July 3, 2008

Liberty, Personal Freedom and Business

On the eve of July 4th, 2008, it is worth reflecting on the state of freedom in the US. I am thinking particularly of how it relates to the world of work and business.

Our country is founded on the notion of personal freedom and liberty for all. As a nation in our daily practices, we are getting closer to reaching the goal of "liberty for all", though we aren't quite there yet.

I find myself curious about the existence, or curtailment, of personal freedom in our work world. Upon entering an organization, we endure drug tests, reviews of our criminal background, credit checks and reference checks. Some companies are checking the weight of their employees and deducting money from their paychecks if they are overweight--why not, health care costs are increasing exponentially?

Sometimes these invasions of privacy make sense--like when safety is a factor or for high stakes positions. But all too often, they aren't necessary and can be counterproductive. For example, I recently heard of a situation in which a background check pulled up a criminal charge that was an error---the individual had been arrested but charges were dropped when it was determined the arrest was without merit. The charges were supposed to be cleared from the record, but they weren't. The individual was not hired for a job for which he had been considered a perfect fit.

How often do these events occur? We have no way of knowing, really. But one must wonder why it is acceptable to curtail our individual freedom in such a significant way when it comes to business settings. The usual response to this issue is---"You don't have to work there, if you don't agree with the policy". True, we do have the freedom to walk away; but what happens when those policies become pervasive ? Where does one "walk away" to?

Liberty is always a balance between individual freedom and the greater good. And LEADERSHIP means having the courage to ask the difficult questions and challenge the status quo, even when it is unpopular.

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