“In the realm of ends, everything has either a price or dignity. Whatever has a price can be replaced by something else its equivalent; on the other hand, whatever is above all price, and therefore admits of no equivalent, has a dignity” Immanuel Kant
The relationship between an Employer and an Employee is important in the world of business and causes a considerable amount of stress and strain. There are employers who do not trust their employees, while some employees think of their employee as a least competent person and individual. Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative helps understand the way this relationship of an employer and employee be viewed.
Imannual Kant’s ethical and moral theory is an established and a very well-known fact and is considered to be important. Kant’s ethical theory is also known as “respect for persons”. Kant calls his basic moral principle, as the “Categorical Imperative”. An imperative is a command. The concept/idea of a categorical imperative can be understood and easily explained using “hypothetical imperative”. The “hypothetical imperative” can be considered as an opposite towards the “categorical imperative”. The hypothetical imperative tells an individual the steps needed to be done that will eventually help them in reaching their goal. Kantian ethics differs greatly from the “Utilitarianism” and is more of a “Deontological” point of view. The basis of which isn’t defined. For a Kantian, his/her morals, ethics and values come from their own practical and non-judgemental reasoning and belief.
Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative
Numerous ethical theories have existed throughout history. They were formed, by attempting to answer the questions on moral philosophy. The basic questions, “Why be ethical”, and “what does being ethical mean” is still debated. The second question, has led to the development of ethical
The theories of consequentialism focus on the result of actions. If the end result is a good one, then the action is morally acceptable. According to Kant, the theories of consequentialism depended much on empirical proof. These theories could not guarantee that the actions taken were either wrong or right, to which the situations might differ and could change the result. Kant focused more on reason and he believed that this reason alone could create a moral and ethical law.
The ethical, honest and decent truths created have to be reasonable, logical, consistent and free from internal contradiction and biasness. A categorical command binds on all logical and realistic proxies even when there are other possible considerations. This can be considered as a universal command and all commands of duty can be created and formed. Kant’s “Categorical Imperative” states that an individual should act in a way that can change our action to become a universal law. With this statement, it is not always possible to logically make the maxims of a person’s actions into a “Universal law”. Kant’s theory of ethics states/shows a clear way on how to act in situations. The theory is neither hypothetical nor based on the end results, the consequences.
The most basic belief of Kantian ethics is that all humans are worthy and are priceless as they are rational, reasonable and logical beings. As a realistic individual, one should treat every person with respect and should never treat them or use them for one’s own benefit.
In Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, Kant wrote that one should always treat another the way you wanted to be treated, and not to use them for one’s own selfish motives or reasons. People are not objects that one can use and dispose of after getting what we wanted. The manager, the employee should not be treated as anything less than a human.
Employer and Employee
Businesses consists of individuals who work together to achieve a common goal. Business in simple terms, is people who work together to provide others with goods and services and is considered as an action by and for humans. With this in mind both managers and employees should begin to act as rational beings.
Ethics of Business
Business ethics keeps in mind the moral duty between an employer and employee, a company and its consumers. For many people, business is often seen as to make more profit for its owners or shareholders. Others feel that business should have a social responsibility and moral responsibility to their shareholders including employees, consumers, society and the environment as a whole.
Redundancies involve sacking people in order to reduce organizational costs. It is legal if some procedures are followed. Every employee working in an organization has their rights as employees and shareholders/stakeholders.
The stakeholder/shareholder theory is a theory of organizational management and business ethics that addresses morals and values. The shareholders are the owners of the company. The company has a binding legal duty and moral obligation and duty to put the employee’s needs and increase value for them.
There are different forms of redundancy. Some redundancies happen because the company no longer carries out the business that the employees are hired for. The company no longer has operations in a particular country they work. Some employees may be laid off, to reduce organizational costs. This would mean, cost cutting. Redundancies can either be compulsory or non-compulsory. An employee, who gets selected to be laid off, should not be selected unfairly.
Kant believed in morality. His Categorical Imperative states that people should act according to the maxims that they would see as universal norms. Immanuel Kant’s theory involves the requirement of trust, following rules and not breaking promises and deals and the importance of acting due to the duty.
Hence, the company or the employer has a moral obligation and a duty towards its employees. Sacking its employees, in order to reduce organizational costs could be a valid reason for the employer, but to the employees, it is not considered to be a valid reason to become redundant. Using Kant’s respect for persons, it can be argued that there could be other ways for the company to reduce organizational costs. The sacking of employees may be legally right but it is ethically and morally wrong.
A business behaving in a good way only to impress customers is not being moral. Kantian ethics does not permit both employees and employers to be treated as means to an end, even if the end is profit. It is not ethical and morally right, to lay off employees to save on organizational and management costs. When an employee loses his job, there will be an increased amount of pressure and strain on him/her. In some cases and some countries like Germany, the law requires a well in advance termination notice. The German Union is comparatively stronger than any other laws that require to be followed elsewhere in the world.
The formula of universal law still has a few problems, and this universal test is not the only option for the principle of morality. Kant argues that every individual must respect themselves in order to be respectful to other individuals and their views. “Respect for Persons” is respect for moral and value ethics/law and is within each individual. It is this that lets us choose and differentiate between right and wrong.
Kant also argues that people with dignity have an unconditional value that does not have a price. People are not things, and they have a unique and special dignity.
In some cases when, an employee gets laid off, the other employees could see this lay off as a warning for them. They could also be the next in line, in case if the company decides to sack employees to further reduce organizational costs. In these cases some employees may start to perform better in the fear of losing their jobs. The other ways a company can save costs by improving processes due to possible process inefficiencies, reorganizing/restructuring, review of tools, methods and various combinations of these. In addition, depending on specific situations, companies may choose to look outside to reduce costs.
For e.g., simplification of supply chain (no. of suppliers), contract re-negotiations, procurement processes, better discounts for raw materials being used in the companies.
However there is no simple solution, each “cost reduction” exercise has to be dealt with based on the specific situations and circumstance.
Substantive values and principles are beyond the value of independence and hence are inconsistent with Kantian Rationalism. A Kantian moral theory should be based directly on the dignity of humans.
John Rawls, “Two Concepts of Rules”. Philosophical Review 64, 1955 H. B. Acton, Kant’s Moral Philosophy, Macmillan, St. Martin’s Press, 1970, pp. 24-25 H. J. Paton, The Categorical Imperative (1947). University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971, pp. 146-157
Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (1781 and 1787), A 686-687; B 714-715. Translated by Norman Kemp Smith, Macmillan, St. Martin’s Press, 1965, p. 560