Please Treat Our Staff With Respect

I spotted this sign at a large retail store on the outskirts of Ottawa a couple of days ago:

More specifically, the sign was taped to the checkout counter.

Now, a couple of things strike me.

1) The sign is at least borderline rude to customers. Obviously, it’s aimed at the obnoxious few who have the poor judgment to take out their Christmas shopping frustrations on sales clerks. But the sign is addressed to everyone. I’ve never been rude to a checkout clerk in my life. Why are they reminding me to be nice?

2) On the other hand, the sign also represents a laudable effort by management to make good on their obligations to their employees. Employees deserve to be treated with respect, and that includes by customers. It may be true that “the customer is always right,” but employees shouldn’t have to be subject to rudeness and abuse. Managers who stick up for their employees should be congratulated.

3) Finally, I can’t help thinking that a sign of this sort is a relatively bad way to pursue this particular goal. I mean, at least it’s printed professionally and not hand-written. But still. Is this the best social engineering we can do? Isn’t there a more effective method of reminding people of their manners? I think in general when you see signs taped to things (think how many times you’ve seen a hand-scribbled sign that says “Please use other door”) it’s an indicator of a failure of design, either physical or organizational.

26 comments so far

  1. B.L. Ochman on

    Chris – I agree with you – why be rude to the 99.44% of people who are NOT rude. There are funny signs that make the same point in a nicer way. I saw one last night when I went to physical therapy. It said something like “Customers who are rude, loud, or generally a pain in the neck will be charged an additional $10.”But I’d far prefer to see “We’re in stressful times, and everyone’s feeling it, thank you for your patience and politeness.”Bravo on your comment policy

  2. Corey on

    I am not so sure that this is borderline rude, but it is less than obsequiously polite. I think that if the “Attention Customers” was not included it would be almost neutral. These are all just my own intuitions. However, my immediate response is not of self righteousness about my behaviour—I am quite sure I have been inadvertently rude to sales people in the past—rather my first inclination is that there are some rather juicy stories about rude customers. I think your second intuition is the one that I agree with most. That the management is attempting to make good on their obligations to their employees. Furthermore I think that since this sign is obviously not going to work, I am drawn to the conclusion that the sign is not there for the customer at all—at least not directly. It is there to make the employees feel valued, and indirectly to make the customer feel good about themselves for shopping at a place where the management, however hamfistedly, tries to look out for its employees. In this manner the sign fulfils its purpose better than if it treated the customer less than as you say “borderline rude”, and in fact the “rudeness” or at least the abruptness, of the sign reinforces the message to you, the customer, that you are not participating, or compliant, in the miss treatment of poorly paid retail workers.

  3. Anonymous on

    Without knowing what led to the need for such a sign being posted we should reserve comment and judgement. There could have been some altercations and staff may even have requested management to post it. I subscribe to the Catholic belief that we are to live by the tenets of the church’s interpretation of moral theology. Thus there really is no such thing as as “business ethics” “bioethics”, “sports ethics” etc. Even “Ethics” is only a secular subject and not a Christian’s intellectual touchstone. I think that Jesuit moral theologians who taught me moral theology would say that if the sign is there as a result of sufficient incidents of bad behaviour that its well-intentioned message might outweigh any offense it may give to those who do not offend and thus justify it being posted. Kevin McDonald University of Scranton ’89Dalhousie ’93

  4. Chris MacDonald on

    Kevin:Signs posted in a public place can’t be immune from comment. But you’re right if you mean that we should hesitate about coming to any <>final<> conclusion about the sign, until we know its history.The idea that there’s no such thing as business ethics just isn’t tenable. I don’t know a thing about Catholic ethics, but I know there are plenty of Catholics (including Catholic ethicists) who disagree with you on this.To understand the ethical constraints in a system (whether that system is a profession, like medicine, or something bigger like a market), you have to understand the purpose and needs of that system. Physicians and lawyers are subject to different ethical rules than are non-physicians, for very good reasons. They do special jobs, and hence need special rules. The same goes for managers of companies.Regards,Chris.

  5. Anonymous on

    There might be a minority of self-professed Catholic ethicists today who think there is a separate category of ethics for business, biotech, sports etc. but they are wrong. The Church teaches the faithful through moral theology how to behave, live and interact morally. She considers “Ethics” a secular subject. While there may be some course on “business ethics” taught at nominally Catholic (really post-Catholic)schools such as X and SMU it is not in complete adherence to Catholic tradition — even if a Catholic prof there were openly or slyly trying to introduce magisterial teachings to undergrads bound for Bay Street. I think the topics “Ethics”, and “moral theology” (what some at A.S.Theology wrong call “Christian ethics”) in the Catholic Encyclopedia explains it better than I can. has a copy. To use the prefatory adjective “business” “bio…” or “sports” before ethics is something a true moral theologian would never do lest she or he be accused of misleading students into thinking there are separate ethical principles for each. There aren’t. The basis of each is the decalogue and the church’s interpretation of Christ’s comments on the decalogue, the Levitical and Mosaic additions he abrogated plus what we know from Christian tradition such as sources like Patristics and the Didache. Thats how Rome sees it even if there are dissenting or dissembling Catholics who mean well or are introducing heterdoxical applications or ethical teachings. Kevin Dalhousiana locuta, causa finita est. 🙂

  6. Chris MacDonald on

    Kevin:OK, interesting. Not relevant to non-Catholics, but still anthropologically interesting, to me at least. I suppose, if true, that means strict Catholics cannot be either physicians or lawyers, then, because they couldn’t accept moral rules that don’t apply to everyone. Both physicians and lawyers are generally regarded to be bound by rules about, e.g., truth-telling and secret-keeping that others are not bound by. Same goes for Catholic priests, I believe. Unless I’m misunderstanding you, your view implies that Catholic priests should not — for example, when hearing confession — be bound by any stricter rules of secret-keeping than anyone else would be. Certainly that’s at odds with the standard portrayal of the RC clergy.Perhaps I’ve misunderstood?Chris

  7. Anonymous on

    (It was opined here that:)To understand the ethical constraints in a system (whether that system is a profession, like medicine, or something bigger like a market), you have to understand the purpose and needs of that system.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~No, not at all.In fact, if you understand how to behave and act morally and what principles generate those moral actions then you can understand any system, market, association or profession.Moral theology is “the answers”. Whether you apply them to business, medicine or the military does not matter. You are arguing that the market (or profession) dictates the ethos needed for it. The Church disagrees. She says that morality has a freedom of its own and an inherently catholic (universal – small c “catholic) application. And even if I were an atheist and intended on remaining godless, I’d see the logic of the church’s approach because the principles of right and wrong don’t change even if we are discussing law, medicine or the invasion of Gaza. By saying there is a separate ethic for separate subjects we run the risk of forgetting the universality of moral behaviour and what it is predicated on: de imitatio christi. A doctor who is also a businesswoman may think she has to act one way in that field and a different way in the other even though the moral dilemma may be very different. It may be that her doctor’s college of physicians and surgeons is amoral and her chamber of commerce is more virtuous in what it recommends. Or vice versa. “Give me a child til the age of seven and I’ll give you a perfect adult” said St. Ignatius. He was referring to inculcating moral values based on the decalogue, gospels and Christian tradition. Whether one believes or worships God, it is a solid foundation and a consistent one. I don’t know why the Peter Singer’s of this world stand instead on the shifting sands of moral relativism and promote an ethics of the strong, the born and the living over the rights of the weak, sick and unborn. It is mean, Spartan, barbarous and uncharitable. All humans have equal value, to insist otherwise is arrogance and hubris.

  8. Chris MacDonald on

    Anonymous:First: say what you will about Peter Singer, but he’s no moral relativist. Far from it. He believes in a single moral rule — utilitarianism — for everyone. He does <>not<> believe, as relativists do, that moral rightness is relative to cultural beliefs. More to the point:Ethical decisions simply cannot be made in the abstract. You need to know the facts of the case, and what it is that’s at stake. Even if we all agree, for example, that the key (or even the only) moral principle is respect for human dignity, we still need to know the ways in which “human dignity” plays out in specific contexts. We show respect differently in the townhall meeting than we do on the football field. <>Who<> you are doesn’t matter; but <>what you’re doing<> does.There’s no “relativism” here.Chris.

  9. Zachary Briggs, BA '06 (Philosophy), MBA '09 on

    This sounds more like a debate over semantics than one about the scope of Catholic moral theology. Sections 1749-1756 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church provide the (very) basic framework of the morality of human acts: it does state that “(t)here are concrete acts that it is always wrong to choose” this does not imply that under different ethical subheadings (bio-, business-, etc.), the form and structure of the argument must be identical. Indeed, it would be largely impractical in insist on a universal (ie: “c”atholic) standard across all ethical spheres. However, this does not preclude a “C”atholic argument under any of these spheres under a Catholic moral theology. The CCC states that “(a) morally good act requires the goodness of its object, of its end, and of its circumstances together.” This means that for the Catholic, the judgement of the moral good or evil an act depends on the above three criteria. It doesn’t state that there is only one ethical format, but that there is only one set of criteria for judging the good or evil of an act.This is why, for example, abortion is permitted in cases of fallopian implantation; the procedure has, as its object, the goal of saving as many lives as possible. The intention is to save the mother, not to kill the child. It is a tragic consequence, but better than the alternative.This would seem to me to fall under the sphere of medical ethics AND Catholic moral theology. Again, there is nothing that says there cannot be subheadings. “Catholic ethics” is simply a restatement of “Catholic moral theology.” And while it may not be necessary to separate Catholic moral theology into smaller spheres of understanding, I would argue that the difference is merely semantic.

  10. Anonymous on

    Zachary is misinformed or confusing removing and ectopic preganancy with a direct, procured abortion, something the church never allows. Sorry to correct you in public but you are misinformed. Removing an ectopic pregnancy is not the same as an abortion in which the child dies from an intended, not an unintended effect. That is the critical moral difference: abortion is a “search and destroy” mission, removing a foetus that endangers the gravida to let it die a natural death or take its chances in an incubator is not morally equivalent.

  11. Chris MacDonald on

    OK, I permitted the above comment because it claims to correct a mistaken assertion.But let’s keep this on-topic, please. This is the <>Business Ethics Blog.<>Thanks, folks.Zachary, I think your point about semantics is essentially right (regardless of whether one chooses to call the termination of an “ectopic pregnancy” an “abortion” or not.)Chris.

  12. Anonymous on

    Well you must be using a novel definition of moral relativism because utilitarian is an example of a philosophical system whereby one’s subjective valuation of the use of something or somebody trumps an objective valuation such as the notion that all human life has equal value. Dignity is nice and it nice to preserve dignity but life is the paramount value. If we don’t have the right to life, our other rights don’t matter much because we won’t be able to exercise them. Singer is a relativist because there is no absolute value laid down by him — just how he and his ilk see the value of life, animals, things etc. Thus he is a subjectivist, a relativist under a different name and I find it telling and disturbing that you would consider his endorsement of utilitarian theory as an objective, absolute philosophical framework or base for him to stand on. The Christian or Jewish value of life is the absolutist one. Singer’s is essentially “your value is predicated on how much value you have to me or others who subscribe to this theory.”That is a castle in the sand compared to a philosophical system that sets down more concrete rules such as “all human life has equal value”, “life begins at conception”, “innocent life must never be shed, except in self-defense”. From Maimonedes to Aquinas and beyond, the Judeo-Christian ethic has built a more logically consistent ethical system then the odd Aussie who advocated infanticide and equal rights for tasty, delicious animals. Singer is a moral relativist, unless you move the goalposts very wide and accept his theories as an absolute — and they are not, they are subjective in nature. (Especially compared to Judeo-xian ones). You and I disagree on terminology, but I hope you see argument that I’ve made. Zach’s post has a glaring factual error. I hope he is not Catholic. He needs some reparative catechesis if he is.

  13. Chris MacDonald on

    Anonymous:I’m using the <>textbook<> definition of relativism. I teach moral theory. I do know what relativism is. And Utilitarianism is not a form of relativism.Check any reputable source on Relativism, or on Utilitarianism, and you’ll see that there is no overlap.The Wikipedia entries on the two concepts are good enough, for this purpose.Singer’s theory — one which I don’t agree with, by the way — says that there is one, and only one, moral standard by which to judge all human behaviour. Any theory that makes such a claim is not a form of relativism.Chris.

  14. Anonymous on

    No Chris it is not semantics. Going into the womb or fallopian tube with the intention of killing it in utero is an abortion, a morally reprehensible act. Removing an ectopic pregnancy or a pre-term baby whose existence endangers the life of the gravida is allowing that person to die as the result of an unintended effect. That is not a semantic difference and yes its a business blog, but he also did not prove his point that there is such a thing as “catholi ethics” I went to a Jesuit university for two degrees and volunteer at a Catholic bookstore. I have never heard the term “Catholic ethics”. Its nice to have an MBA but don’t talk through your hat about the Church. She teaches, among other subjects, dogmatic, pastoral and moral theology. Even Catholic universities that teach a course on ethics for business are supposed to – according to ex corde ecclesiae, the popes instructions on maintaing the catholicity of Her universities – be instructing those future businesspersons according to principles of moral theology, not utilitarian theory or any other philosopical systems. I really hate to keep banging the Catholic drum on a business ethics blog, but Zach’s point is scientific, not semantics as it refers to what action the abortionist or clinician/physician might take in completely different circumstances. That is why you err Chris. You don’t know the Church’s arguments, yet you predicate many of your own in opposition to her. I am a businessman and I don’t fall for socialist or communist arguments because I have read through their manifestos and understand their arguments. “No one hates the Catholic Church, just what they think the church is”-Avery Cardinal Dulles -Kevin McDonald

  15. Chris MacDonald on

    Kevin:I’m not a Catholic; nor am I at a Catholic University. I’m at a public university with a Catholic name held over from its former status. If it were up to me, I’d change the name (out of respect both to Catholics, and to non-Catholics). So, I have very little to say on the ins and outs of Catholicism and its moral teachings.Check Amazon if you’re still in doubt about the usage of the term “Catholic Ethics.” There are lots of books on the topic. I have no view on whether that’s a good thing or not, or whether it’s a misnomer or not.I take Zach’s point not to be about the a-word at all, but just to say that — as he understands Catholic law, which for all I know might be right or wrong — the ending of a pregnancy in one circumstance is called “bad” and in another circumstance is called “OK.” You’ve asserted that removal of an ectopic pregnancy is not an “abortion.” OK, fine by me. The substance of his point isn’t altered by the terminological correction, even if the correction is fully warranted. He was pointing out that Catholic teachings seem to admit that the application of principles depends on context.Chris.

  16. Anonymous on

    Chris: Please call me Kevin I only post anonymous because I could not figure out the Googlish instructions. Whose textbook? See my point? Can we agree on definition of relativist? Mine would be one that uses relative (even shifting values). Insider trading might not have always been illegal until stock bourses made it so. Then a relativist would say that using insider knowledge to profit while others will fail when bad news breaks is okay since the polity or stockbroker’s association has not outlawed it. A moral absolutist (is that term I want or current philosophers use?) would say that the person using the inside information is using an unfair advantage that others cannot have. (though I am stretching here if it is not then an illegal act. A little help folks?)Has wacky old Peter written about business ethics topics? Is he still at Princeton as a visiting scholar or back in antipodean obscurity? If anyone wants to read devastating critiques of Singer look up Wesley J. Smith’s work. In any case, because Singer’s value of me is based on how much value I have based on HIS theory, it clearly makes it a relativist theory because it relies on an interpreter of that theory. Is the semi-retarded boy who can make 120 baskets a day in a group home a “useless mouth” if the sold value of those baskets does not equal the amount of money it would take the state, private charity or a religious group to feed, clothe and shelter him. How can Singer’s theory figure that out without applying a subjective, arbitary or relative valuation of little Timmy’s worthy vis a vis his daily pile of baskets? But the morality of Clan MacDonald (mine just an oddity in our spelling) was that of the Catholic church and we chose to get on crappy ships and go to Nova Scotia rather than convert and keep our English conquererors off our backs. “My Hope Is Constant In Thee” – I hope you are only arguing that Singer does not see himself as a relativist not that you do too. Kevin McDonald (by blood Clanranald)Halifax

  17. Anonymous on

    I don’t accept Amazon as an authority. They also have books on Catholics and the New Age or Catholics and Eneagrams but Rome where the successor of Peter is the current vicar of Christ and conservator of what the Church knows about Christ, scripture and tradition is mine. You will see headings for Ethics in the Catholic encyclopedia (it has the imprimatur) but it will also mention that it is a secular subject, though not one that Catholics should ignore to be able to better proclaim Christ to the world. I have to go to basketball now. I think you run a good blog. I will try to get back onto business subjects, but I had to correct a few errors and misconceptions first. Go Dal, beat SMU. 🙂

  18. Chris MacDonald on

    Kevin:There’s too much there to respond in detail.All theories take rightness to be “relative”, in a very loose sense, to *something*. (Catholicism takes rightness to be relative to the word of God.) That’s not enough to earn the title “relativism.” The relativist is someone who says, “You think abortion is evil, and I think it’s OK, and neither of us is right or wrong, we just differ…morality is relative to the culture you grew up in.” That would be relativism. The fact that <>interpretation<> is required by a theory is not enough for it to count as a form of relativism.So, no, the point you make about insider trading is not captured by the relativism/absolutism distinction.I believe Singer has written in passing about business ethics, but not in detail. (Just for the record, I disagree with Singer about most things, but he’s regarded by his peers as being one of the best moral philosophers of the 20th Century.)Regards,Chris.

  19. Chris MacDonald on

    I don’t accept Amazon as an authority, either. I merely mention it in response to your point about never having heard the term “Catholic Ethics” at a Catholic bookstore. Take it for what it’s worth. The first book Amazon lists is published by the “National Catholic Educational Association”. But I’m not sure why any of this matters. There are Catholics, including Catholic scholars, to engage in debate about ethics from a Catholic point of view. Maybe that’s not “Catholic Ethics,” but rather “Debate Over Catholic Moral Teaching.” Seems to be a distinction without a difference.Chris.

  20. Anonymous on

    Are you saying that Peter Singer is not a relativist because his objective standard measure of and acts morality is his favourite theory, utilitarianism? Well then on the surface he is not a relativist. But when we examine utilitarianism’s weaknesses we see that he really is a relativist because a theory that says a person or act’s utility decides their worth is always going to be subjective in nature. Worthy to whom? Of utility to whom? It is an immeasurable valuation because the infant that Singer says should be allowed to be killed via infanticide could have great utility to a couple wishing to adopt the child. Therefore when we examine the basis of Singer’s supposed “absolutism” we see that he is “absolutely relativistic” and I am not the first to point that out. And Singer as the most important ethicist of the past two centurie? Nah. Maybe the most notable because he is such a foil to traditional Judeo-Christian ethics. And we thank him for forcing our ethicists, philosophers and theologians to shake off the rust and defend the truth. Singer is no Josef Pieper, a man I consider one of the last century’s greatest philosophers. Pieper’s “Four Cardinal Virtues” is a must for anyone wanting to know the synthesis of Platonist and Thomist worldviews along with how each compares to other philosophers. Pieper also made his bones with “Leisure: the Basis of Culture” a look at how culture (from “cultus”) is formed. We have all of Pieper’s work at Veritas Catholic books and Gifs (Barrington at Blowers). I don’t know why one would read Singer, except unless one was a professional academic and needed to know him to refute him, so I see your need to refer to him. It would be ironic if Singer someday were to take ill with a wasting disease and be a ward of the state or his family. Then maybe he would ditch his social darwinistic utilitarian ethos. Myself and Wesley Smith (among others) would refer to Singer as “a well-known or notorious amoral philosopher”. Kevin

  21. Chris MacDonald on

    Kevin:I think the utility of this conversation is diminishing.No, I’m saying Peter Singer is not a relativist because he (like you) believes that there IS an objective standard of moral right & wrong. You, too, have your “favourite theory,” and you base decisions on what you think that theory requires. Neither is an example of what is known as “relativism.”And I didn’t say “most important ethicist of the past two centuries.” Not even close. Check my previous posting again. But among scholars of ethics, he is regarded — by his peers, including a great many who disagree vehemently with him — as very very good. You’re free to disagree. I’m just reporting the man’s reputation among his peers.Regards,Chris.

  22. Anonymous on

    We seem to be MacDonalds from different personal hermeneutics. I see Singer as a relativist because what he says is an objective measure (utility)isn’t. Utility is and always will be a subjective measure, a relative valuation. I much prefer to defend and live by an ethos that assigns intrinsic value to a person or act. Such as cheating on your taxes is ALWAYS wrong. Or Abortion, infanticide and embryocidal Frankenresearch are ALWAYS wrong because human beings have intrinsic, not relative worth. Just because the communist bases all values judgements on his theory of communism does not mean that communism is an objective moral standard. As a statist political theory it has so many variants as to be multifariously diverse. If your point is that he is not a relativist because he bases his morality on his theory then is circular logic: his theory is relativistic. Kevin

  23. Chris MacDonald on

    Kevin:I’ve said it as clearly as I can. There’s no point in repeating myself.You’re simply misusing the terminology here.I doubt there’s anything left to say, here.Regards,Chris.

  24. Anonymous on

    Chris: I am not misusing the teminology. You are saying he is not a relativist because his values are based on his theory. But…that theory is a relativistic one in that its valuations of life or actions are always subjective in nature. I can’t make it any clearer than that and my argument is based on the facts of Singer’s theory: all worth is subjective and thus relativistic. The fact that he bases his ethos solidly on a particular theory (utilitarianism)is neither here nor there. We are what we do, not what we say.If he is claiming to not be a relativist because he “solidly” bases all his values judgements one one sole theory that is irrelevant, because the theory he proposes is not based on absolute criteria but relative or subjective ones. With all due respect, I’d say there are novel and substandard definitions of moral relativism being advanced.If that is the standing definition of moral relativist/ism philosophers are using these days then God help the misled because I can drive a Zamboni through the holes in the logic of that shaky definition. With all due respect Chris: I am making my argument by positing logic. You are “appealing to authority”, saying it is “the terminology” I should use: as if the vocabulary makes the argument — something Eric Blair (Orwell) warned against. Kevin McDonald

  25. Chris MacDonald on

    Kevin:Every moral point of view — let me emphasize that: <>every<> moral point of view — calls upon us to exercise judgment.For example:Utilitarians ask us to exercise our judgment about what will do the most to cause happiness in the world, and to reduce suffering.Kantians ask us to judge whether the maxims of our action could be made into universal laws.Catholicism asks us to judge whether our actions are in line with our interpretation (or maybe the Church’s interpretation) of the word of God.Adherents of each point of view are deeply, deeply troubled by the challenge posed by exercising such judgment. To be asked to do so is hard.But <>none<> of these theories is fully subjective, because although each requires judgment, our judgments are always open to fact-checking, correction, discussion with others, etc. <>None<> of these theories simply says “It’s all up to you. Do whatever you think is best.” <>That<> would be subjectivism.A theory that says “Act according to X,” where “X” is something other than “your own whim” is not subjective.Setting aside words like “subjective” and “relative”, the <>real<> issue is not whether some label applies but whether there is a flaw in the point of view. And if it is a flaw for a theory to require judgment, then all theories (including divine-command theories) are in trouble.Chris.p.s. comments are now closed on this topic.For a good intro to moral theory, check out James Rachels’ < HREF="" REL="nofollow">“The Elements of Moral Philosophy.”<> It’s a good, short read, and well-written.

  26. […] a fave of mine from a few years ago. (I blogged about it a few years ago on my Business Ethics Blog.) I love the polite “please,” combined with an announcement to all customers that […]

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