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March 01, 2004
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The HR Doctor Is In

Credit Where Credit Is Not Due

Retired HR Director William Shakespeare, writing in his play Hamlet, admonished us to “Neither a borrower nor a lender be ... ” Obviously, Shakespeare had no idea what was to come in 21st century America.

The average American has more than $12,000 in credit card debt. Every day, the HR Doctor receives multiple credit card solicitations, and so do the HR daughters. I have no doubt that even the HR Dog, Kamala, would be “pre-approved” for some spectacular “You must act now!” offer.

The financial industry makes it so incredibly easy to charge ahead—just enter a pin code, sign the credit card receipt, be influenced by TV commercials bombarding us, or open the daily mail. The result is the evolution of a culture which places a value on “having it all now” and don’t worry about the consequence for the future.

The HR Doctor recently spoke with an elected official who owns a gigantic RV “land yacht.” The machine cost well over $100,000. What’s the secret to ownership, the official asked rhetorically? The answer is to forget about the price and just look at the monthly payments. If you can afford the monthly payments, don’t worry about ever paying it off.

With great respect for an elected official, whose company I enjoy and who is very smart, that’s not the right answer. There is definitely a price we pay, as individuals and as a society, for a focus on the immediate, get-it-now, go-into-debt mindset. The effect causes harm to our ability to help create a long-term vision, and long-lasting positive sense of the public’s good.

As ugly as too much of the “it’s OK to be in debt” value system seems to be, it has a genetically linked close relative. In a larger sense, we have created beliefs and values that demand easy access and entitlements in many other areas of our society. Ask any human resources director in a county, city or school district and be prepared for a long discussion citing many examples of people who have an entitlement way of thinking — MY benefits, MY promotion, and MY salary increases. The possessive pronouns flow relentlessly from their speech and from their actions. The HR Doctor recently attended a meeting of firefighters: yes, America’s “real heroes.” Fortunately, the HR Doctor was an observer rather than one of the executives of the fire department conducting the meeting.

The gathering soon became a whine festival. There was continuous discussion about how many more benefits they wanted, how much more time off they wanted, and why the organization was late in paying this or delivering that.

Not once in the entire meeting did anyone discuss what might be best for the fire department, the public agency or the citizens. It was not a pretty commentary.

One of the HR Doctor’s very favorite movies is The Day the Earth Stood Still. The story is about a flying saucer landing in Washington D.C. in the early 1950s, and an emissary from another world named Claatu. He brings with him his "security chief" Ð a nine-foot-tall robot named Gort. You may remember the famous line spoken to Gort to keep him from getting into a seriously bad mood and destroying the world: “Claatu Barrada Necto.” At one point in the movie, Claatu tells the people of earth that his people have built a race of robots like Gort to enforce their laws and that going against the laws and values provokes a response too terrible to risk.

Out of the values described in this article, mixed with a strong dose of arrogance about which the HR Doctor has often written, comes our society’s race of enforcers — plaintiff’s attorneys. Obviously, if I am entitled to everything and I don’t get what I feel I deserve, I live in a society where I can take two immediate actions very easily. One is to whine incessantly. The other is to sue somebody at little risk and with great ease. If you doubt the HR Doctor on the latter point, may I suggest a quick reading of the Yellow Pages under “Attorneys.” Read the many ads that invite lawsuits.

The overall effect of this is there is a price to be paid, long term as well as short term, for the values that we create and pass on to our children. The wonderful maxim “It is better to give than to receive” is a universal truth. However, even in the holiday spirit of giving, we have come to live in a society that has distorted this maxim so that it now reads in many people’s minds, “It is better to get and get now than to think about the long term.”

Don’t let this distortion get in your brain and affect your behavior and that of the community. Leaders help set a vision of the future. Make it a positive one which reduces risks of trouble ahead for the next generation. Let’s create policies which will put that next generation in OUR debt for having the wisdom to think of them, rather than ourselves, in the policy decisions we make!

The HR Doctor hopes your credit rating is very high!

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor


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