Life in Balance
Public Opinion Court Analysis
The Lincoln Institute’s Public Opinion Court was held on January 29, 2005 at the Historic Inn at King of Prussia , Pennsylvania . It was hosted by Al Paschall of the King of Prussia Chamber of Commerce. The Lincoln Institute began sponsoring the Public Opinion Court in 1995 during a session held at the Freedom’s Foundation at Valley Forge with environmental issues being the initial topic.
The most recent Public Opinion Court focused on the topic of “A Life in Balance.” It was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation of West Conshohocken , Pennsylvania . The focus group session involved fourteen diverse residents of southeastern Pennsylvania . The group engaged in a probing and in-depth discussion on issues and questions such as:
Of the fourteen individuals in the group, eight were male and six were female. Fifty-seven percent (57%) were over the age of forty. Additionally, 57% of the group was in the $30,000–$75,000 per year income range. Regarding political party affiliation, 29% were Republican, 36% Democrat, and 36% considered themselves independent. Seventy-eight percent (78%) of the group had at least a college degree. The religious affiliation of the group was quite mixed:
The program began with a presentation by Philip J. Kennedy (CPA), a business instructor at Penn State’s Shenango Campus. His presentation was entitled “Business Ethics: A Recap of Past Financial Incidents and a Suggested Path for Improvement.” Mr. Kennedy reviewed the unprecedented number of corporate scandals in 2002. These included Enron, Tyco, ImClone, Rite-Aid, Worldcom, and Martha Stewart. He said the common thread among all the frauds and abuses was:
No one including the U.S. government wanted to destroy Arthur Andersen, but it happened due to Arthur Andersen’s arrogance. Neither did the U.S. government want to put Martha Stewart in jail, certainly not for questionable trading practices that turned out to be legal. But Martha couldn’t tell the truth, and then couldn’t admit that she didn’t tell the truth. She challenged the U.S. Justice Department and wound up wearing “fashionable” orange suits in West Virginia .
Mr. Kennedy claimed that what is needed at this juncture of American business is “ethical leadership.” This leadership needs to be at the following levels: board of directors, management, financial community, and accounting and business professors. He cited a nine-point path for improvement:
1. Directors will need to work harder and take responsibilities more seriously.
2. Boards and board members need to be formally evaluated.
3. A power shift from CEO to Board
4. “Best practices” criteria introduced
5. “Financial expert” designation for a board member
6. Regularly scheduled meetings of “independent” directors
7. Role of CEO and Chairman to be separate
8. Increased corporate governance Standards
9. Adherence to and leadership in Ethical Conduct
He advocated that good ethics is good business, and cited ten benefits of managing ethics through a professional corporate code of conduct:
1. Attention to business ethics has improved society
2. Help maintain a moral course in turbulent times
3. Cultivates strong teamwork and productivity
4. Supports employee growth and values
5. Acts as an insurance policy—helps insure policies are legal
6. Helps avoid criminal acts of omission and commission, and reduce fines
7. Facilitates values associated with quality management, strategic planning, and diversity management
8. Promotes a strong public image
9. Insures a consistency of quality in products and services
10. It is the right thing to do
The group had no disagreements with Mr. Kennedy’s views on business ethics. For instance, 79% of the group felt the level of public trust in corporate America was low! But within the group there was a definite division between the over-40 group with a family and the younger 20-somethings starting out in life. The younger members felt the most important personal characteristics or quality needed to succeed in business today was enthusiasm, whereas the over-40 group emphasized the work ethic and previous job experience, formal education, and intelligence. Additionally, the over-40 group emphasized money and pay as the reason they selected their current occupation; whereas the younger group emphasized societal/community good and personal interest.
Carried over from the speaker’s presentation was the need for business to develop a code of ethics. A “written code of ethics” was in place at the place of employment of 64% of the group. The current trend of corporate scandals set up messages that flow into schools; families (especially younger children) feel that anything is allowed if it helps you get ahead. The group cited TV shows like Survivor and The Apprentice as examples of cut throat tactics.
Business leaders might not break the law but by bending the rules for self-gain hurt others.
Some other points discussed:
There was an overall fear that technology is replacing family time/quality time, i.e., TV, Internet, cell phones, and video games.
Those with families indicated they tried to make the effort to attend children’s activities, even if it meant taking time off from work. Most regretted activities missed by work commitments or from working two jobs. The parents were willing to make sacrifices for their children, especially for a better education for their children.
Those without children indicated their goals were to make money and to establish themselves in a career.
On the question of balancing a professional career with family life and recreational time, 79% felt it was “very important” and 21% voted for “somewhat important.”
On the question of “How much time do you spend on business activities in reference to family and recreation?” the group responded:
When asked how difficult it was to balance business/career demands with family and leisure time activities compared to ten years ago, the results were:
This prompted a reference by the discussion leader to the dilemma of Joe Mondragon in the delightful movie, “The Milagro Beanfield Wars,” produced by Robert Redford. Considerable discussion and examples pursued on the problem of finding time for family and leisure time activities.
The group felt that volunteering was important and did volunteer in activities that help their family. (Little League and church activities were mentioned.) Very interestingly, however, only 21% of the group belonged to a service club or organization and only 7% served in a volunteer capacity at their church, mosque, synagogue, or other religious institution. Additionally, only 21% of the group performed as much as one to two hours of volunteer or community service activities. However, 43% have served as an adult leader for youth activities and 43% do belong to a professional or trade organization. Also, only 29% of the group regularly attends religious services.
Of extreme interest was the belief of the group that the current generation is giving back more to the community than either their generation or their parents’ generation.
Interestingly, there was not much discussion on role models. It was difficult for the group to name and agree on business and/or political leaders they felt could be role models.
The group was asked to agree/disagree on a series of statements measuring success. The responses produced some interesting results.
Code of Ethics
Limited discussion was spent on the importance of a code of ethics in the work place. It was noted that teachers have dropped the ball on moral standards and a code of ethics would be helpful in schools. Hopefully, defining and enforcing ethical behavior in the schools will lead to more ethical workers in tomorrow’s business force.
Focus Group’s Code
A Code of Ethics gradually evolved among the group. They were willing to work hard to get ahead. They valued ambition as much as ethics.
The majority of the group believed in working hard to have the “American Dream.” They believed their children’s lives would be better than their parents’ lives.
This led to a discussion of problems with today’s youth. The group believed that youth want to start off where their parents stopped. “The children don’t think they have to work hard to get to where their parents are,” stated one participant. “This has led to huge debts, divorce, moving back home, etc.”
The group realized the need to serve as a good, ethical role model for children. They wanted to spend more time with their families. They recommended corporations provide time to spend with family or in service to community.
One participant observed, “When children are living at home, there is never enough time for work, family, and community service.”
Another stated, “What others think of you is not as important as what you and your family think of you.”
A third emphasized, “There needs to be more pride in what you do (work, etc.) no matter what your profession. Work hard to make your current job fulfilling.”
Fifty percent (50%) of the group indicated that their place of employment conducted seminars for their employees on the subject of business ethics. However, 57% of the group indicated that their companies did not have in place formal review processes to ensure that managers and employees are operating in a legal and ethical manner.
After considerable discussion, the group generally agreed that a major challenge to the American free enterprise system was the issue of business ethics. The group strongly believed that this challenge must be addressed by corporate leaders, mid-level business managers, educators, and all concerned citizens. They were optimistic that this challenge would be met in a positive and energetic manner.
The Public Opinion Court
The group thoroughly enjoyed the program. They welcomed the opportunity to think unthinkable thoughts on the issues and to freely exchange ideas with other citizens. As John Milton once wrote, "Let truth and falsehood grapple, whoever knew truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter."