How much is that employee worth?
The movie Worth portrays the work of Kenneth Feinberg and other attorneys assigned by the U.S. Attorney General to manage the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund. The film is based on Feinberg's book, What is Life Worth?
The film shows the attorneys wrestling with the challenge of trying to establish a formula to determine how much money to offer each family. Bound by the law, Feinberg was required to make individual determinations, not to give equal awards to all claimants. (Here is a short interview with Feinberg from 2021). This mathematical approach obviously fares poorly in conversations with the families of those who died. Some families of individuals killed in lower paying jobs are portrayed as grateful for what they are offered. Others are appalled that their loved ones--who worked in high paying jobs--weren't being offered more.
In the book, The Tyranny of Merit, philosopher Michael Sandel describes the problems created when an economic or moral philosophy aligns prosperity with merit and suffering with wrongdoing. Those who start out higher or are afforded advantages that make it easier for them to gain more education or wealth can easily believe they deserved those rewards. And they can easily begin to see others with less as having gotten what they deserved. Worse still, those who have less may believe how others see them. "If I have less or am paid less," someone begins to believe, "I must be worth less."
Organizational leaders should work to counter those tendencies. Sandel notes how important it is to try to help people separate the value the market places on a particular skillset or certain experience from the value of the human being filling a specific job. Leaders should not let the value the organization places on particular departments, because of those departments' comparative impact on the organization's success, affect how they treat individuals working in those departments.
It's understandable that the chief financial officer responsible for the sound stewardship of millions or billions of dollars of earned revenue, assets, and/or grants or philanthropic contributions is paid more than a project manager responsible for the logistics of company meetings. But it's unconscionable for the CFO to treat the project manager with disdain because the CFO sees herself as a more important person than the project manager. Both individuals are human beings worthy of equal respect and dignity from their managers, peers, and subordinates.
What can you do, today, to help others see this truth? How can you help your team be mindful of the difference between compensation, organizational asset allocation, and the inherent and equal dignity of each human being contributing to the organization's success?