Must American Businesses Be Uncivilized?

At the White House Summit on Working Families, President Obama made this distinction:


“Family leave, childcare, flexibility and a decent wage aren't frills. They're basic needs. They shouldn't be bonuses -- they should be the bottom line.”

Despite research indicating that flexibility increases worker satisfaction and leads to more productivity, companies in the U.S. are largely dragging their feet when it comes to treating employees with dignity and respect. 

Some states are getting on board. California, Rhode Island and New Jersey allow workers paid family leave. Connecticut requires paid sick days; so does New York City. And 13 states have taken their own steps to raise the minimum wage.

So what’s the hold up, America?  Why is the United States the only developed country on earth that doesn’t have paid maternity leave?  How did we find ourselves on par with Oman and Papua New Guinea?

One reason is how we reason with people who could change this. The term “family friendly” puts them to sleep. It contains two words that together many senior executives consider feminine and soft – the antithesis of what they view as true leadership.

Words matter both connotatively and denotatively.  To influence the hard-hearted or misguided, you need to know and use their language.  Unfortunately, “family friendly” goes against the grain for those who associate the term with soppiness and a lack of task focus typically perpetuated by whiners.  What we need is a term that doesn’t give these people the heebie-jeebies.  

How about “civilized?”  After all, that’s what we’re talking about here, isn’t it?  What company doesn’t want to be civilized?  Moreover, the term doesn’t carry the baggage of “family friendly.”  To boot, it’s more accurate because it isn’t just families who benefit from civilized workplaces, but every individual and companies as well.

Women and men who believe in equal pay for equal work have grappled for decades with the negative connotations of the term “feminist,” often used as an insult and a weapon of derision, along with such perverted derivations as “feminazis.”  We don’t need to dispose of the word, but, like all words, one needs to know when they serve their purpose – and when they detract from it.

Let’s start talking more about civilized organizations. Let’s see how much backward-thinking businesses like being considered run by “ignorant, uncouth, knuckle-dragging standpatists.” 

Let’s see if we can’t get a little more recognition of leadership as a humane, gutsy endeavor (and not just the all-too-common bean-counter brand of “gutsy”), that in the end will bring greater rewards for those leaders who are forward-thinking enough to see it as such. 

photo: docstockmedia/shutterstock.com

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