Guide to Evaluate Quality in Human Treatment

A Five-Level Framework by Domènec Melé

26/08/2014 Barcelona

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Factory workers during their workday

Treating workers poorly, as in the case of sweatshops, is considered "inhuman." What treatment might we call the opposite: "human"?

In his article "Human Quality Treatment": Five Organizational Levels, published in the Journal of Business Ethics, IESE's Domènec Melé presents a framework for "human quality treatment" (HQT) based on a recognition and respect for our shared human characteristics as well as our uniqueness.

Melé builds on the fundamental idea that ethics is an intrinsic aspect of good management, not merely an add-on.

While some theories of management suggest that people should be treated well because this will boost economic performance, HQT incorporates the idea that striving to succeed as a human being is valuable in itself, although more than likely this could lead to better performance. The author suggests that the notion of HQT and the five-level framework open horizons to further research on the outcomes of HQT.

Five Levels of HQT

Melé ranks the quality of treatment in an organization according to five levels: Maltreatment, Indifference, Justice, Care and Development.

For each of the five levels of HQT, Melé elaborates on its features and the behavior that should characterize people management and interactions.

  1. Maltreatment includes exploitation, harassment, coercion, bullying, manipulation, unfair discrimination and corruption. This is ethically unacceptable.
  2. Indifference is marked by not caring how decisions affect people and seeing people exclusively as means to an economic end. This is also ethically unacceptable.
  3. Justice is characterized by transparency, fair remuneration, keeping one's word and protecting rights, with employees acting in good faith. This meets the minimal ethical requirements for HQT. 
  4. Care goes beyond minimal ethical requirements by also showing concern for coworkers' legitimate interests and supporting them to resolve problems. Care means helping people with their health, family or relationship issues, for example. It is not sentimentalism, but a real concern about people's rights and dignity. 
  5. Development goes beyond justice and care because it also enables people to flourish, fostering the acquisition of professional competencies. Managers are aware of people's talents and try to maximize them, creating a "virtuous circle of human flourishing, mutual esteem and a willingness to serve and cooperate," in the words of the author.

Managers should aim for Level 5, acting as role models to encourage a corporate culture where development becomes the norm. Just as corrupt actions can create corrupt cultures, actions that promote flourishing can create environments where people flourish.

For more information, see IESE Insight