What’s the harm in using management practices that are merely concerned with profitmaking? For Michael Pirson, a scholar of humanistic management, the consequences of climate change, pollution, food injustice, and poverty are hard to ignore.

“We are on a pathway toward extinction,” said Pirson, an associate professor of management at Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business. “We’re getting rid of the resources that we need. We’re exploiting people and the environment, and we’re already witnessing the dangers.”

In his new book, Humanistic Management: Protecting Dignity and Promoting Well-Being (Cambridge University Press, 2017), Pirson argues that while chronic issues like climate change and inequality are viewed as large-scale systemic crises, they have been further aggravated by organizations that are only concerned with profit maximization.

“Legitimacy has declined for business and government and on the individual level people often feel unhappy and unsatisfied at work,” he said.

Pirson noted that the dominant economistic paradigm, which many businesses follow today, is oftentimes ineffective because it centers on money, power, and self-interests. Its vulnerabilities can be seen in common occupational woes like sweatshops, child labor, and non-eco-friendly practices, he said.

“This paradigm has been successful to the degree that it has created more shareholder values or larger size organizations, but it has failed in creating wider benefits,” said Pirson.

Pirson believes that the humanistic management model, which focuses on upholding intrinsic values and “dignity,” or respect for people and the environment, can revolutionize the way organizations do business today.

Michael Pirson, associate professor of management at Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business.
Michael Pirson, associate professor of management at Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business.

While the humanistic management model acknowledges that money allows employees need to feel safe and acquire things that make their lives better, it also recognizes that we require community, bonding, and purpose to truly achieve success and happiness, he said.

“In a sense, the humanistic notion is a bit broader, but it’s scientifically grounded in terms of the evolutionary traits that have made our species survive,” he adds.

In Humanistic Management, Pirson shows how the paradigm would apply toward research, teaching, business practices, and public policy.

He cites companies like the grocery chain, Whole Foods, and Tesla, which is often fêted for its environmental leadership, as cases where businesses have positively embedded humanistic management into their business protocols.

“None of them are perfectly humanistic,” he said. “But it shows that these practices can be done. They are done not only in specific parts of the world, but across the globe, and you can do them in all kinds of industries. Businesses can be successful or more successful because people trust the organization. Employees like to work for such organizations, because they innovate for the good, and society benefits.”