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All Business is Personal

I’ll get straight to the point. Hiding behind any statement that resembles the following, is immoral and cowardly.

It’s nothing personal, it’s business.”

I’ve been on the receiving end of this several times in my career, and I’ve even been the one to say it once or twice. It’s BS and it let’s people off the hook from being decent, empathetic, and compassionate. I’m ashamed of the instances where I thought it was ok.

“Business” is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. “Business” is not the tree that you claimed as “base” when you were playing tag at 7 years old. “Business” is: people interfacing with other people in an environment where money is involved. That’s really all it is and the presence of money does not erase those people.

“I’ve got some bad news”

It’s never “just business” when good news is being delivered. No one is given a bonus for their performance, and when they say “thank you” is told “oh, it’s nothing personal, it’s just business.” Quite the contrary, that’s the opportunity for whoever decided on the bonus to heap loads of personal praise on the high-performing individual. Why? Because they want to enrich the relationship with their best people and encourage them to stay. They want them to know that they are valued as unique human beings.

Apparently, it’s ok to be personal when things are going well. But, when tough decisions need to be made, all of a sudden, “leaders” run for the safe cover of “it’s just business.”

I’ve seen companies hire someone from across the country, move them 2,000 miles only to let them go a few months later with two weeks severance (or nothing) because the company lost a client and revenue took a dip. Imagine that.

Here’s what’s really happening…


The idea that doing business is separate from being personal should be called out for what it is: dehumanizing.

Dehumanization is what allows us to completely disregard the well-being of other people…because they’re not really people, you see. That’s the trick. By convincing people that business isn’t personal, we subtly suggest that workers aren’t people…they are numbers, they are payroll costs, they are replaceable. They don’t have mortgages, romantic partners, children, health problems, car payments, student loan debt, and so on…

Dehumanization outside of business is often found on the path leading to enslavement or genocide. This process of dehumanization enables an entire group of people to view another group as subhuman leading to treatment they would be unable to fathom for their in-group.

If you think I’m being hyperbolic in my comparison, think again. The ramifications of terminating someone’s employment in the United States can be life-threatening.

Because health insurance is often tied to employment, it can mean lack of coverage for illness for the affected party, and possibly their families. It could mean medical debt and eventually bankruptcy. The downstream affects of that, or sustained unemployment, can lead to people losing their homes, decimating their savings, or going completely broke.

The social safety net that our society has put in place is far from enough to mitigate these risks.

  • Unemployment benefits are modest and often insufficient.
  • Outside of destitute poverty, there is no publicly available healthcare.
  • The Federal minimum wage is below a livable wage, meaning that people cannot even use entry level jobs to get by.

“So, what, am I supposed to just keep bad employees?”

I am sure there is someone reading this right now who is already taking away the wrong point. Let me be crystal clear about the point: be a decent human being.

I am NOT saying that your business is a piggy bank for those who want to show up, do the least amount possible, cause a little damage to the culture, and then clock out. Far from it. I’m saying that we need to make business personal.

When you have a team member who isn’t a good fit, make it personal and treat them like a human being. That means do everything in your power to ensure they are safe.

  • Give them ample warning that they are not working out.
  • Try to think about the role that would best suit them and do what you can to help them find that new role whether it’s by offering an introduction or providing them some coaching.
  • Consider a severance payment if it’s feasible.
  • Try to ensure that their healthcare is covered for as long as you can afford to. Then, use that healthcare coverage you’re paying for as the motivation for you to continue helping them find new employment. If that sounds like a lot then consider joining the fight for universal healthcare, which would relieving the burden on companies for healthcare costs.

All of this can sound expensive and unnecessary but let’s be honest, your job as a business is to spend as little as possible and make as much as possible, so there’s always “a business reason” to put your humanity to the side for the sake of money, if you choose that path.

THAT path is for cowards.

You should be looking to extend as much humanity in how you conduct yourself as is financially feasible. If you cared enough about a person to hire them, then you should care enough about them to take care of them when you fire them.

All Business is Personal

For me, it all comes down to a very simple choice about which is more important to you:

Would you rather be a good person who cares about others or be the type of person who avoids taking responsibility for harm?

As someone who ran a lean small business, I understand that not every business can afford to do all of these things for employees that don’t work out. However, even if you truly can’t afford to give a severance payment, or cover healthcare, you can still treat the other person like a human being and do everything that is within your power to help them if a “business decision” needs to be made.

The people you interact with in business are more than just a body in a role with a title and an accountability. They are human beings and therefore, all business is personal.

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