I committed a gift-giving crime. I bought this book as a birthday present for my friend Dana. I read a good review on it and thought she would love it. When it came in the mail, I was intrigued. So I did one of those crack the book open at a small acute angle, as not to make any bends in the hardback binding, and glance at the first page. I was hooked.
By the time I gave the book to Dana, I had to confess that I had already used her gift and read the whole book. In her wonderfully forgiving fashion, she took it one step further and said that I should have marked it up like I do all my own books. To her, that would have made the gift even better. I wish I would have known that while I was getting a kink in my neck trying to keep the book pretty. Anyway, it is truly amazing how this one family affected the whole culture around them with their brewing business.
From the beginning of their corporate and family history, the Guinnesses had embraced their obligation to the needy of the world. This began at home, with their own employees. Edward Cecil Guinness, great-grandson of founder, Arthur, expressed a foundational company conviction when he said, “You cannot make money from people unless you are willing for people to make money from you.” Accordingly, the Guinness brewery routinely paid wages that were 10 to 20 percent higher than average, had a reputation as the best place to work in Ireland, and, as important to many employees, allowed workers two pints a day of their famous dark stout.
Moreover the benefits the company gave its employees surpass those even envisioned by modern companies like Google and Microsoft. Consider the snapshot provided by a Guinness company report in 1928. Not an exceptionally enlightened time for corporate treatment of employees. Guinness workers at the brewery in Dublin enjoyed the attention of two fully qualified doctors who staffed an onsite clinic where an employee, wife, or child could receive treatment. These privileges extended to widows and pensioners as well. The doctors were available night or day, made house calls, and would consult specialists on their patients’ behalf if necessary.” There were also two dentists available to employees, two pharmacists, two nurses, a lady visitor who assured health conditions in workers’ homes, and a masseuse (xix).
As you can see, these pages are merely in the introduction. I had to keep reading! This business actually cleaned up the slums in Dublin. Talk about taking your vocational calling seriously! I don’t think this is only a call for Christian businesses either. Arthur didn’t depend on his church to kick off his project. He didn’t form a special committee for “mission work.” He simply did what he thought his job was as a responsible entrepreneur who looked at others as though they were truly made in the image of God. Imagine that. And he didn’t need to be an “undercover boss” to find out what was best for his workers. Along with the above:
A Guinness worker during the 1920s enjoyed full medical and dental care, massage services, reading rooms, subsidized meals, a company funded pension, subsidies for funeral expenses, educational benefits, sports facilities, free concerts, lectures, and entertainment (xxviii).
This amazing summary of benefits was only part of it. Families were taught hygiene and housekeeping and awarded for their cleanliness so that the communities would be healthier. Soldiers were guaranteed their jobs upon return of service. The list goes way on throughout the rest of the book.
We wouldn’t need to even get into these contentions over government healthcare if workers today enjoyed a fraction of these benefits. And I have to discuss the two pints a day because I think that is a major part of Arthur’s genius.
I wrote an article a while back that got some heavy traffic called, What Goes into the Beer?, quoting Dorothy Sayers on the quality of one’s work. As wonderful as all the above mentioned benefits are, Arthur never would have succeeded if his beer wasn’t stellar. Guinness is known for the quality of its beer, not its history for philanthropy in Dublin, or even its book of world records. One way to have your workers be passionate about making good beer, is letting them have two pints a day for their family. They took home the fruit of their labors as a reward. I know that we like to remember St. Patrick on St. Patrick’s Day. But since this holiday has so much Irish pride, and is associated with much drinking, I thought this would be an appropriate tribute to the good an Irish man can do with his beer.
*Originally published on March 16, 2012.