What if we applied the Golden Rule at work?

What would happen if we practiced the Golden Rule at work?

You know, that simple maxim we were taught as kids: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Or, more simply, treat others the way you would like to be treated.

It’s substantial and historic

For starters, it’s important to note that the Golden Rule is more than just a handy saying invoked by our grade school teachers to make us behave a little better. Variations of it have roots in major faith traditions. According to John Carroll University philosophy professor Harry Gensler:

The golden rule is endorsed by all the great world religions; Jesus, Hillel, and Confucius used it to summarize their ethical teachings. And for many centuries the idea has been influential among people of very diverse cultures. These facts suggest that the golden rule may be an important moral truth.

Gensler has written extensively on the Golden Rule and dedicates a substantial portion of his website to it. It’s fascinating stuff.

The website Religious Tolerance links the Golden Rule to the “Ethic of Reciprocity.” This ethic informs our ideas of human rights:

One result of this Ethic is the concept that every person shares certain inherent human rights, simply because of their membership in the human species. . . . As a minimum, all should enjoy basic human rights.  The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights . . . is one manifestation of this growing worldwide consensus.

Taking it to work

So what would happen if we took the Golden Rule to work?

A lot.

Bullying, harassment, and discrimination would decrease significantly. When times are tough, burdens would be shared rather than imposed on a few. A living wage and decent benefits might become staples even for those in unskilled jobs. The idea of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay would reassert itself as a norm.

And all this would occur without a lot of pesky employment laws and labor protections!


Of course, our workplaces are not overrun by employment practices advancing the Golden Rule, thus necessitating a regulatory and enforcement role for the law. And for many of us mere mortals, practicing the Golden Rule is a heckuva lot harder than preaching it.

But we can aspire to it as a personal ethic, and we can encourage others to do the same. The result will be happier, healthier, and more productive workplaces. Guaranteed.


This post is the first of several devoted to 2010 Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week. Hat tip to Del Carmen, who lobbied me to write about the Golden Rule and work. If you’d like to learn more about the Golden Rule, Google it and enjoy. Or try “do unto others” for more hits.

14 responses

  1. Excellent discussion point for anyone in business, and of course for business leaders, business schools, courses on business ethics etc etc. Well done.

  2. Tudor and Jon, thanks for the good words; much appreciated.

    Jon, I was thinking as I read your comment, if more people did this at work, those of us who practice and teach employment law wouldn’t have much to do!

  3. Excellent article, Mr.Yamada. Such a basic principle which, if applied would make a huge difference in our
    work environments.
    May more people live by “The Rule” and may it become contagious to our colleagues AND managers.

  4. As Michael Fox aptly put it in his blog post on this topic this morning, you are right, we would have to retool our careers if employers practiced the golden rule. Wouldn’t that be nice, though.

  5. Pingback: The Modified Golden Rule. What do you think? « Investigating Further

  6. Pingback: The Modified Golden Rule. What do you think? « Investigating Further

  7. I wish I had found your blog earlier. I went through over two years of dealing with a horrible boss and it culminated in her bullying and humiliating me and coercing others to do so — culminating in my termination when I was one of the better employees! And this company sells a product to teachers and students and supposedly is against bullying…though the company condoned what happened to me and others. Why is bullying allowed to go on in the workplace?

    • I am sorry to hear about your situation. Yes, high performing workers are not immune. In fact, they are often targeted. I hope your next job is a better one.

  8. Pingback: "Use Good Judgment" and "Follow the Golden Rule" just don't cut it in today's legal climate | Employment and Labor Insider

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