the unknown factor of whether or not new staff would be a good fit would have cost him in the long run.

So Rick Steves is paying his employees to volunteer in their community. Some are working at food banks. Some are cleaning up park trails. Some are working at charitable thrift stores, or manning phone banks to get out the vote.

These people know they’re going to have a job to come back to. They are making a difference in the community. They are not going nuts with boredom, sitting on the couch and gaining weight. They will come back to the office feeling healthy, happy and confident. And I’m willing to bet they’ll be forever loyal to Rick Steves. There’s no better investment than that.

Granted, over the years this man has made a tiny bit a heck of a lot more money than I have. He can afford to be generous. Then again, compared to the bottom line of the greedy Jeff Bezos, he’s small potatoes. But in my estimation, he’s the better man by far.

Rick Steves, in Bruges, Belgium: He spends July and August north of the Alps. ( via Getty Images)

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That’s Acting

How do you promote one belief system and yet espouse another?

I am always shocked when I remember that Charlton Heston, the star of two of the most liberal movies ever made, the original Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green, went on to become the poster child for what I believe to be the most conservative, warped and corrupt organization in America: The National Rifle Association. I mean, how do you promote one belief system and yet espouse another? I wouldn’t be able to do it.

Bill Cosby also springs to mind. On screen he was the quintessential family man. That was his brand. But in reality he was a sexual predator. The moral tension between what you do and who you are in these situations must be exhausting, unless you’re a psychopath.

But actors aren’t the only ones who act. Diplomats definitely have to do it, as do politicians, if they hope for any type of occupational success. Lawyers, too, along with every director of a human resource department on the face of the earth.

How do you people sleep at night? I would be up at all hours, trying to reconcile the dichotomy of my life. I can’t even stand it when someone within my orbit behaves like that. I can’t abide fake people. I think they’re evil.

Unfortunately, we need diplomats and politicians and lawyers and personnel directors. I suppose I should be happy that there are people out there who are willing to act. I would hate to take on those dirty jobs myself.

So, if you are devoid of integrity, never fear. There’s a place in this crazy world for you, too.

Charleton Heston

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Human Resources

I am unbelievably, incredibly, outrageously gullible. Even though it does not serve me well, I tend to think the best of people and of organizations until I’m proven wrong. And I’m proven wrong with distressing frequency. You’d think I’d learn, but this lesson gets thrown in my path over and over again, and all I seem to do is trip over it and fall flat on my fool face.

Case in point: It has finally dawned on me that there’s a reason that Personnel departments have changed their names to Human Resources. These departments are not there for the benefit of the person, the employee. They never have been. Their sole purpose is to protect their organizations from litigation. And if they have to throw you under the bus to do so, they will, without hesitation. I have the tire tracks on my back to prove it.

We humans are their resource. Resources, by definition, are there to be used up and exploited to benefit an organization. I now place HR staff on the same shelf with used car salesmen, politicians, and lawyers. A necessary evil, perhaps, but better to avoid them whenever possible.

If you are being sexually harassed, abused, or otherwise threatened at work, you won’t get satisfaction from HR. You’re much better off approaching your union, if you have one, or unionizing if you don’t.

There’s a reason Corporate America is trying to demonize unions. It’s the only power most of us have left in the working world. And even their powers are limited.

The working world is like the wild wild west, and the bad guys have taken over the town. If you’re ever in doubt who wears the black hats, try dealing with your company’s HR department. Then pay your union dues and hole up in the school house with the rest of us who are under siege, pardner.


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