Boss: I’m sending my employees to their rooms without dinner

Behind the new fashion of bosses telling employees how to vote is a very old idea: corporate paternalism.

Yesterday’s New York Times story about bosses who tell their employees how to vote (a practice apparently legalized, under the radar, by Citizens United) raises a dilemma.

Critics of the practice, not implausibly, say the goal of the practice is intimidation: while voting is secret, other campaign activities (including donations) are not. Employers naturally deny that. But to the extent that they do, it raises the question: if not intended as threats, why are such communications necessary at all? Why can’t employees make up their own minds, as the equal citizens they are?

In the article, David A. Siegel, the Westgate Resorts CEO who told his 7,000 employees to vote for Romney if they valued their jobs if they didn’t want the company to be forced to shed jobs, gave the Times the only plausible answer:

“I really wanted them to know how I felt four more years under President Obama was going to affect them. It would be no different from telling your children: ‘Eat your spinach. It’s good for you.’ ”

Call me convinced. If you look up to CEOs who regard their employees as children, Romney’s your candidate.

Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.

6 thoughts on “Boss: I’m sending my employees to their rooms without dinner”

  1. Certainly an unfortunate (STUPID) choice of words by Siegel. And by the way, not knowing him, I suspect (but don’t know) that it’s bullshit anyway; that he was really just trying to coerce his employees to do what would best favor him, irrespective of their best interests.

    Now, having said that, let me point out …

    My partner and I ran a successful software company for 21 years. For most of that time, we had a couple of hundred employees, many of whom were very bright but relatively young, and who looked up to us for good advice on a variety of important issues–stuff like how best to manage their retirement funds, how to plan their careers, how to plan their continued education, and even where and how to buy a new home.

    I never thought of them as “children,” but I certainly went out of my way to give them the same best advice I would have given my our own kids, who were the same age and education level as many of our employees. So I’d be reluctant to condemn the guy for the fact that he thinks of his employees (in part, at least) as being like his kids.

    1. Sorry for the belated reply..

      I think there are several disanalogies between your honorable behavior and what this CEO did. His employees are (presumably) of all ages, including his peers in life-cycle terms; you didn’t tell anyone how to vote—and, most important, your employees *asked* for advice from you rather than your obtruding it on them. Those disanalogies make all the difference. You have been a helpful mentor. Siegel is a jerk.

      And note his example of paternal advice. He doesn’t think of his employees as akin to his *adult* children, but as similar to *young* children. At least, I don’t plan to be lecturing my son about veggies when he’s 25.

  2. One should only be irate that the government, by some infinitesimal odds, might someday tell you to eat broccoli. By golly, such news should make you reach for your semi-automatic weapon. Are we not free men? But when a CEO shoves spinach down your throat, you should sit still, open all orifices wide, and let him preach. He’s a god after all. All CEO’s are gods.

    It’s really important in the conservative world to know your master so that you can worship him properly.

  3. How would these CEOs react to finding a flyer in their mailboxes that read “Mitt Romney is in favor of cutting the number of firefighters. This is a nice house house you’ve got here. It’d be a shame if anything happened to it.”?

    I suspect they don’t see what they are doing is exactly the same thing…

  4. I have to say what he said it wasn’t that nice. But I can tell you as an employee of Westgate Resorts it is a great place to work for, and there are lots of opportunities to grow within the company. I think people get influenced by politics and forget that in every day life working for Siegel has been the best job I have ever had ( even though he send that letter).

  5. Yeah its true, employees are the equal citizen of the country so they also have the rights which others do have.

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