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April 4, 2011 6:32 AM Age: 6 yrs

Accountability over the Long Term

Category: AC GAI Billboard, AC RSS Feeds, AC RSS, AC Whats New, A/F Commentary & Opinion, CM Commentary & Opinion, CSR Commentary & Opinion, Ethics Commentary & Opinion, Eleanor Bloxham, ESG Highlighted Commentary
Source:  Eleanor Bloxham

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The tenth anniversary of 9/11 is fast approaching and the differences in our world today from just ten years ago are startling.

Ten years ago the police and firefighters were the symbols held up to us as the face of US heroism. Today, governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere have worked to strip the rights and shrink the paychecks and pensions of the police and firefighters -- and those who teach our children and grandchildren.

While the actions of the governors may seem like a quick and easy win/win solution for them to contain costs while propelling their careers, the long term consequences are worth considering from a management and leadership perspective.

It is well recognized that those who feel appreciated will be more engaged and do better work. Recent research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology supports this fact and shows that "social value", a sense that what one does is being valued by others, dramatically impacts an individual's motivation to act. Info at:  http://www.management.wharton.upenn.edu/grant/GrantGino_JPSP2010.pdf

The study notes that "individuals often withhold help because they are uncertain about whether beneficiaries will value their help" and "an expression of gratitude can reduce the helper's experience of uncertainty about whether the help will be appreciated."

 

Recently a teacher in Wisconsin wrote to me: "Teachers ... are so demoralized!  Sad to say after 39 years of loving my students, I'm glad we told [our daughter] we wouldn’t help pay for college if she chose to teach…My sister-in-law is a teacher in Ohio and also feels demoralized." Making police, firefighters or teachers feel de-valued and under-appreciated is likely to be a real recipe for disaster: namely, police, firefighters and teachers joining the ranks of the demoralized, less anxious to go the extra mile, to make a difference.

On September 11, 2001 the airplanes hit the twin towers, the visual symbol of our financial system and center. And the attacks there, and on the Pentagon, were dramatic examples of the anger of extremists about what our society represents – good and bad - materialism and greed, freedom and equality.

Ever since that strike, we have had to struggle with our own definitions of who we are.

As a nation, our lack of self reflection, in terms of the indictment of materialism and greed, put us on the collision course catapulting us toward the financial crisis.  Instead of heeding the words of Jack Bogle in [his book] Enough. in which he describes the professional and personal consequences of greed, we collectively decided you can never be too thin or too rich.

While there have been a few winners in the last decade, collectively we are now both less of either. And as it turns out, the two are related.

According to an Oxford University study published in January in the journal Economics and Human Biology "economic security plays a significant role in determining levels of obesity".

Info at:  http://www.ox.ac.uk/media/news_releases_for_journalists/110107.html

Countries with more social protections have seen lower increases of obesity; those with fewer social protections "are more likely to become obese due to the stress of being exposed to economic insecurity" the study authors conclude.

The countries with fewer protections had 30% more obese people, on average, the study found.  While Norway had the lowest obesity rate (5%) in the study, the US had the highest, at more than six times that amount.

The study shows that there is a reinforcing mechanism to societal protection. The more society picks up the tab for certain social goods like health, the less stress individuals feel, the healthier they are and the lower the overall price tag becomes.

The onset and increase of large-scale obesity in countries like the US began during the 1980s, the study authors note. Inequality in US pay also accelerated during this time as the pay differential between workers and top executives increased dramatically.  See:  http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1024&context=crs; http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120933662693248203.html

If we look at individual states within the US, the relationship between health and income inequality is not exact but shows enough correlation to be a cause for concern. http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/415/states-income-inequality.html#here http://calorielab.com/news/2010/06/28/fattest-states-2010/

For example, Mississippi, with the highest obesity rates in the nation, ranked third in income inequality in 2008. Utah had the lowest income inequality in 2008 and ranks 44th in obesity. However, New York, with its many distinct populations, was an anomaly. Ranked as the highest in income inequality in 2008, it only ranks 38th in obesity.

 As we look for leadership to solve the issues of joblessness, income, and health, it is important for us to remain grateful to the many – not just a few.

It is also important that we recognize the inter-relationship of each decision we make. The consequences of what may seem to be small decisions will impact our economy, our health, our equality and our well-being. That is because these are not individual short term challenges we face. They are multi-faceted and each individual decision has consequences that only a decade from now will become apparent.

Author: Eleanor Bloxham, a governance and valuation authority, is CEO of The Value Alliance and Corporate Governance Alliance (www.thevaluealliance.com), a board education and advisory firm,  and the author of the books Economic Value Management and Value-led Organizations. You can register for a complimentary subscription to her Digest publication at: http://www.thevaluealliance.com/cga_newsletter_signup.htm and to her blog at www.thebloxhamvoice.com.

Copyright 2011. The Value Alliance Company. All Rights Reserved.

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