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Transforming Work Life through Gandhian Principles : A Modern Study
By Sidhi Goyal

Gandhi wasn’t just a freedom fighter, he taught the world the values of love, truth, honesty and nonviolence but unfortunately these values are long forgotten. Instead we see violence, deception, hatred and selfishness everywhere especially in the business world. So, implementing Gandhian principles in the work place is second thing. We even find it tough to imagine them together. The researcher has tried to step into this difficult sphere of making a small attempt to bring these two contrasting worlds together. This paper will majorly talk about three Gandhian principles that are - trusteeship, nonviolence and truth and their application in today’s work environment. The link between corporate social responsibility and Gandhian idea of trusteeship would be traced. The paper would also look at how Gandhian idea of truth has taken form of work integrity in the modern age and how nonviolence is still as effective and fruitful as it was in 1940’s. This paper is just a step ahead in taking forward the legacy of Gandhi in millennial age.

This research paper makes use of secondary sources such as books, journals, articles and websites. No primary source of study has been used because this research paper is descriptive in nature and wants to describe certain theories and techniques that already exist.


The question with which this paper started is ‘how can Gandhian principles be successful in bringing a transformation in the world of work in millennial age? How effective this change is going to be and what’s the way ahead. It’s an attempt of the researcher to find out answers to the above mentioned questions. After studying review of literature and digging deeper into this topic, researcher found out that not much has been researched on this topic before. It’s a completely new topic of research but there has been some research done on corporate social responsibility and its contrast with trusteeship. This has given a starting point but our research takes the previous research a step further in evaluating how corporate social relationship which has some similarity to Gandhian concept of trusteeship has helped in improving in quality of work life and how it is related to job satisfaction and work culture. The other two aspects of the research are completely new and no research has been done on them before. After reading all the literature, the researcher feels that this is an important sphere of research and it should be studied and even applied in reality.

Trusteeship and Corporate Social Responsibility

Gandhi’s trusteeship theory was designed to point a way to the painless extinction of capital and property as a source of iniquitous inequality and consequent violence and exploitation in social relations.[1] He thought that acquisition of wealth should be used for the benefit of society and it was possible to inspire the capitalist or the man of property to use ,for the good of the society ,his intelligence and talents that are responsible for the acquisition of capital and property. Capital is result of labour and the cooperative efforts of society. Therefore, Gandhi argued that wealth producing power embodied in capital must be held in trust for the good of the community ,not for the purpose of acquiring power over man and using it for anti- social ends for misusing in other ways the command over wealth which capital gives. [1] Another important point to be noted here is that trusteeship is not Gandhi’s original idea and it has been borrowed from foreign theorist and philosophers but Gandhi has definitely added to those foreign ideas and given them an Indian touch.

Though Gandhi has always been critiqued for being too idealistic but when it comes to the idea of trusteeship, Gandhi has been quite practical. Though Gandhi believed that possession of property and nonviolence were incompatible. He also believed in the idea of non- possession but he never propagated it. Gandhi did so because he felt that non-possession was unattainable. Not just this, Gandhi was even aware about the fact that it would be tough to apply Trusteeship as well. That’s the reason that in one of his interview with Nirmal Kumar Bose in 1934, Gandhi compared idea of trusteeship with Euclid’s definition of a point and said that though it is equally unattainable but if we strive for it, we shall go further in realising a state of equality on Earth.

In 1935 in the course of periodic interviews when asked how long one should wait for the rich to carry conviction, Gandhi said “I have no right to assume that I am right and he is wrong. I have to wait till I convert him. If he voluntarily gives 75%, I shall be satisfied and I render unto Caesar what is Ceasars …you may argue that a man surrender by compulsion today will voluntarily accept the position tomorrow ,a remote possibility. What is certain is that I use violence today, I shall be doubtless faced with greater violence tomorrow”. However, Gandhi didn’t oppose heavy taxation as a means of moderating excess wealth. [1]

Gandhi promoted working for economic equality as his important economic policy. Important idea behind Gandhian theory was that it is okay to use wealth and intelligence by capitalist to accumulate more wealth but that wealth shouldn’t be used for selfish purposes but instead to satisfy the need of society and therefore without exploitation. The state would regulate the commission they’ll get, commensurate its value and with service rendered. This came to be known as statutory trusteeship or state regulated trusteeship.

Gandhi added a spiritual note to trusteeship when he explained it later saying that everything belongs to God and was from God. Therefore, it was for his people as a whole not a particular individual. Gandhi said ‘all amassing wealth or hoarding of wealth beyond a legitimate point is was theft. There would be no occasion for theft and therefore no thieves if there was regulation of riches and absolute social justice prevailed.

Quite similar to the idea of Gandhian trusteeship which is prevalent in modern times is corporate social responsibility. Though, corporate social responsibility gives much more concession to the capitalist than the Gandhian trusteeship but the idea behind both of them is same and that is using wealth of the rich to help the society.

A widely cited definition of CSR in business and social ethics has been given by the European Union (EU). It describes CSR as “the concept that an enterprise is accountable for its impact on all relevant stakeholders. It is the continuing commitment by business to behave fairly and responsibly, and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the work force and their families as well as of the local community and society at large [2]. In other words, CSR refers to the inclusion of your stakeholders, suppliers, society and environment in ensuring the success of your business. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) established a set of guidelines for multinational enterprises in 1976, and was thus a pioneer in developing the concept of CSR. The purpose of these guidelines was to improve the investment climate and encourage the positive contribution multinational enterprises can make to economic and social progress. These guidelines were followed by all 30 members along 11 observer countries.

Though India had a history of paternalistic philanthropy, the term CSR started doing round only in 1970’s. Voluntary Guidelines (NVGs) on Social, Environmental and Economic Responsibilities of Business, have been laid down by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs in order to provide companies with guidance in dealing with the expectations of inclusive growth and imperatives of climate change, while working closely within the framework of national aspirations and policies. These are applicable to all businesses irrespective of size, sector or location. The NVGs were designed with the intent of assisting enterprises to become responsible entities whereby they the impact on various diverse stakeholders including society and environment at large.[2]

By far we have talked extensively about CSR and Trusteeship. The above information suggests that CSR is a way of ensuring social equity and should be undertaken as a moral responsibility but what we have missed is how CSR can transform the work life. A research that has been done tells us how CSR is related not just to one’s job satisfaction and job performance but as well to one’s life satisfaction and psychological need fulfilment.

Alzahawi Shailaan did an extensive study on impact of CSR on psychological needs, life satisfaction and job performance.The study was carried out in USA and employed the method of cross sectional survey with 567 participants. The result of the study showed that perceived CSR which is an employee’s perceived social and environmental responsibility taken by the company they are working with is correlated to a person’s job satisfaction, job performance and life satisfaction. Thus, an increase of 1 point in perceived CSR can lead to 0.33 in job satisfaction, 0.11 in job performance and 0.10 in life satisfaction. Along with these three major factors, perceived CSR was found to be indirectly correlated with achieved meaning, achieved belongingness, satisfaction of psychological need of control, satisfaction of need for meaningful existence, desire for significant impact through work and value congruence.[3]

Having employee’s that have better life satisfaction, job satisfaction and job performance would definitely improve the working culture thus, improving work life. Any and every company would like to have employees who are satisfied with their job, who have fulfilled their need for meaningful existence and are psychologically satisfied. This would lead to better conflict management, interpersonal relationship and intra communication which would ultimately improve company’s work environment and profits as well.

There are various reasons and explanations to why corporate social responsibility leads to better job satisfaction, job performance and life satisfaction. One of them is given by Aguilera and others who said that in situations that are meaningful and personal to the employee, need for meaningful existence should be most salient to an individual. As CSR impacts satisfaction of need to meaningful existence, it ultimately leads to better job satisfaction. Psychologist have given ample of reasonings to explain how CSR relates to all factors mentioned  in the above paragraph but the aim of this paper is not to look at the reasons of impact that is created by Gandhian principles instead the aim is to look at impact that can be created by Gandhian principle. Though, reasons of impact is also an interesting topic but that can be looked separately.

Nonviolence in Work Life

Gandhi believed in nonviolence as a value, as part of his value system, an end to be pursued and not merely as an instrument. It follows from this fundamentalist value premise that the end that society must seek is elimination of conflict in the sense of elimination of causes of conflict in general.

Gandhi said “nonviolence, as I understand it, is the activist force in the world. Therefore, whether it is materialism or anything else, if nonviolence does not provide an answer, it is not an active force of my conception. During half a century experience ,I have not yet come across a situation when I had to say that I was helpless ,that I had no remedy in terms of non -violence ”[3]

Ahimsa or nonviolence is the central concept of Gandhi’s philosophy. According to Gandhi, Ahimsa or nonviolence has a positive meaning also. In positive sense nonviolence means ‘love’[3] It means love towards all living creatures not just humans , nonviolence is love towards anything and everything that exist. When a person claims to be non-violent, he is expected to be nonviolent in all the three forms that is thought , speech and action. This implies that you should not have any thought or harming someone, you should not swear or say ill about someone and neither do any harm through action. He will put up with all the injury to which he is subjected by the wrong-doer. Thus nonviolence is complete innocence. Complete nonviolence is, therefore, in its active form goodwill towards all life. It is pure love. Gandhi regarded nonviolence to be an ultimate value on three grounds. First, it is universally applicable. Secondly, it enhances all other values without detracting from any. Thirdly, it is unlimited in its application.

Though Gandhi really believed in the idea of non -violence, he accepted that fact that complete nonviolence is not attainable in practical life. This doesn’t mean nonviolence as a principle is not applicable instead the idea was that partial nonviolence is attainable. So as to so that Gandhi believed that nonviolence is in the endeavour oh humans. But at the same time Gandhi recognised the point that the practice of total nonviolence in our life is not possible. Gandhi wrote, ‘Man cannot for a moment live without consciously or unconsciously committing outward violence.’ This violence is directed against life. According to Gandhi nonviolence is a perfect state. It is a goal towards which all mankind moves naturally though unconsciously.

The Gandhian concept of nonviolence is dharma in action, and truth translated.

There has been a wide debate amongst social scientists on the effectiveness of nonviolence. Though time and again people have come out to appreciate nonviolence but when it comes to choosing, violence seems to be the only option. Nonviolence is considered as weapon of weak which comes to use only when violence doesn’t work. Advocates of nonviolence have shown its worth not through words but through empirical data. Perhaps the most convincing study to date is that of Chenoweth and Stephan (2011), who assembled a comprehensive data set of 323 violent and nonviolent campaigns between 1900 and 2006. They found that nonviolent campaigns were nearly twice as likely to achieve full or partial success as were violent campaigns and that the advantage for violent campaigns held even when controlling for the authoritarianism of the regime. Nonviolent campaigns turned out to be more effective for both regime change and resistance to foreign occupation. The only purpose for which nonviolent campaigns were not more successful than violent ones was political secession. Chenoweth and Stephan concluded that nonviolent campaigns were more successful, because the costs of participating in them were lower than for violent campaigns, and therefore participation was higher and from a broader range of people, leading to more diverse strategies.[4]

Not much has been researched about non -violence and business world, may be because business world is considered to be too violent to apply principle of nonviolence but the researcher would like to bring to the notice of the readers that the behaviour of British government was also very violent when Gandhi came to India and decided to change hearts and political regime with use of nonviolence. So, nonviolence as a principle can be used anywhere. So, nonviolence as a principle can be used anywhere if the person using it knows how to effectively use it. There are two major conclusions we can draw from above mentioned study and they are; nonviolence is a more successful technique than violence and secondly, nonviolence has been successful in present times as well. Gandhi’s concept of non -violence is so wide that it cannot be entirely covered in this research paper but there is a technique which is based on Gandhi’s extraordinary skill of love and non -violence and this technique can be used in solving issues in work place.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC), was developed by American psychologist Marshall Rosenberg (2003) in the early 1960s. Rosenberg developed NVC while working with civil rights activists and with communities working to desegregate schools and other public institutions. A particular contribution that this body of work makes to nonviolence relates to the principles regarding human needs. 1. Human needs are universal. 2. All thoughts, words, and actions are attempts to meet one’s needs. 3. The final authority on each person’s needs is that individual.[5]

Rosenberg’s model offers those interested in internalising these principles a set of training wheels, a communication method consisting of four components: (1) Observations free of evaluations; (2) Feelings straight from the heart; (3) Needs, values and longings; and (4) Requests expressed clearly in positive action language. Thus, a boss frustrated by his employee who comes to office after a week of uninformed leave might respond to the employee in the following way:

I noticed that you came to office after a week and didn’t inform anyone to let them know you’d be on leave for an entire week. When you didn’t come office for a week [observation], I was worried [feeling] about your safety [need] and also frustrated and angry [more feelings] because it didn’t seem to me that you cared about how your absence might impact the company [the need here is consideration]. I really want to know that you’re safe and to trust that you are thinking about company, as well as yourself [all the needs restated]. Are you willing to talk with me about how we might be able to work it out so that when you take a leave in future, both of us are satisfied with what happens [request]?

NVC practice supports nonviolence in word and deed, because it offers a way to melt judgments and to see into the hearts of others. This methods can be used to solve smallest of issues and biggest of issues at workplace. When these conflicts of interest are sorted in peaceful ways, it certainly reduces the tension at work place. Thus, making the work environment more relaxing, accepting and at ease.

Truth takes the form of integrity in modern life

Truth is used in Gandhian thought in various senses. It may be called the highest goal, highest good, absolute existent, god, ultimate moral standard etc. R.N. IYER aptly observes from first to last, Satya  or truth was sacred to Gandhi -the supreme value in ethics, politics and religion, the ultimate source of authority and of appeal, the raison d’ ester of all existence. Since to Gandhi religion and morality are identical ‘there is no religion higher than truth and righteousness’. Here, Gandhi treats truth as the highest righteousness from religious point of view.

To quote Gandhi “but it is impossible for us to realise perfect truth so long as we are imprisoned in this moral frame. We can only visualise it in our imagination. We cannot, through the instrumentality of this ephemeral body, see face to face truth which is eternal. Thus, absolute truth is unknown and unknowable to imperfect being like us. But that does not mean we should remain idle. Life is a continuous process, a dynamic flow. It’s course is infested with good and bad, virtuous and vicious activities. Crooked in the course of life. It demands a norm, a standard, if an absolute one is not possible, by which we can determine the merits and demerits of actions of our everyday life. This opens avenue to casuistry, an ethics for everyday life. As mentioned above he adopts relative truth as a ‘beacon, a shield and buckler’ for the period during which absolute truth is not realised”. Indeed, this pragmatic treatment of truth that is the adoption of relative truth is the keynote of his Satyagraha movement.

This ultimate truth like the Euclidean geographical line in his ultimate moral standard. But since it is beyond our grasp, he adopted relative truth to solve the problem of everyday life.[4]

Though, the Gandhian concept of truth is much wider and deeper than the concept of integrity but it won’t be wrong to say that integrity is the modern day transformed concept of truth. Both of them stick on the idea that it is important to be true to your own self and true to others.

At the individual level, integrity is more than ethics; it is all about the character of the individual.  It is those characteristics of an individual that are consistently considerate, compassionate, transparent, honest, and ethical.  The characteristic of trust is closely associated with integrity. [6] At the corporate level, integrity refers to the culture, policies, and leadership philosophy.  A culture of integrity has to start at the top and be seen in the conduct and activities of the Journal of executives. The leadership of the corporation must develop a consensus around shared values.

The integrity hypothesis assumes that individuals and leaders who practice integrity can create a culture of integrity within a corporation. This culture of integrity, in turn, will create a highly-valued work environment; the corporation will operate with its focus on the long-run good of its customers, employees and stakeholders; and, as a result of this focus, the corporation will excel in terms of financial performance when compared to its peers.

This is not just a theory on paper but can be applied in real as well. There is even an example of a company which has actually followed the principle of integrity.

Wetherill Associates, Inc. — a small, privately held supplier of electrical parts to the automotive market—has neither a conventional code of conduct nor a statement of values. Instead, WAI has a Quality Assurance Manual—a combination of philosophy text, conduct guide, technical manual, and company profile—that describes the company’s commitment to honesty and its guiding principle of right action.

WAI doesn’t have a corporate ethics officer who reports to top management, because at WAI, the company’s corporate ethics officer is top management. Marie Bothe, WAI’s chief executive officer, sees her main function as keeping the 350-employee company on the path of right action and looking for opportunities to help the community. She delegates the “technical” aspects of the business—marketing, finance, personnel, operations—to other members of the organisation.

Right action, the basis for all of WAI’s decisions, is a well-developed approach that challenges most conventional management thinking. The company explicitly rejects the usual conceptual boundaries that separate morality and self-interest. Instead, they define right behaviour as logically, expediently, and morally right. Managers teach employees to look at the needs of the customers, suppliers, and the community—in addition to those of the company and its employees—when making decisions.

WAI also has a unique approach to competition. One employee explains, “We are not ‘in competition’ with anybody. We just do what we have to do to serve the customer.” Indeed, when occasionally unable to fill orders, WAI salespeople refer customers to competitors. Artificial incentives, such as sales contests, are never used to spur individual performance. Nor are sales results used in determining compensation. Instead, the focus is on teamwork and customer service. Managers tell all new recruits that absolute honesty, mutual courtesy, and respect are standard operating procedure.

Newcomers generally react positively to company philosophy, but not all are prepared for such a radical departure from the practices they have known elsewhere. Recalling her initial interview, one recruit described her response to being told that lying was not allowed, “What do you mean? No lying? I’m a buyer. I lie for a living!” Today she is persuaded that the policy makes sound business sense. WAI is known for informing suppliers of over shipments as well as under shipments and for scrupulous honesty in the sale of parts, even when deception cannot be readily detected.

Since its entry into the distribution business twenty years ago, WAI has seen its revenues climb steadily from just under $1 million to nearly $98 million in 1993, and this in an industry with little growth.[6]

Thus, integrity can be applied in organisations and it reaps results as well as evident from the example.


The research paper started with a question that how well can Gandhian principles transform work environment? And the researcher would like to edit on another question and that is what is the way ahead? Can we actually apply it to work environment someday? Would it be as effective in real as it looks on paper? The answer to these questions would certainly affirm believe in the marriage of two distinct worlds that are – peaceful Gandhian principles and competitive work environment. If nothing more, this research paper has thrown some light in this direction ahead. One good thing is that corporate social responsibility is a well talked about topic and it has been a point of focus of organisational psychologist, philanthropist and many other social scientists. This shows some hope that no matter how competitive and selfish business world is considered , even it has some consideration towards others no matter if its only 2% of their entire profit.   The other two concepts are completely new but while researching on them researcher found out that they can be effectively implemented if some efforts are done in this concern. The researcher got so interested in this topic while researching that the researcher plans to go ahead with this research and would like to see the effect of training employees with NVC technique on the work environment, individual stress levels and interpersonal relationships at work place. When it comes to integrity, the research paper would highlight two important aspects and that is of individual integrity and corporate culture integrity. It could be considered as one weakness of research paper that it is not able to evidently tell which level of integrity is more important – individual or corporate level. Though , the research paper clearly highlights the importance of integrity and even talks about how to develop integrity , it fails to answer that whether individual integrity leads to corporate integrity or it flows from top to down. Last but not the least, this research paper highlights one important fact and that is Gandhian principle may be forgotten but they haven’t lost their significance. Gandhian ideas were as fruitful in 20th century as they are today, it’s just that we have stopped confiding in them in the modern times.

  1. Gangualy, B.N. , “ Gandhi’s social philosophy-perspective and relevance ”, National Gandhi museum and Radha publication, Ch-6
  2. last accessed – 10th march, 2019, 14:27
  3. Alzahawi, Shilaan, “Psychology of Corporate Social Responsibility: The relationship between perceived CSR and employee attitudes, behavior, and happiness”, 2016
  4. Bal, Jaladhar, “Gandhi’s social philosophy -perspective and relevance”, Gyan publication house, New Delhi, pg. 68 to 69
  5. Lyubansky, Mikhail; Hunter, Carla. D., “Towards a socially responsible psychology for global era”, Ch-7, ‘Psychology of nonviolence’
  6. Duggar, Jan Waren, “ Role of integrity in individual and effective corporate leadership”, Journal of academics and business ethics, 2009