Sunday, January 11, 2009

Mistreating Employees

(News-Herald, December 2003) There are many reasons not to treat employees badly. I’m not talking about moral or ethical considerations. If a manager doesn’t already understand those ideas, it’s probably too late to educate him. I’m talking about practical, business functionality type reasons. Treating employees badly is bad business.
First, there’s the whipped dog principle. You can beat a dog into submission, but the dog that you train to cower before you will never give you a warm doggy welcome, is never going to rush to your aid of its own free will. Some day you’ll need it, and it won’t come. And if you’ve failed to crush every molecule of its spirit, someday it will find a way to bite you in the butt.
Managing your employees by breaking them simply gets you spiritless, miserable employees. This is a particularly large drawback if your business deals with people; I can always tell when I’m in a store that’s managed this way because the service is lousy.
Other bad management techniques have more subtle ill effects. These bad management techniques get one simple message across to employees—management can’t be trusted.
Maybe a manager makes clear through his actions that he has more important things to do than help employees do their jobs. Maybe he proves himself erratic and unreliable. Maybe he simply turns out to be a liar.
Employees will probably cut the manager some slack, even beyond the honeymoon period. They may view his decisions with a raised eyebrow or a questioning glance. But eventually, once he uses up his slack, things will change.
People will put up with a lot from someone that they believe means well. That’s one of the foundations of a functioning marriage. You know I’m committed to our future together and that I love you very much, so when I bring home the gas-powered wall-mounted deer-intestine stretcher, you find it annoying, but not a serious threat. And I know that you love me and want the best for us together forever, so when you yell at me for buying that monstrosity, I know that I may have to sleep on the couch, but this will still be my home.
But once that belief in the good intention is gone, the world looks different. If I no longer believe in your commitment, everything is suspect. If you want to pick out vegetables by yourself in the grocery store, I start wondering if you’re also cruising the yellow pages for a good divorce lawyer.
The same principle applies in the workplace. People who don’t believe that the boss wants what’s right become more difficult to manage.
It doesn’t have to be this way. I can believe my boss’s plan to achieve his noble goals is stupid; he can chew me out for what he feels is an error on my part. Those things can happen without my losing faith in his good intentions.
But once I no longer believe that my boss wants what’s right, once I stop giving him the benefit of the doubt, the whole work environment changes.
With the benefit of the doubt, employees back their boss’s plays. If a deadline suddenly requires extra effort, if plans fall through, if problems arise, employees just shrug, say, “Well, stuff happens” and pitch in.
But without the benefit of the doubt, employees start to scrutinize everything with suspicious eye, wondering if they’re being set up or stabbed in the back. Maybe the plan fell through because he wants an excuse to phase us out. Maybe that deadline requires extra work because he wants to teach us a lesson and put us in our place. Maybe it rained today because he’s trying to stop our picnic.
Hours are wasted on piddly complaints and what should be minor issues. Average bosses are simply annoyed by silly employee complaints. Really good bosses hear the real hurt and dismay behind those complaints. Really lousy bosses think that employee discontent is proof management is doing a good job.
Every little issue is perceived as a twitch on the trigger of a gun pointed straight at the employees. The workplace becomes tense, testy, cranky. Less gets done, and it gets done less well. It’s all well and good to tell people that they should stop feeling that way. You can tell someone hanging by his fingers from the side of a cliff to be more cheerful, too. But when people don’t feel safe, they don’t feel safe. You can’t order someone to have faith and trust.
Faith is reserved for God; imperfect humans are incapable of deserving it. What we have for each other is trust, which is lost or gained based on behavior, and once it’s gone from a workplace, it’s a long hard road to earn it again.

1 comment:

Danny Lucas said...

I see you have dealt with Customer Service at Time Warner Cable too.

And Verison will scoot their employees from one end of the country to the other, and BACK, if the tax breaks and wage cuts merit a penny here or there. Yo-Yo employment is so inspiring, eh?

Boycott Time Warner Cable as a public service.

Radio Shack too.
Why do you need my zip code for me to buy a Duracell battery?
Ain't gonna happen.

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