A revealing and influential TEDx Talk delivered by Raj Sisodia, where he discusses the benefits that can be derived when organizations put people first. Take care of the people and the people will take care of the business.
Raj Sisodia: We live in a world of extraordinary, unbearable, almost unimaginable suffering. Alongside all the joy and beauty, of course, that exists in the world, but did you know that today, 29,000 children under the age of five will die from preventable causes, that 91 Americans will die today from opioid overdoses adding to the half million that have died since 2000. That 40 million of our fellow Americans over the age of 18 suffer from debilitating anxiety. We’re living actually in the most peaceful time in human history when it comes to physical violence. Fewer people are being killed by murderers, by in Wars, even by terrorists.
There’s less domestic violence, there’s less bullying, all of that is wonderful, but the amount of psychic suffering is rising. Suicide rates in this country have risen 24% in the last 15 years. A lot of this has to do with how we lead our lives, and how we work. That’s what I want to explore with you today. But when there is so much suffering in the world, how can we not each of us? At some level define our personal purpose as in some way alleviating some of that suffering in our span of care, and bringing joy, elevating joy, alleviating suffering, and can we do that as individuals? Can we do that as organizations?
It doesn’t matter what you do, you have an impact where you can alleviate suffering and bring more joy, and that needs to be our Metta purpose. I believe consciously chosen, because if we do not consciously choose to be part of the healing, we are probably inadvertently part of the hurting. They say that you will see it when you believe it. If you don’t recognize, it’s like the wake that a boat leaves behind. If you don’t turn around to look, you’ll never see the impact that you’re actually having. How much hurting may be happening as a result of your decisions, as a manager, as a leader, even as a parent?
With all the suffering in the world, a lot of it is self-inflicted, a lot of suffering happens because we don’t know how to think about life, we don’t know how to manager regulate our own emotions. There are ways that we can actually address that. We can help people in our span of care, address that as well. I was at a conference a couple of years ago and there was a Holocaust survivor there named Dr. Edith Eva Eger, survived Auschwitz. She said a couple of things that I remember she said, “You know the greatest Nazi’s inside us.” This is a woman who experienced Auschwitz. Okay?
We torment ourselves and we don’t need to. There are ways that we can learn how to think about that, but people need help, they can’t get there on their own. The other thing she says is that we are victims of victims. The people who torment us were themselves tormented, and so if you look at all the suffering that’s inflicted by us on each other, especially, in the context of work by managers, by bosses, and supervisors. I don’t know about you, but nobody really wants to be managed, nobody likes to be bossed, nobody likes to be supervised, and yet that’s the lived experience for most people and a lot of those are toxic relationships.
A lot of that suffering comes from work, related to sometimes those kinds of relationships. The fact is that almost all of this suffering is unnecessary, and it does not serve a higher purpose. There’s one thing Viktor Frankl talked about finding meaning in your suffering. The mother who lost a child to a drunk driver who went on to found Mothers Against Drunk Driving saved who knows how many thousands of other children, she found meaning in her suffering, but there is no inherent honor in suffering that serves no higher purpose and that’s what I want to talk about today.
There is extraordinary amount of suffering that actually does not- is unnecessary, and it doesn’t serve a higher purpose. As human beings, how can we turn a blind eye to that suffering when we actually have in our hands the ability to do something about it? We need healing all over. We need healing in every aspect, every sphere. We certainly need to heal ourselves, our families, our communities, need healing. We need to heal our companies, and I’m going to focus a lot on that and our countries. Many countries today are more divided than ever before, and we have something that we need to do about that as businesses.
We need to heal our planet. We know about all of the things that are happening with the planet and all the species that are becoming extinct. We need to heal all the life that’s on our planet, and we also need to heal the past before we can move on to healing the present and the future. In South Africa, after the end of apartheid nearly 30 years ago, they went through a truth and reconciliation process that allowed them to move past the extraordinary suffering and violence that had existed there. If they hadn’t done that, they would have had decades of revenge fuel violence.
I think in this country we need to learn that lesson, we have not moved, we have not healed our past in so many ways. We need to do that even within the context of business. We need to understand what has happened in the past, out of ignorance, out of lower consciousness, whatever it might be so that we can actually heal today and also heal into the future. Businesses and corporations have a lot to do with all of this, because in this country out of $25 trillion of economic activity, $20 trillion actually is accounted for by businesses. Governments is about $3.5 trillion and nonprofits about $1.5 trillion.
Businesses have a disproportionate huge impact, especially, in free societies like ours. The sad reality is that most businesses actually are a source of livelihood, of course, and goods and services, but they also are a source of suffering, of hurting. Because think about it, people go into businesses they’re healthy and whole relatively when they start their careers. What happens over time? They get burned out, they get stressed out, they develop all these chronic conditions.
Do you know that heart attacks are highest on Monday morning? It’s 4:00 AM, Monday morning is the peak of heart attacks. Why do we say thank God it’s Friday, because work is for many of us, it’s the hellish ordeal to be survived. 88% of Americans work for a company they feel doesn’t treat them as a human being. We just views them as an object, a function of what they do, and 87% of people worldwide are disengaged in their work. This is the normal state of affairs at most companies. It doesn’t have to be this way. As a result of all of that we have what I would call an epidemic of silent suffering, and it is largely silent.
People are stoic and people are even heroic. If I could put a thought bubble over everybody that I meet, you would find out what burdens people are struggling under, what extraordinary stress and distress people are coming to work with, and then going home with, as a result of that works. A lot of the silent suffering and unless we figure out how we can elicit this and listen to it, we will never know.
Now, we live in a time of almost full employment, there’s 96% employment in this country, unemployment is just 4.1%. Yet, the reality is that the majority of working people, people with full-time jobs are actually living lives of quiet desperation, they’re on the edge of disaster, they’re one small episode away from losing it all.
Couple of sobering statistics, 50% of Americans, if they needed to come up with $2,000 within 30 days to deal with some kind of an emergency, their car, their heating system something with the health of a family member, they would not be able to. Which means they would lose potentially everything, because they can’t come up with money and most of those people cannot go to their employer, and say I need help. They’ve tapped into their family and everybody else, but they can’t come up with this, 50% of us in one of the richest countries the world has ever seen. How is this acceptable?
Nearly 60% of American households are technically insolvent and adding to their debt loss, they have a negative net worth, they haven’t declared bankruptcy, but they are bankrupt if you really look at their financials. 60% of American households, how is this okay? Well, I’ll tell you where it came from. In the last 35 years, worker pay has increased 10% in 35 years. CEO pay has gone up 937% that is unconscious capitalism, that is exploiting and using the system to benefit a few, that leads to revolutions. We have to change the way we practice business, it’s not about using and exploiting people to achieve profits, it’s about putting people at the center, human dignity as the highest value.
The human cost of doing business has become unacceptably high. We are very sophisticated at doing cost accounting. We know every single cause, but we don’t measure suffering. What are the sacrifices that we’re having people make? Here’s the greatest irony, even our healing professions have become places of extraordinary suffering. Doctors, nurses, veterinarians– you know doctors have twice the suicide rate of most American? 15% of doctors actually are addicted to prescription drugs. Even places of healing have become places of suffering, because of the way we work.
Clearly, the way that we work isn’t working. We need to change that. I mean to recognize the consequences of the way in which we’ve been operating. A matter of fact is, that if you do it right, business actually can alleviate suffering and elevate joy, it does that. Conscious businesses, caring businesses actually take people who are broken, burned out, stressed out, almost in a post-traumatic stress situation, and over time they can become whole again.
This is not about healing businesses. This is not about starting a yoga or a massage business. This is saying any business at all, every single business can be a healing business about business itself as a healing occupation, as a healing activity. How is that even possible? How can we do that? How can business be a source and a force for healing?
Well, the first thing we have to do is confront this. As James Baldwin said, not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. If we turn a blind eye to the suffering, that is going on right under our noses, in our corporations, in our organizations of any kind, we will never be able to address that. We have to look at it squarely.
I’ll give you an example. A company called Appletree Answers, which is a call center company. They discovered that they were really have two different distinct categories of people in their company. They have a salaried professional class, very happy, highly engaged, low turnover, and then there are people actually doing the work, 80% of the people in their company, hourly paid, with 118% turnover. Which means they last about nine months. Extremely low engagement.
They started to find out what’s happening there. The CEO was determined to do something about elevating their lives and recognizing how the financial distress that they’re under, figuring out how to pay them more and so forth. They started a program called Dream On, kind of like Make-A-Wish. They asked people, tell us if they’re facing a situation in your life where you need help. For a couple of weeks, nobody responded because people, as I said, are stoic. They don’t want to appear unprofessional, asking for help, being vulnerable is seen as a liability. Vulnerability is an ability. It’s right in the word.
Finally, a woman came forward and said my husband stopped paying alimony and I got evicted from our apartment last week. My children and I have been living in a car for a week and I can’t do this to them anymore. I need help. Sorry. The CEO got this note and the only thing he felt was shame. He said, “I started this company. I’m employing these people full-time and one of my people is homeless. How is that acceptable?”
They got her into a hotel that night. Got her an apartment, helped to furnish it, paid all this. Did all that within a week and after that, the floodgates opened. People saw what had happened and dozens of stories came pouring out. A number of other people were also homeless and dealing with all kinds of extraordinary stress. Again, you will see it when you believe it.
There are industries where we have rules of how we operate. This is how we do things in consulting. This is how we do things in construction. This is how we do things in a restaurant. But it doesn’t have to be done that way because most of those are dehumanizing and they don’t put people at the center and they don’t think about what’s happening to their lives.
There’s a consulting company here in Atlanta, Jabian started by a couple of ex-McKinsey people, who when they went through their careers at McKinsey, essentially, didn’t see their kids from Monday to Thursday because that’s what you do in consulting. You’re at a client site. They missed the childhoods of their children. They said that’s an irreplaceable loss. There’s no amount of money that’s going to make up for that. When they started Jabian, they said we are going to make it a norm that all of our clients are local so you don’t have to travel, because children are also our stakeholders. The children of our employees matter. Their well-being is important.
It hasn’t hurt them in any way. In fact, they have three of the top 20 consultants in this country have chosen to work for this company here in Atlanta. Because this matters and nobody ever questions this. Nobody ever says “Well, I’m a consultant. Do I not have to travel?” Yes, that’s what you do, but doesn’t have to be that way. We can challenge and there are many stories like that, that we have challenging the industry standards.
We have a great deal of social sadness. If you look at in this country, what’s the biggest source? One of them is our prison system. America incarcerates a larger percentage by far of its population than any other country in the world including North Korea and China and any other– Cuba, et cetera. The fact is 17 million Americans have some kind of a criminal record. They have to check that box that says have you ever been convicted. Same number of people that have a college degree, have some kind of a criminal record. For many, many of those doors are closed, doors to opportunities. They’ve served their time. It is a non-violent offense, whatever it was. Some trivial thing for in many cases and then they come out and they don’t get the opportunity that they need.
Greyston Bakery, a company in Yonkers started by a rabbi, basically has open hiring. If you need a job, you put your name on the list and they just go down the list. They hire the next person. No background checks, no interviews. They train them, give them a job. This is one of the people that worked with Andrew. He says, he had been in prison three times. Most recently for three years. Every time he came out, he couldn’t find a job and eventually ended up going back to doing whatever got him in trouble in the first place.
Finally, he found a job here and he had tears when he was speaking at our conference. He has a three-year-old daughter and he said, “If it weren’t for this company, I would either be dead or back in jail.” They said, “We don’t hire people to make brownies. We bake brownies to hire people.” This is what business can do. Business can create opportunity. Everything I’m talking about here, these are for-profit businesses.
They’re wonderful nonprofits out there that do these kinds of things, but business can do it too. You don’t have to be just the source of suffering. We can actually be the cure for suffering. We can heal communities. There’s wonderful stories coming out of Houston. All these companies that have stepped forward. For example HEB, which is a grocery chain, headquartered in San Antonio. They are known for what they do in times of crisis. They actually have their own disaster relief operation that shows up before FEMA and before the Red Cross in communities, and they use helicopters to move drivers around. They reopen all their stores within three days ahead of anybody else because they really are embedded and care about the people in those communities.
Whether you have a healing organization or a hurting organization depends on the leader. You cannot have a conscious company without a conscious leader. You cannot have a healing organization without a leader who has love in their heart and cares for people because what’s inside us gets manifested outside. The macrocosm is a reflection of the microcosm.
We have to have leaders who actually care about people and purpose and then reflect that in their organizations. We have to hire people who are like that as opposed to people who just deliver the numbers. Because all great leaders as John Kenneth Galbraith said, have one characteristic in common. The willingness to confront unequivocally, the major anxiety of people in their time and leaders who don’t do that, add to the anxiety and the suffering. Leadership matters a great deal at every level of political end in business.
As the Dalai Lama said, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. If we cannot help them, don’t hurt them.” Unfortunately, that is what we are doing. We’re doing it out of ignorance, not out of spite. But we’re doing it also because we put the wrong people in charge. We have too many managers, bosses and supervisors, not enough leaders. We have leaders who only care about the numbers.
You know that 20% of fast-rising executives in companies according to some studies have a personality profile that is similar to that of a sociopath because they will use people and climb over people. Do anything to deliver the numbers and the human consequences of that are never measured. In the general population, sociopathy is 1%. In prisons, it’s about 20%, prisons for extreme offenders is about 20%. That’s what we find in the world of business. That is what we have created.
What the hell are we doing in business? How can we accept this? How can we tolerate this? When we know there’s a better way and then when you operate in that other way, you actually succeed better. That’s our research in conscious capitalism has not shown. In the long term, you create far more financial wealth but you don’t do at the expense of human well-being. In fact, you elevate human flourishing alongside creating financial wealth, emotional well-being, spiritual well-being, ecological well-being, positive impact on the culture.
We have to take care of the people. “The business of business is people, yesterday, today and forever.” That’s what Kelleher said. Take care of the people and the people will take care of the business. When you go back to work, think about all the people in your span of care and even when you go back home. Try to find out, what they are carrying around. What is their burden? How can you help because you can. You will see it when you believe it. Let’s bring suffering out of the closet so we can actually then do something about it. Thank you very much.