Aristotle’s Ideas in the Modern Work Environment
Aristotle in the Modern Work Environment In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, every point, every major idea, and every argument made, is all connected back to the concept that every action seeks an ultimate good. Aristotle felt that there is an intrinsic good that humans aim for and that there is this “good life” we all mean to have. However, what does it mean to be good? That means something different to everyone; we all inhabit many different roles in our day to day lives, whether we strive to be a good parent, a good sibling, a good student, a good citizen, or a good leader.
All emphasize the importance of our own well-being, as well as that of others, and the greater community as a whole. For the purpose of this paper, the focus will be on work relationships, what it means to promote a good work environment, and how Aristotle’s ideas relate to the modern work community. First, we will examine the characteristics of a great place to work, and then we will examine how each of Aristotle’s main ideas on civic relationships relate to these modern work relationships.
Whether the association is that of an employee and an employer, a buyer and a seller, or even a manager and an investor, each relationship has common business ideas and common human needs. Sometimes companies get so caught up in the business ideas that the human needs become null. However, the most successful companies are the ones who are able to excel at both the business practices as well the care of their employees. So what defines a “great” place to work?
Is it the business with the most elaborate holiday parties, the one with the highest paid employees, or perhaps is it the business that places value in the intangibles, such as trust, communication, and strong leadership? To define the traits of a positive work environment, we will examine the Great Place to Work website, who every year, partners with 5,000 plus companies and conducts a survey to find out exactly what a great workplace means. Essentially, a great work environment can be defined by three main factors; employees trust the people they work for, they have pride in what they do, and they enjoy the people they work with.
Of these three, it is the mutual trust that employees and employers have in one another that sets the foundation for a successful company. An employer can build trust with their workers by having credibility for the work output and treating them with respect and fairness. This in turn, creates a loyal employee who is dedicated to producing their highest quality of work as well as motivating others to do the same. Whether the business is a small ma-pop store, or a Fortune 500 corporation, all have the ability to achieve a cohesive work environment.
The best of both an employee and an employer can be explained by Aristotle’s views on happiness, the virtues and deliberation, justice, and friendship. All are interconnected, and when applied to a professional setting, help to promote an work environment that is beneficial for the company, but more importantly, the human good. Aristotle’s most important concept is that of human happiness because happiness in and of itself was reaching the end good. According to him, humans have three parts to their soul.
The first is the most basic, a vegetative state in which all living things share in which we are satisfying our most basic of needs. The next level is that reason that is grounded in emotion. The two are grounded in each other, and therefore, can be swayed by each other, such in that our emotions can influence our reason. Aristotle believed that true happiness was engaging the highest activity of the soul, our capacity for thought. He believed that happiness was “the human good [that proves to be] the activity of the soul in accord with virtue. In other words, a person living life to the fullest was the person pursuing their purpose in life with action, and reaching a certain amount of excellence in that purpose. In turn, that will bring a true state of happiness. The best way to bring about this state of individual happiness is through community. In terms of a business community, it is the responsibility of the leaders to promote an environment that focuses on establishing a worker’s strength, discovering his or her potential, and then developing that potential in order to fulfill that person’s purpose.
In the business world, we see people all the time who feel their work is not fulfilling and lacking in purpose. These are also the kinds of people we see that show up to work and complete the bare minimum necessary for obtaining their paycheck. An employer who wants to have a successful company needs to promote the kind of work that is in their employees’ best interests and allows them to feel useful each and every day. A happy employee will be more invested in the business’s day to day operations, as well as the overall success of the organization.
The discussion of happiness leads to Aristotle’s next major ideas, those of the virtues and deliberation. A happy person will be someone who lives in accordance with the virtues. He is neither too much of one thing, or not enough of another, he is in the middle of two extremes. Aristotle explained the virtues to be a perception of the right thing to do or the appropriate response when faced with a certain situations. The good decision lies in the virtue that is between what Aristotle called the “vices of excess” and the “vices of deficiency. For example, cowardliness would be a vice of deficiency, foolhardiness would be a vice of excess, and courage in the middle of these two would be the right decision. Aristotle’s virtues can be broken down in two ways: intellectually and morally. Intellectual virtue comes from education, which must be taught over a length of time. Moral virtue, on the other hand, comes from habit. They are virtues that need to be learned, and that is accomplished by actually practicing it. People become virtuous by performing virtuous acts, and the more they are practiced, the more the virtue becomes a part of one’s disposition.
Although moral virtues are reactions due to habit or practice to respond in certain ways, Aristotle believed virtues are cultivated through deliberation. One must think about the situation he or she is in, and contemplate as to what good could be achieved in that situation. In deliberation, one must consider the “ends” he or she is trying to ultimately reach, and make a decision about the best way to go about achieving that end result. Virtues and the deliberative process are involved everyday in the business world.
A person’s virtues guide his decisions, and decisions have to be made on a daily basis when it comes to a business’s operations, finances, resources, customers, or even future goals. A company therefore needs their leader to be virtuous in order to make the kinds of decisions that will be in everyone’s best interest. A leader that is virtuous will desire to be good and do good, therefore he will make decisions that are fair. This engages one of the fundamental traits of a Great Place to Work, and that is the leader promotes an connection based on trust between himself and his employees.
When employees believe their boss is contemplating the best course of action when faced with a certain situation, they can trust him to make a sound and virtuous judgment. The trust that is built here translates into respect for their superiors, and when employees respect the people they work for, the entire organization is given the opportunity to run smoothly and cohesively. Another of Aristotle’s virtues that he specifically singles out is justice. It includes all other virtues under its umbrella, because to be just is to consider all the other virtues and act in a virtuous way.
In this case, he is not describing the kind of justice to exact on a criminal, but rather justice in that a person gets what he deserves. Justice must maintain a certain balance in which advantages and disadvantages are equal. In Aristotle’s opinion, greed or the desire to have more than one’s due counteracts his idea of distributive justice. In this concept, wealth among the community would be spread out among its members, with everyone receiving their fair share according to their virtue. He believed the economy was not driven by a “guiding hand” but by reciprocity.
A successful economy distributes goods not to satisfy an individual’s best interest, but to facilitate exchanges within the community, with the ultimate goal being people living the life they want in accordance with their virtues. The most virtuous people make the most significant contributions to the community, and therefore are of the highest merit. His concept of distributive justice enables the greatest privilege to go to those with the most virtue, and not those with the most money, the most power, or the most inside connections.
The best places to work are the ones that are most just. They exhibit all the virtues in the best sense, but most of all, the people within the company benefit from an environment of fairness, for both the employees and the employers. In order to maintain the balance of justice, not one employee is treated with an unfair share of disadvantages and therefore carries too much of a burden. On the other hand, not one employee enjoys an unfair share of advantages and therefore is overly privileged.
Everyone is cooperating together and this kind of justice only facilitates the inner workings of a business in a way that contributes to the overall success of the company. It also promotes a fair merit-based system that rewards promotions and other benefits fairly. If employees know that privileges will be handed down based on highest merit, and not unfairly based on seniority, or inside connections, they will be motivated to work hard and produce their best work, which in the end, only builds a more successful business.
The last of Aristotle’s main ideas we will discuss is friendship, and how in a certain way it connects all of Aristotle’s main ideas together. Very simply put, friendship can be defined as wishing each other well and there being a mutual awareness of good will between two individuals. Aristotle then classifies three types of friendships: those based in utility, those based in pleasure, and those based in character. A friendship based in utility, occurs when two people can benefit from each other. By doing the same thing, both gain an equal advantage in the relationship.
This kind of friendship is a temporary situation because it is based in two individuals being useful to each other, rather than any enjoyment they have it the person. If the usefulness ends, the purpose of the relationship disappears, and therefore so does the relationship itself. A friendship for pleasure happens when two people enjoy the other’s company and have a common interest in doing a certain activity together. In this case, doing the activity in the company of another makes the activity more enjoyable than if it had be done alone.
This kind of friendship is also temporary because the relationship lasts only as long as the two individuals share the common interest. The strongest and most enduring of friendships are also the rarest kind, and those are friendships based in character. This relationship occurs when two people admire the quality of the other person and find common ground in their virtues. They develop a long-lasting friendship that develops over time as they get to know one another. It is a very selfless kind of relationship as there are no motivating factors these individuals seek in one another.
They accept each other for who they are and encourage each other to find the “goodness” in what they pursue. Friendships of character connect the ideas of virtue, justice, and happiness together. The basis of a good friend is that the friend is good in and of himself. He realizes his best self in accordance with the virtues, and will encourage a friend of similar virtue to seek his best self. He who acts in accordance with all the virtues is just, and justice in its fullest sense is friendliness. Both justice and friendliness inhabit the idea of distributive justice.
Not in an economical sense, but friends of utility, pleasure, or goodness equally exchange advantages consistent with the type of friendship they share. If there is an unequal distribution of disadvantages in friendships of utility or pleasure, then the relationship will disintegrate. Therefore, among true friends that is based on character, there is no need for justice. Those who actively engage in friendships are also the happiest. Humans are not meant to live in solitude, and it is by engaging those around them and participating in the community that one will find the good in others, the good in the community, and the good in life.
Friendship in the workplace bolsters the idea of camaraderie among employees and employers. When people enjoy the other people they work with, they’re surrounded by a positive environment that enables them to work at their highest potential. this doesn’t mean that people’s work environments have to be filled with their best friends, but instead should feel a friendliness towards their peers out of a sharing their professional lives together and a common interest to meet their business goals.
The most likely of friendships to be found in a work environment are friendships of utility or pleasure. Every person within an organization may have separate goals, but all share the same goal of seeing the company do well. The success of the business will benefit everyone as long as they work together. It’s also likely that people within the same line of business will share some of the same interests. This commonality between workers can be the foundation for them to work together effectively and support each other in their work.
The rarest kind of work friendship would be that based in character. It is likely that you may share some of the same professional values, but people are so different that it’s rare to come together on a work platform and build a lasting relationship. However, hopefully people within the business can at least appreciate the quality of their peers and superiors, even if they don’t fully admire them. The best kinds of work environments are the one that exhibit all Aristotle’s main ideas, such as happiness, virtue, deliberation, justice, and friendship, to their fullest.
Environments that remain open to dialogue and respect, that recognize differences among people as a unifying force rather than a dividing one and utilize people’s strengths to their greatest potential are the kind of work environments that Aristotle would promote. While it may be hard for a business to maintain the best environment all the time, as long as it stays true to its ethical business principles, and as long as its leaders strive to meet the human needs of its employees and well as the goals of the company, then I would consider that a great place to work.