‘New Things’ at the Golf Club.

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One can only hope that Brian will insist that Martyn Gibson pay his own drinks bill at the Golf Club. Martyn has been give a mandate on behalf of the owners of the club (BL) to review the business model in the absence of a general manager; he has taken this as giving him authority to make himself thoroughly unpleasant to Kathy (who manages the hospitality) with a glass constantly in his hand. Some of his criticisms are probably justified; Kathy probably has reason to be defensive about a management style that has favoured treading water over actively seeking to develop the business. But some of Martyn’s solutions seem to be brutal and may be counter-productive: will customers continue to eat at a place that offers smaller portions than the last time they lunched there? Do you improve takings by changing the menu without any market research?

Martin is determined to drive down the costs of the enterprise. His belief that there was excessive waste in the operation was belied by the data that Kathy presented to him, so he turned his attention to the staffing level. He has blocked all recruitment (despite Kathy having dismissed the bar manager) and decreed that each shift should be staffed by two fewer workers than has been the case until now. Kathy has the unenviable task  of telling employees that their hours (and therefore their wages) are to be cut. Which means (as surely Martin must know) that those who rely on their earnings to pay their rent or mortgage or to meet other necessary bills have had their lives made much more difficult.

However, Martyn might answer (if he could be bothered to engage with the issue as he adds ice to his G&T), this is a common dilemma for business leaders. Cut staff hours and employees struggle. Fail to cut costs and the business ceases to be viable; before long there is no business and the mortgage-payers are unemployed.

It is clear to the Christian that Martyn has missed something in his analysis. His argument is based entirely on ‘the bottom line’; his only concern is how to prevent the golf club haemorrhaging money or (as we are not told how critical the situation is) how to turn a very small profit into a much larger one. Kathy (whom Martyn derides as a ‘bleeding heart’) is more concerned about the human cost – what these policies are doing to the individuals concerned and to relationships in the workplace.

In this she is in line with a theological approach. In 1991, Pope John Paul II published the encyclical Centesimus Annus. The hundredth year of the title was the centenary of Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, the papal response to the economic and political situation in the late 19th century. As John Paul reminded us, the fundamental consideration in matters relating to the employment of people by a business is the inherent dignity of human beings. This dignity comes from the place that God accorded to humankind in creation and to the image of God which each human being carries.

That dignity is not found in the individual alone but in the community of persons. Work should contribute to that dignity; human beings find their sense of worth affirmed as they use well the gifts they have been given and the resources of creation which have been placed at their disposal. Within that understanding, the profit motive of business is not to be dismissed or condemned. On the contrary: profit is a sign of resources being used effectively and can be an indicator of human beings working together in a way that fulfils their calling:

“The Church acknowledges the legitimate role of profit as an indication  that a business is functioning well. When a firm makes a profit, this means that  productive factors have been properly employed and corresponding human needs  have been duly satisfied.”

However, Martyn Gibson take note:

“… profitability is not the only indicator of a  firm’s condition. It is possible for the financial accounts to be in order, and  yet for the people — who make up the firm’s most valuable asset — to be  humiliated and their dignity offended. Besides being morally inadmissible, this  will eventually have negative repercussions on the firm’s economic efficiency.  In fact, the purpose of a business firm is not simply to make a profit, but is  to be found in its very existence as a community of persons who in  various ways are endeavouring to satisfy their basic needs, and who form a  particular group at the service of the whole of society. Profit is a regulator  of the life of a business, but it is not the only one; other human and moral  factors must also be considered which, in the long term, are at least  equally important for the life of a business.”

(Quotations are from the English translation of Centesimus Annos: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_01051991_centesimus-annus_en.html accessed Aug 25th 2013)

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