Human Dignity Inside the Firm: From Theory to Practice

Once we have highlighted the importance of human dignity for firms aiming a humanistic profile, the task of defining it inside organizations and measuring its progress remains a challenge. Often, the concept of human dignity rests at the level of theory and lacks any real application in managerial decisions.

When academics and practitioners develop an ethical perspective on the concept of human dignity inside the firm, they usually accept a motivational approach (Is the firm worried about human dignity?, Does the firm consider human dignity in its mission, vision and philosophy?) or a control approach (Has the firm developed a system to check if human dignity is not respected in all operations conducted by the firm?). This perspective is useful because it will help the firm improve the instruments that are necessary to avoid situations in which the firm may not respect human dignity. However, a complementary perspective based on the effect that a given firm has on the capacity of persons to develop themselves in their professional, human, and spiritual spheres may be required (Aguado et al. 2015).

Usually, both perspectives are taken into account when stakeholders show the negative effects that some organizations may have on people (Bhargava and Sinha 1992) with the final objective of changing that kind of behavior. However, this approach has a negative sense, based on the activities of the firm that are against human dignity (Herzberg 1966). Due to external pressure or internal belief, firms can change those activities. However, the study of the positive impact that firms may have on people has been neglected. Firms can have a positive impact in the integral development of persons, in a similar way as the one proposed by Amartya Sen (2009) for States.

Following this line of thinking, it is possible to understand that the aim of a firm that tries to respect and foster human dignity is not only focused on eliminating the negative impact of the firm in relation to human rights, but also on building the necessary conditions inside the firm so that persons interacting in the firm are able to develop their potentialities in the organization. In order to assess the meaning of those potentialities, we are going to analyze them from the perspective of the Maslow’s motivational theory and, specifically, from its hierarchical conception (Maslow et al. 1970) (see Fig. 5.2). In this sense, a firm oriented to foster human dignity is the one that makes possible for persons interacting in the organization to reach self-actualization stadium, if that is their wish.

This reasoning allows us not only to assess the intentions, but also the results obtained in a given firm about the progressive development of human dignity as a key element of the firm. It would be possible to rank the evolution of the firm in each of the stadiums described by Maslow using scales. This measurement would allow its integration with the internal management systems of the firm in order to translate the abstract purpose of the firm (to respect and foster human dignity) to the balanced scorecard of the firm. In the most negative situation, we could find firms that are not able to provide decent jobs and salaries, so that employees cannot afford their basic needs, such as food or housing. On the other side, we could find firms that provide not only decent jobs and salaries, but also positive conditions that enhance self-actualization. In any case, the point is not in which situation each firm is, but the opportunity to change it in search of a higher level of human dignity.

This perspective allows the conversion of hypernorms to micronorms (see section 3). In this case, human dignity would be linked to the level

Maslow's hierarchy of needs applied to human dignity in the firm. Source

Fig. 5.2 Maslow's hierarchy of needs applied to human dignity in the firm. Source: Own elaboration based on Maslow et al. 1970

of self-actualization of persons that are part or interact with the firm. The application of the Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory (Herzberg 1966) to this context makes possible to differentiate firms that are not oriented towards human dignity from those which are worried not only about the safety and physiological needs of their employees, but also about social, esteem and self-actualization needs.

In our opinion, this line of work has a big potential to impact firms and organizations. However, there are at least 3 questions that should be clarified at this point. In the first place, the work conditions that a firm is offering to its employees are not necessarily the same for all persons. This means that the issue of human dignity may be different even inside the same organization. Secondly, it is true that the self-actualization of each person may not be achieved only through the realization of professional duties inside a firm. It can be achieved also through actions inside other institutions: families, communities or other social groups. Finally, and because of the aforementioned reason, we propose that this analysis about self-actualization inside the firm should encompass not only employees, but the entire group of persons affected by the actions and omissions of the firm. In this last proposal we follow the stakeholder theory (Freeman 1984; Freeman et al. 2010) because in our opinion all persons interacting with the firm deserve to be treated with dignity.

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