Sometimes the world is complicated. I was speaking with a Catholic business owner the other day, and she said that she regrettably had to fire some of her staff to keep the business afloat- given the state of the world today, that is a pretty common phenomenon. She did what I think was the right thing- first asking all the staff if there is anyone who plans to quit- letting all of them know that there would be a need to reduce the level of staffing, so letting people volunteer. Three people came forward and said they were planning on retiring or moving soon, so they worked out a pain-free resolution- good for everyone.
Unfortunately with the fourth person, the situation became trickier. A few months back that person had told the business owner that her husband was likely to change jobs requiring a family move. She had also said that she was not enjoying the work and would look forward to leaving. So when the time came to let some people go, the boss called her to ask what the situation was with the husband’s job etc. The woman became enraged before there was really a conversation to be had, starting with “how dare you consider firing me” etc. Ultimately it became so inflamed of a discussion, that it became clear that letting her go was for the best – and ultimately they worked out a separation agreement and parted ways. However in the course of all of this tension and drama, the fourth woman said to the business owner “How can you call yourself a Catholic when you would fire the people who work for you?” This really hurt the business owner- and this was the topic of our conversation.
What does it mean to be a Catholic business owner? It does mean that you act with honesty and integrity. It does not mean that you never fire someone. Of course that is easy to see if someone is not performing on the job. It is harder to see- at least for the person being fired- when they aren’t being fired for cause. As I said to the business owner, if she didn’t make the hard decision to let people go, ultimately the entire business would go under and everyone on the staff would be fired. Is it better to fire four people and keep many employed? I think it is. What is potentially even worse is that if the company went out of business, the people the business serves (in this case patients in a medical office) would not get their service.
Sometimes it doesn’t feel good to make the hard decisions- but being “nice” in this case (i.e. not firing anyone) would still result in those people losing their jobs- along with the rest of the staff. That is not nice- even though it may make people feel better in the short run. Sometimes it is hard to know what the right, hard choice is. This is when we can:
a) Look in the Catechism and see what the Church teaches on a certain subject, or
b) Talk to your priest and see if he can help shed some light on what a real Christian solution is, or
c) Look in your bible and see what the Word of God says. If you feel like it’s hard to understand, there are some great resources. One of my favorites is The Theology of Work Project, which was put together by some wonderful Christian people who wanted to create a resource for people wondering what the Bible says about work. You may not be surprised to know that the Bible says a TON about work- and our role in being workers.
d) Talk to other Christian business leaders. It is sometimes helpful to talk this through with a sounding board.
e) Pray really hard to be enlightened as to the right decision
It is never easy to run a business and this environment is making it harder. Following the path that Jesus laid out for us on how we should behave is always the right thing to do. It can be really hard, and not feel great- but we have to do what we know is right.