Business ethics: human or humanizing companies?

Business ethics: human or humanizing companies?

Welcoming the New Year, we all set ourselves new challenges and goals to fulfill. I want to share a topic of vital importance, not only in the business world but also in any area of our life, and that is linked to the way we treat people next to us and people with whom we share life experiences.

A few months ago, I was participating during an intense weekend in a professional retreat with senior women managers and organized by the IESE Business School from their department of IESE Women in Leadership, led by Prof. Dr. Nuria Chinchilla. This event is held every year in the beautiful setting of Castelldaura in Premià de Mar, Barcelona, with the aim of sharing a few days of training, networking and personal growth living experience with professionals from many different sectors and backgrounds.



Among the prestigious speakers, Dr. Domenech Melé, Professor of Business Ethics at IESE, struck me because he addressed the importance of human and humanizing treatment in the company and gave us the keys to consider this issue.


The fact that one of the most prestigious business schools in the world, such as IESE, is giving top relevance to the issue of ethics is very encouraging.


We all like being treated well and fairly and we should consider treating our neighbor, as we would like to be treated.

Talking about people is talking about dignity.
Emmanuel Kant said, “Things have a price, but people have dignity.”.
In addition, Robert Spaemann says, “people are someone, not something.”.


Although it may seem very understandable, when it comes to putting it into practice it is not that easy.

We must always try to give our neighbor, no matter in which environment we are (family, company or society), such a treatment that is, at least, respectful and fair.

However, can we and should we go further? Yes, we can. Moreover, this can be a good purpose to start 2019.



Can we build human companies and, at the same time, also humanizing? Moreover, how to do it?


There are several levels of human quality that when treating a person may occur. We distinguish among five levels and when analyzing them, one by one, we will easily understand if a company IS OR NOT HUMAN.


A company in which people are mistreated, exploited or manipulated is NOT a HUMAN company. There it happens:
  • Insults, offenses, harassment, humiliation, unfair discrimination
  • Exploitation of workers with abusive schedules, wages and hours
  • Manipulation, deceiving or creating false expectations


A company that treats people with indifference is NOT a HUMAN company either and it happens when:
  • People are seen as mere “human resources”
  • Legal rights are respected for fear of criminalization, but not human rights entirely
  • False interest appears for others, because in reality people are only considered for what they produce
  • One acts with individualism, with no other motivation than self-interest


The minimum requirement for a company to be human is to act fairly with all persons and groups involved in the activity of the company, without favoritism or favorable treatment.


4.- CARE
In a truly humane enterprise, there is not only justice but also care for people. Moreover, we observe this when:
  • Care requires empathy, compassion and help
  • Be aware of situations of vulnerability and solve as much as possible the problems of the people with whom they interact
  • Take care of the legitimate interests of others as much as possible
  • Pacify discord, harmonize conflicts, and relieve toxic emotions
  • Foster relationships and human networks of reciprocity and cooperation



A company that promotes the integral development of its people as well as mutual esteem, cooperation and willingness to serve is a company acting with benevolence.



By observing these levels of human quality treatment we can easily diagnose the situation of the company and, from there, go gradually climbing from one level to another.


What is a “human” company?

A human firm is one in which those persons who are part of or relate to it are treated in a manner consistent with the human condition.
The proper thing of the human being is to be a person, that is, someone unique and unrepeatable, conscious and free and endowed with dignity.
A company is NOT HUMAN if it does not respect human dignity. This occurs when people be treated as mere “human resources”.


How do you get a “human” company?

  • Giving each person what is due as a person (innate rights).
  • Treating all people with due respect.
  • Paying the debts contracted in the agreed terms and conditions (contractual rights).
  • Fulfilling the given word.
  • Being loyal to the legitimate commitments made.
  • Acting as good stewards of nature’s assets and available resources.


Nevertheless, we have to remain a human company. Additionally, can we and should we choose to be a humanizing company?

Humanizing companies, however, go further.


A company is humanizing when it cares and acts helping to reach the integral human development of the whole person (professional and human development) and of all the people (from the top management to the workers of low professional qualification) involved in the company.
The humanizing companies are those that act with benevolence, seeking and wanting the good of each one of its members and always act with spirit and sense of service.
The humanizing companies seek to prevent and avoid discord, conflicts and toxic emotions (envy, resentment, etc.) which do nothing but distort the organization as a whole.


Why building human and humanizing organizations?

Practical aspects that help us understand why.

  • It is the same as any human institution
  • It is magnanimous
  • Promotes corporate coexistence and makes who builds it great
  • It has good consequences (motivation and cooperation)
  • Prevents injustice
  • Creates fair structures that favor care and benevolence
  • Leading in a fair way
  • Promotes justice, care and benevolence in others (starting with the closest ones)


Let us not forget that the germ of all violence is injustice. Therefore, it is convenient that the company has a clear definition of its mission and sets a code of ethics that defines the level of human quality in the treatment of its members.

It is about adopting solutions to foresee and remedy, to the greatest possible extent, the abuse and injustice situations that may arise in an organization and promote, at the same time, caring of people, feeling the other as “other me”.


If you want to delve into the subject, I recommend reading "Ética en la Dirección de Empresas" (1997) (Spanish) and "Human Foundations of Management" (2014) or "Management Ethics: Placing Ethics at the Core of Good Management" (2012) (English), by Prof. PhD. Domènec Melé.