Ethics of Care in Business

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

The idea that no man is an island means that humans, inherently, cannot survive alone. Every human is in constant interaction with the environment which is comprised of other humans, systems, nature, emotions, etc.--technically anything that is in this world, abstract and concrete, internal and external. Caring for those around us, therefore, is inarguably an indispensable foundation that must never be overlooked in whatever goal that pushes us to move forward in life.

We all have a basic need to feel cared about and I do not know anybody who does not yearn for it. Furthermore, a caring relationship is universal and applicable in all environmental settings (home, school, work, church, etc.) and facets of living (physical, emotional, spiritual, and social).

Corporations are places in which both individual human beings and human communities engage in caring activities that are aimed at mutual support and unparalleled human achievement. —R. Edward Freeman and Jeanne Liedtke (1991)

In the past years, we have witnessed markets worldwide struggle to recover. If you watch business news, you'll be so informed how even big names in the business world try to put on their best effort to combat an ailing economy. For an instance, here in the US we have witnessed (and read news about) prominent brands close quite a number of stores and others filed for bankruptcy. Among these are Abercrombie & Fitch, Aerosoles, American Apparel, BCBG, Bon-Ton Stores Inc., The Children's Place, CVS, Dressbarn, Dollar Tree, Fred's, Foot Locker, Forever 21, Gap, Guess, Gymboree, Hhgregg, J.C. Penny, Macy's, Michael Kors, Payless, RadioShack, Sears/Kmart, Signet Jewelers, Shopko, Topshop, Toys R Us, Victoria's Secret, and Wet Seal.

It is unfair and illegitimate to conclude that these stores have suffered losses because of poor management. However, it is essential that entrepreneurs look into paradigms which when applied can improve businesses better. Oftentimes, higher level managers or business owners tend to have a tunnel vision towards making profit, but give little considerations on what actually fuel those involved in the production of products or services to become productive or engaged. Lack in strategies to create a work culture environment that foster business values and commitment is detrimental to an enterprise's success.

Although care ethics may sound feministic, setting aside stereotyping and putting it in a gender-neutral view will aid those in the business world to find value in its perspectives--especially that entrepreneurship is generally dominated by men. Besides, building strong and positive relationships is at the core of every business venture's success.

A caring relationship, whether personal or professional, requires at least two committed individuals: the one caring and the other being cared for. Caring is about valuing relationships and embracing responsibilities that come with it. It involves being empathic towards others and finding ways on how to offer good help. Note that to care not only means to act, but also to give the right attitude.

You must remember that most people would be able to discern a genuine caring act, and it is through sincerity that relationships flourish. Your caring motives must, therefore, be clearly perceived by the one you are caring for as you share quality time and positive interactions. Caringness must be well-articulated in words or gestures because it is through communication that we build relationship bridges. Effective communication is the pillar of establishing trust and commitment among our fellows.

Read my article on 20 Effective Communication Techniques for Better Interpersonal and Interprofessional Relationships. It will give you powerful communication skills based on the concepts of caring/ helping.

Joan Tronto, a professor of political science and women's studies and author of Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care, posits that the four ethical elements of care are:

1. Attentiveness. It enables us to recognize the needs of others so we can appropriately provide help. The question that arises is the distinction between ignorance and attentiveness. Tronto poses this question as such, "But when is ignorance simply ignorance, and when is it inattentiveness?"
2. Responsibility. In order to care, we must take it upon ourselves, thus responsibility. The problem associated with this second element of responsibility is the question of obligation. As Tronto differentiates, responsibility is ambiguous, whereas obligation refers to situations where action or reaction is due, such as the case of a legal contract.
3. Competence. To provide care also means competency. One cannot simply acknowledge the need to care, accept the responsibility, but not follow through with enough adequacy - as such action would result in the need of care not being met.
4. Responsiveness. This refers to the "responsiveness of the care receiver to the care". Tronto states, "Responsiveness signals an important moral problem within care: by its nature, care is concerned with conditions of vulnerability and inequality". She further argues responsiveness does not equal reciprocity. Rather, it is another method to understand vulnerability and inequality by understanding what has been expressed by those in the vulnerable position, as opposed to re-imagining oneself in a similar situation.

Compromising, as each party gives up something, and accommodating, where only one party sacrifices something, are also common components of a caring relationship. It is important to remember though that being able to meet all needs is next to impossible.

If you try to care more than what you can physically, emotionally, mentally, and/or financially do, you'll be prone to developing caring burnout where you get physically; emotionally; and mentally exhausted. The worst thing that could happen if you get caring burnout is a shift in attitude from being positive and caring into negative and unconcerned--at this stage you abandon the virtue of care. It is therefore important that you have self-awareness of your own capabilities and limitations. Moreover, caution is advised in implementing care ethics because imprudence can result to an excessively dependent relationship between the carer and the individual or group being cared for. We would always want to offer 'good help' and not 'bad help'. Be watchful when others try to abuse your vulnerabilities as a caring person-- you being a family member, friend, leader, manager, colleague, etc.

Although setting boundaries can give rise to moral questions, it is fair to say that we cannot sustain building caring relationship with others if we already become devastated by too much selflessness; besides, caring should not override fairness. Everything requires a balancing act to ensure optimal positive experiences.

In was mentioned the book Selflessness in Business as edited by Dominika Ochnik that:

Caring operates in product markets, resource markets, and financial markets through generous merchants and grateful customers, workers who are especially attentive to the quality of tasks they are assigned, through resource holders for whom profitability and sustainability are everyday concerns, and through financial planners who live out their fiduciary obligation and investors who trust and are grateful to those planners for successfully managing their portfolios in financial markets too complex for the typical investor.

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