What Is A Business’ Responsibility In A Pandemic?

Business can be, at its core, a selfish pursuit. Even with the best of intentions and the subsequent results that may ultimately help consumers in what your company is able to provide, it’s the pursuit of a goal predetermined by an individual or small group at the outset of the venture.  That selfishness isn’t necessarily a bad thing; we all have wants, desires or ambitions, all hopefully tempered into something that fits within the framework of what we consider a society.

What we likely give less consideration to, and what has come to the forefront on news and social media, is what we can do or what we should do for others in the face of a crisis that leaves no one untouched. There are of course legal considerations, as businesses parse what newly-introduced and pre-existing laws say about how employers, employees, landlord, tenants and other relationships can either continue or sever their relationships, in the face of often catastrophic loss of income. Those are vital questions for any business to get an answer to, and ones that are hopefully resolved in a manner that causes the least amount of pain for both parties. 

The broader, underlying question of obligation is one about the role humanity plays in our business. There’s plenty of advice out there to not let your feelings and emotions get involved in your professional decision making, ostensibly to prevent you from making decisions clouded by emotion and thus presumably flawed. And there’s a certain sense to it, given that emotion can at times preclude a grasp on the harsh realities that we’re actually facing. 

But there’s a way in which that sort of attitude can pervade every aspect of someone’s thinking until our humanity is bent and twisted in service of entrepreneurial goals. Money becomes a value system unto itself, and its pursuit becomes the highest calling, one that permits the subjugation of both your other innate values and the consideration of others. Being in business requires thinking about the bottom line, but the moment that the bottom line is all we think about, we are truly lost. 

Small businesses and the people that run and work at them have suffered in acute ways, given how the effects of the coronavirus and the lockdowns have been felt universally, but not uniformly. Businesses without the deep pockets of large corporations face a more grim reality, particularly when the program put in place to help them through the crisis runs out of money after giving some portion of it to big companies. Given all that, as small business owners it’s easy to fall back to our basic human instincts to look out for ourselves and our immediate families. This extends to the tens of millions of people without the means to weather periods or unemployment.

But neither we nor our businesses exist in a vacuum; we live as part of a complex, interconnected society that can be ugly and wonderful in equal measure, and one that we all owe obligations. There are of course complicated questions about what those obligations are as far as keeping employees on your payroll without the income to support wages or how to maintain a workforce or customer relationships remotely. However, what shouldn’t come into question is the need to abide by the measures put into place by your local officials to prevent the spread of the disease. 

That, perhaps more than what we do for the people in our immediate orbit, is what we own to both the business community and the community at large. This includes the willingness to bear some burden in a collective struggle; to sacrifice in the short term in the belief that our larger survival depends upon it; and to not view the weak and vulnerable as mere impediments to our goal. Move from the notion that they can be sacrificed in the name of some other greater good that otherwise exists wholly unrecognizable to the values of civil society. We understand that only through collective action can we solve this unique crisis, and so we do the hard thing not just for ourselves but for those we may never meet but seek to protect nonetheless because that is what we choose to believe in. 

Stay strong through this crisis, stay safe, and stay home. #onwards.

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Forbes – Entrepreneurs

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