As the 2012 Opus College of Business graduates get ready to enter or re-enter the workforce or re-energize their workplace, we wanted to share a Q&A with Christopher Michaelson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the ethics and business law department, about his research on meaningful work.
Q. What do you mean by “meaningful work”?
A. Meaningful work refers not only to work that is meaningful to the worker but that also contributes meaningfully to general well-being. Most people intuitively have an idea of what meaningful work is and whether they consider their own work to be meaningful. There is a lot of excellent research on why people do the kinds of work they do and what they think about it. However, comparatively few people consider why they ought to do the work they do in a moral sense. My research examines the morality of meaningful work, including whether we have a moral obligation to perform and/or provide it.
Q. Why is this topic of interest to you?
A. Some of the influential people in my life had relatively clear ideas about what kinds of work were morally acceptable for me to pursue. Sometimes, I joke that I became the wrong kind of doctor. My mother, a teacher, would really have liked me to have been a medical doctor for a meaningful reason: Doctors help others, and in doing so make the world better. There are good reasons why doctors are generally held in high esteem. The fact that the market often compensates them well seems an appropriate reward for their efforts. Similarly, teachers help others improve our world, but they are often not as well-compensated. In my career as a teacher of business students and as a business person, I have tried to encourage my students and business organizations to consider ways in which business can and does enhance well-being. I promote exploration of how the market can or should reward such efforts. Continue Reading
As the new year starts off, we’re counting down the ten most popular posts on Opus Magnum from 2012. Today we’re at #5, a fitting post for the new year, too if you’re sitting there in your office and wondering where your job/career may take you in 2013. We asked Christopher Michaelson, Ph.D., “What is meaningful work?”
His most surprising finding?
After several years of talking with people about meaningful work, it should no longer surprise me to meet people for whom meaningful work is not seemingly a high priority. However, it does continue to surprise me. Usually what I find is that there are competing pressures preventing them from seeking meaningful work. Those pressures will continue to hold sway if we don’t, as a society and species, continue to examine and refine our values that determine why we do what we do.
James White, executive vice president and president, Latin America, Ecolab, Inc.
Christopher O’Leary, executive vice president and international chief operating officer, General Mills
Eric Buss, executive vice president for Life Time Fitness, Inc.
The Opus College of Business recently hosted a panel of top executives who discussed themes PwC’s annual global CEO survey. The executives shared a great deal of advice on succeeding in the ever-changing job market — and traits they look for when hiring. This post is a compilation of reflections on the event from Ben Carlson, Kirsten Haukoos, Maura Hinken, Shanthi Kelaart and Bonnie Wu, students in professor Christopher Michaelson’s undergraduate business ethics course.
The discussion was opened up by a few questions and statistics and one that stuck out was the fact that in 2012 most CEOs are planning on increasing their hiring and headcount. Eric Buss, from Life Time Fitness, is in charge of human resources, corporate development, risk management, and education functions. James White of Ecolab, is in charge of the daily operations in Latin American countries with an Ecolab presence. Chris O’Leary, from General Mills, oversees the businesses outside of the U.S., with responsibility for nearly 14,000 employees in more than 100 countries. The speakers gave the students attending a good idea of how the business world is changing, and the important qualities of successful employees: Continue Reading
Maybe it’s the fact that if you removed the ‘R’, “Romney” would be an anagram for “money”. It seems as though he really believes that money can buy happiness.
Economists refer to the conception of human beings as rationally self-interested actors motivated primarily by economic gain as homo economicus, or economic man. Some actually believe that in the final analysis, all we really care about is economic self-interest, and so we may as well reward profit-maximizers with hopes that there will be enough leftovers to suppress social unrest. Other economists — and, increasingly, primatologists, ethicists, and psychologists, among others — see homo economicus as representing a crude caricature of human motivation, only marginally useful as a predictor of collective action. They are convinced that human beings are curious, creative, compassionate, and cooperative social creatures who care about money as a means to a multiplicity of worthwhile human ends. Continue Reading
“The purpose of business is to serve people” was the mantra of one of the Center for Ethical Business Cultures’s founding members, David Koch, the former CEO of Graco Inc. Following four years of research from prominent academics from around the country, the center is nearing the publication of a landmark book, Corporate Responsibility – An American Experience, that speaks directly to the question of “to whom and for what is the modern corporation responsible?”
A distinguished panel of respondents joined Andy McCormick of the Hershey Company in providing insight into the question of corporate responsibility in a CEBC public forum. Panelists included: Jim Harkness, president of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (the voice of a non-governmental organization); Mark Murphy, assistant vice president of Cargill responsible for Corporate Affairs, Corporate Responsibility and the Cargill Foundation (the voice of business); and Christopher Michaelson, Ph.D., associate professor of Ethics and Business Law in the Opus College of Business (the voice of academia). Continue Reading
Back in December Christopher Michaelson, Ph.D., assistant professor of Ethics and Business Law at the University of St. Thomas, Opus College of Business posted a commentary here on Opus Magnum, “‘Tis Better to Give than to Give Back.” This post sparked a conversation between Michaelson and Michael A. Pink, Chairman and Executive Director of Investing In Communities, a nonprofit social enterprise that enables individuals and businesses to fund nonprofits for free through brokered real estate transactions. Below are excerpts from that conversation – we encourage you to chime in with your thoughts in the comments.
Michaelson’s basic argument:
The very phrase, “giving back” implies a degree of culpability for having taken away, in contrast to simply “giving,” which one can do selflessly, without transactional motivation… None of this is to discourage or embarrass those who give back, which is a far better thing to do than to do nothing at all… this culture of giving back only partially remedies market imperfections and luck that allocate excessive rewards to be given back by a relatively small class of superstar executives and entertainers and superpower corporations and countries. Perhaps the greatest gift that the fortunate few and tomorrow’s entrepreneurs can offer to improve our shared future is social enterprise that – by inventing and promulgating products and services that make the world better – generates a surplus of well-being rather than a surplus that has subsequently to be given back.
Pink: The model we are building, which we call Investing In Communities, occurs outside the typical context of social enterprise and is independent of personal wealth. I would like to know where you think we are located on the continuum. It links a market “inefficiency” in the practice of real estate with the passion of those who support an organization. It’s a way for commerce itself, as it occurs, to benefit the client, the professional, and society. By facilitating the acquisition of business opportunity at below typical business development costs, a fraction of the “surplus profit” is made available to fund philanthropy. As the model scales, it will prove fundamentally sustainable, being self-propelled by two things that will never go out of fashion – profit motive and compassion. As we are able, we’ll work to expand this model beyond real estate, into the rest of commercial/consumer life. Continue Reading
When asked, at the February 9 Intersections in Ethics event, if she was the conscience of Best Buy, Kathleen Edmond, the company’s chief ethics officer, smiled and replied “I’m the air traffic controller.”
More than 250 guests registered for this second event in the Intersections series, drawn not only by the topic, but by the participants: Edmond was joined by Dr. Kenneth Goodpaster, the Opus College of Business Endowed Chair in Ethics. In a wide-ranging conversation moderated by Christopher Michaelson, assistant professor in the college’s Ethics and Business Law Department, Edmond and Goodpaster explored the impact a clear-eyed approach to business ethics can have on employee morale as well as the bottom line. Continue Reading
Christopher Michaelson, Ph.D., assistant professor of ethics and business law here at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business published an article about the World Economic Forum in Davos on theHuffington PostTuesday.
As world leaders prepared for the World Economic Forum‘s annual fête in Davos, Switzerland in January, the event continued to embody what is arguably the most pressing irony of capitalism today. The problem of too much — over-consumption, excessive rewards for an elite few — flaunts alongside the problem of too little — resource scarcity and extreme poverty for a less fortunate many. As politically and economically motivated uprisings sprouted around the world this past year, these problems also coexisted at Davos, one seeking to help solve the other while at the same time being blamed for being its primary cause. Continue Reading
‘Tis the season to give back. Last year in the United States, total charitable giving of more than 2% of GDP was redistributed from wealthy corporations and the well-to-do to comparatively needy organizations and the poor whose activities do not earn them enough in the free market. Much of that giving typically occurs around the December holidays – motivated by, for example, Salvation Army bell-ringers and United Way corporate campaigns taking advantage of the holiday spirit, and by the accidental timing of tragedy: the Bam earthquake in December 2003, the Indian Ocean tsunami a year later and the Haitian earthquake that struck in January 2010. This year, in many cases, the very bankers who were blamed for the global recession will head up the lists of most magnanimous companies and individuals.
Although giving back has decreased moderately since the recession, need has grown. More Americans are living below or treacherously close to the poverty line, and over one billion people worldwide earn less than $1.25 a day. Meanwhile, the wealthiest 20% of Americans account for more than 80% of total American wealth. Many of them recognize they have more than enough for themselves and a surplus to give back; paradoxically, relatively fewer support a tax structure that would rein in the widening wealth gap. A similar surface paradox subsists in foreign aid: While the United States ranks at the top of the list in the amount of official development assistance provided to poorer nations, it is near the bottom when that total is expressed as a percentage of gross national income. Continue Reading
I was just discussing this with a colleague the other day, and I couldn’t agree more:
Many employees today are motivated by an interest in meaningful work, not just economic rewards.
Christopher M. Michaelson, an assistant professor in UST’s Ethics and Business Law Department recently published an article, “Teaching Meaningful Work: Philosophical Discussions on the Ethics of Career Choice,” in the Journal of Business Ethics Education and discussed some of the ideas related to his study of “The Importance of Meaningful Work” in The Magazine from the MIT Sloan Management Review. Continue Reading