Quitting the Trolls

Harry paused, stretched, and rubbed his eyes to stop them from focusing on the screen. He glanced at the clock. Still morning though he had been hard at work for several hours trying to catch up on the pile of work he always seemed to have. He had put in at least 10 hours a day for many months trying to catch up, all in vain. It seems the more he worked, the more work he received.

He allowed himself a few moments of rest and not attending to all the unread emails in his inbox, each screaming that the requester’s work was the most important in the world. He opened a new tab in his browser and glanced over the articles in the newsfeed if for no other reason than to take his mind off all the inbox screaming.

His eyes lighted upon another article about ‘Quiet Quitting’. It wasn’t the first one he had read about the phenomenon, but he noticed the stream of articles had grown since he read his first one a few weeks ago.

He smiled at the name. It wasn’t about quitting at all, quietly or otherwise. It was about what his generation would have called disengagement. In essence, Quiet Quitting was about doing your job. The twist was that it was about doing nothing more. It meant doing your eight hours and then logging off and having a life. It was the opposite of ‘hustle culture’, where you were expected to do more than your work and were looked upon suspiciously if you didn’t.

Quiet Quitting was also about something else, at least to Harry. It was about a broken promise. Hustle culture promised workers that if they worked the long hours, put in the extra work, they would be noticed in the organization and rewarded with raises, promotions, and upward advancement. Workers bought into that agreement, did their part, and saw nothing from management. No raises, no promotions, and not even talk about the path to promotion. The only thing they saw was a demand for more work and, if they slacked off, were told that was a sure path to being fired.

Now the managers’ bluff was being called. Workers were questioning why the long hours, stress, and time away from their families if there was no reward for those sacrifices. The workers’ reaction was Quiet Quitting. I will do what I can in my eight hours a day and nothing more. You want to discuss this, management, we can discuss why there hasn’t been reciprocity on your part for me.

As he looked through the most recent article online, Harry skipped to the comments. They were always the best part of an article for him. There were some thoughtful responses, some venting of frustration and anger, and some case studies from the respondents included. Then there were the trolls.

Harry could aways spot the trolls. They usually had a screen handle that was meant to keep them anonymous and well hidden, like their namesakes who hid under bridges. Their responses were usually meant to inflame passions, not inspire thought. Those same responses were usually exceptionally short so they could go about trolling on other sites as well. Harry didn’t mind opinions contrary to his. He did mind if they weren’t well reasoned and rationally put. If they didn’t meet those criteria, they were trolls in Harry’s opinion.

Sure enough there were troll comments galore. Despite himself, he found himself ‘answering’ the troll comments, if only in his mind and trying to pinpoint a sense of fear that he had.

These lazy Gen Z and Millennials don’t want to do any work — If the troll had taken any time at all to review the article, he would see these generations are happy to do the work. It is the extra, uncredited work that they are having issues with. Being told they are rock stars but being passed over at promotion time or being told there isn’t enough money for a less-than-rate-of-inflation raise wasn’t acceptable to them anymore. Matter of fact, it wasn’t acceptable to GenXers or some Baby Boomers either. Worse yet, it wasn’t acceptable to be told how good you are except when you wanted to be rewarded for your efforts and then told how poorly you performed.

These lazy bums will be the first ones fired — You’re firing someone for doing their job. Doing their job. Harry wondered what those unfair labor practice lawsuits would look like when the judge saw the positive reviews received by the employee, the ‘rock star’ memos, and other complimentary pieces against an employer saying they were fired for not performing their job adequately. He also smiled as more than once in previous positions he found out companies were forced to hire two people to the work he managed to do alone.

Nobody wants to do any extra work these days — There is a difference between pitching in to do some work when the team needs to be on top of a deadline. It is something quite different to expect 10, 20 hours extra work each and every week that is above and beyond the 40 hours you are being paid for and getting no reward whatsoever besides some nice, cheap words. Loyalty goes both ways. When was this forgotten?

It was sad to Harry in a sense. He knew that many in management were using the same arguments and scare tactics when asked the respond to Quiet Quitting. He had yet to hear one person say that maybe the system is broken and that they should sit down with their employees to discuss career development — true career development, and a two-way system of accountability. That sense of fear that went through him was that the trolls were managers who were happy with the one sentence pronouncements. He would not be surprised that The Great Resignation was from their departments. Those who left would be painted with the same brush as everyone else — lazy, unmotivated, or criticized simply because the manager could not see past their own blinders.

Harry sighed. He knew his mental musings would do nothing to help the situation and that he had a ton of work awaiting for him in his email. He stretched his neck and back, closed the tab where the Quiet Quitting stories were, and prepared to go back to the emails. He took his hands off the keyboard, pushed his chair back, and went to get a cup of coffee. Maybe it was time for him to do some quiet quitting of his own.

Tea and Honesty

George knew this wasn’t going to be a friendly chat. Oh, he trusted Margaret, the HR representative he was having lunch with. She had always been straight and honest with him, demonstrating her professionalism at every turn. However, he also knew when she ordered a pitcher of iced tea, which she had just done, that this was going to be a serious conversation. It was her trademark to stay hydrated as she talked. Unlike her colleague, Maxine, who George didn’t trust at all, Margaret had earned his trust. He wold sit and listen to her, knowing she was doing it for his own good instead of her own need to feel powerful.

George also knew what this would be about. One of his employees, Cindy, had recently left the organization. As was Margaret’s practice, she had a conversation with the offboarding employee and wanted to speak with the manager about her findings.

George tried to preempt the conversation. “Okay Margaret, tell me how terrible a manager I am.”, he said, half jokingly. Margaret smiled, took a sip of tea, and replied, “Why would I do that?”

That set George back. “Well, that is why we are here, isn’t it? To talk about what Cindy said about me? That she left because I was a terrible manager?” Margaret smiled, took another sip of tea, and replied, “No, not at all. On the contrary, she said you were a kind person who was a professional but approachable.”

Now George was thoroughly confused. “So we are here to talk about how wonderful I am?”, he said hopefully. Margaret smiled again, “Not exactly.” Well, that was short lived, George thought. “Then why am I having to work with HR to replace an employee?”

Margaret took a long sip of iced tea and refilled her glass. “Tell me George, Cindy wasn’t hired by you, was she?” “No”, George replied, “she came over to me when two departments combined. She was with the other department.”

“I see.”, Margaret replied, “You also had a few new spots available to hire, didn’t you?” George nodded. “Where did you get those other new hires from?” George thought about it for a bit and said, “They were either existing employees of my department or people who I knew who I had worked with previously.” Margaret took another sip of tea and nodded.

“Wait a minute. Cindy isn’t accusing me of discrimination, is she?”, George accused. Another sip of tea. “No….at least not overtly. But the more we talked, the more I could see why she left.”, Mary offered neutrally. George took a deep breath, willed himself to relative calmness, and made his mind as open as possible to Margaret’s comments.

“Do you know what Cindy’s main duties were before the departments combined?”, Margaret asked. “To my knowledge she was the main client contact for many of our products.” Margaret nodded. “And when she came to your department, what were her duties?” George thought for a minute about his reply, and then said, “Well, as we had new responsibilities in the deparment, I gave her new duties to perform along with her old duties.” Margaret reached for her tea.

“In other words, you added to, or in Cindy’s words, ‘doubled’, her workload without any promotion or additional compensation.” George bristled. “We were under orders to save every penny we could to ensure the deparment was profitable. It was part of the reason why we combined in the first place.”

Margaret nodded. “Cindy mentioned to me that she addressed this inequality to you. Do you recall what you said to her?” George thought for a minute and said, “I told her we could discuss it later.” Margaret asked, “And in the two years she worked for you, did you?” George fell silent, then replied. “Once she brought it up again, and I told her she wasn’t ready for any promotion.” Margaret continued, “And did you give her a plan of action so she could get promoted?” Again, George fell silent. “No.”

Margaret contined after another sip of tea. “When the world shut down and our conferences with our customers went virtual, and after we opened up again, who did you choose to present to our customers at those conferences?” George answered, “Francine. I knew her to be experienced in speaking with our customers and knew our products.” “What did you ask Cindy to do?” George thought for a minute and said, “I asked her to monitor the chat when we were virtual and to sit at the product table when we were in person.” Margaret nodded, “Why?” “Cindy knew the products.”, George replied. Another sip. “So, in other words, you made a choice about who would be public facing and who would be behind the scenes”, she said as George bristled. Margaret quickly continued, “As is your privilege. Why did you choose Francine?” “I knew her capabilities better”, replied George. Margaret said nothing.

Margaret poured another glass of iced tea, and also offered one to George, who accepted it readily. “Tell me about career movement in your group.” George was afraid Margaret would bring this up. Of the four people in the group at present, three, including George, had received promotions. Cindy hadn’t. George had noticed Cindy’s change in attitude during this time, but didn’t address it to her, thinking she would snap out of it. When she hadn’t, and offered her resignation, he was genuinely surprised.

“So, what you are saying is that I am a terrible manager who mistreats my employees.”, said George, with a tinge of bitterness that wasn’t due to the unsweetened tea he was drinking. Margaret smiled kindly. “No, I’m not. CIndy made it very clear that you were just the end of the road. You were the last of a line of people who told her how wonderful she was, added to her workload, but didn’t think enough of her to move her up in the organization. She was being truthful about your kindness and professionalism. But even a kind slap is a slap.”

They chatted a while longer of other things before Margaret said she had to get back to her work. She and George hugged, and she headed out the door. George stayed at the table a while longer thinking about the last conversation he had with Cindy before her departure. She had said to him that she hoped he found someone who he thought worthier than her. At the time she thought she was just being snarky or melodramatic. He realized now that she was just summing up what she had been suppressing for the years she worked at the company.

He poured one more glass of iced tea, raised it in the air, and said quietly, “Thanks for the lesson, Cindy.”

Implementing a Change

Harry dejectedly walked out of his annual review. It would be another year where his work was considered exemplary, but that he would not be getting a promotion. The reason this year was that he was not ‘strategic’ enough in his work, thus could not be promoted to a position where strategy was more important.

He was not the only one to receive this message. His colleague, Maise, was also told the same thing. While they both received a raise and would be bonus eligible, there would be no movement in the organization for them, at least for another year. They both suspected that next year would be another reason, or maybe the same reason, why no promotion would be forthcoming.

The reason for this pronouncement from their manager seemed almost ironic. Harry and Maise were the go-to people in the department when some strategy needed to be implemented. They knew where to start, where in the company to get the right people, had the right contacts, and knew how to make the plans reality. Their work had directly contributed to the department’s success and even to promotions for some of their reporting chain. Their successes had only bred more assignments where they were always teetering on being overworked. There were times during the year where they were asked why there were delays in their schedule, a point which was brought up during the reviews. The strategists did not want to hear that they simply had too much work. Didn’t they realize the department’s plans needed to go forward?!

Their morale low and feeling discouraged, they opened their separate projects and began what they seemed destined to do for the foreseeable future. They prepared their status updates and continued their work.

We laud the strategists. They are the movers and shapers of the company. They come up with the big ideas that drive the firm into the next few years. We revere their abilities to see into the future and navigate the ship for greater success and profits, at least it is hoped.

The one thing that always seems to be missing in that reverence is that without the implementers, the strategy is simply a piece of paper. Without the know-how, contacts, and expertise of those who bring the strategy for life, there is no forward movement and no glorious future. There are no back slaps in the executive suite and handshakes all around for another success. There are fewer promotions for a strategy well executed.

But we don’t see it that way. We see the implementers as something less. We see the implementers as not worthy of promotion because, well, they aren’t strategizing, are they? No, they can’t seem to get out of the drudgery of being concerned with the little things, the mundane, the ordinary. They need to think bigger!

Yet, what do you do with the implementers? Give them more to implement! They are so good at it, aren’t they? Just hand it to them, get some updates, and report the success. Or report the issues with the project and how you had to swoop in to save it, showing the implementers are just not ready yet to join the upper ranks. Either way the argument for the lower ranks to stay exactly where they are is justified, at least to your own mind.

It’s time we changed the conversation. It’s also time we changed the attitudes. A company can’t run with everyone deciding where to sail the ship and nobody taking the wheel. Those who implement are as crucial to the viability of a company as those who strategize. They should not be treated as undeserving of promotion simply because they have a different skillset, one that the company cannot do without.

If the conversation won’t change, then it is incumbent of those who strategize to take those skills and teach them to others. That is going to require sacrifice. It will require less work upon the implementers so they can learn to strategize. It will mean a lower chance of success because you have invested in the career of another human being. It will mean courage to explain that to your executives.

All that will take a different kind of strategy. One that will keep good people with the company and your bench strength filled. The question is, do you have the fortitude to be the implementer of that?

Half-Baked

Gloria didn’t need the work. Recently retired, she would be solvent in her retirement if she spent carefully. However, extra money never hurt and the job looked interesting. It would also get her out of the house.

The job was with a local bakery. While it had a couple of locations, it wasn’t one of the big chains in the area, which attracted her. The bakery billed itself as ‘gourmet’, which usually meant that they charged premium prices for their goods. She applied to the want ad and was contacted by the owner of the locations.

Gloria had experience baking. She had her own successful cake business for several years until she found working that and her regular job just too exhausting. She also had experience in corporate America, giving her the skills to prepare for the interview with the owner by ensuring she had a portfolio of her baking, her resume up to date, and a great attitude coming from her lips.

The owner met her in one of the locations. A pleasant younger woman, she looked tired. She explained she had been working in the stores more than she should because, “Well, I just can’t seem to keep anyone for any amount of time”. She looked over Gloria’s portfolio and admitted she was impressed by what she saw. Carefully, the owner told Gloria this would not be a baking job, but more of greeting customers, fulfilling orders, and other jobs like that, though she would try to find time to utilize her baking skills. It all sounded good to Gloria.

Then the tough question came. What rate of pay did Gloria want. She was prepared for this and wasn’t going to ask for an outrageous hourly wage. Instead, she asked for something reasonable for the market.

This was greeted by a frown by the owner. She explained that her chef made that amount, but her counter help made much less. Gloria asked what that hourly rate was, and had to hide her shock at the answer. It was pretty much minimum wage, which the owner made clear was about all she ever paid the counter help.

Gloria professionally and politely informed the owner that the job wasn’t for her at that rate, which the owner took in stride. “That’s too bad, because you would have been wonderful.”, the owner admitted. “It’s puzzling to me that I can’t seem to get good people to stay.”, Gloria heard the owner say to one of the employees as she left the shop.

We justifiably cheer for the small business owner. They are the backbone of the business community. We sympathize with their struggles and all the hurdles they have to overcome. We understand that they can’t compete with the big box stores in benefits and other areas. So, when they say they can’t pay a higher rate, we understand. They need to make a profit to stay in business, don’t they?

What is puzzling is that these same owners express confusion when an employee leaves for a better paying opportunity. It shouldn’t. If you look at it that we are all in the business of ourselves, then we are all small business owners. If you had the opportunity to raise your own profits, you would? Why then are you confused when your employees take the opportunity to raise their own profits?

You have a vision for the business you lead. Your mistake is that you expect everyone else to share that vision and be willing to sacrifice to make that business viable. As a leader, you need to understand that isn’t going to happen unless you make that happen. You need to give your people a reason to stay.

You also need to understand that people need to be in the business of themselves. That may mean a small setback for your plans for your business by giving more to your employees. If you are unwilling or unable, then you have to expect your employees to do what is best for them. All the sighing in the world won’t help. Rethinking your goals will.

According to Gallup, the cost of onboarding an employee is one and a half times their salary. How much is that costing you in poor service to existing customers, the cost of customers leaving to follow that employee, and lost opportunity for you to grow your business because you are working the register? What is that in comparison to a higher wage?

In the end, it will be up to the leader to decide what is more costly to them. However, if you have a steady stream out the door for higher wages, it may not be them. It may be you and your fiscal policy.

…And Then the Conversation Changed

You had to hand it to the CEO. Even though it was in the midst of the pandemic, he didn’t have to give a weekly update to the company. It was something he wanted to do and believed he owed to the staff. It had been difficult for the staff. They had faced temporary pay cuts, seeing colleagues furloughed, and a workload that skyrocketed not only because of the furloughs but the additional work the company heaped upon them in order to stay afloat.

You also had to congratulate him for not just addressing the company, but also taking questions via a chat function each week. Further, you had to admire the man for not only taking the questions, but for surviving the questions. Some of the questions asked of the CEO were eye rolling, filled with petty requests that didn’t recognize the situation that the company was in, but rather almost sounded like children pushing a parent for more and more candy. The CEO handled these well, even when his direct reports didn’t handle them as well as they should.

An example of this was one question asked of him during these calls. The question, about whether the company might consider granting an additional vacation day or two for the employees who were working admittedly long hours to keep the company going. In most of these cases, the CEO would politely say it was not a topic for consideration and move on to the next question. In this case, the CEO passed it to his top HR person. Her answer changed the conversation.

Instead of just saying it was not being considered, the HR person said that she would like to see the employees take the days they already had. She then passed the conversation back to the CEO. Adding insult to injury, this response we mimicked by others in the C level when asked the question. No matter who said it, the response did not go over well.

What was the problem? It was in what was said, not the underlying issue. In saying that employees should take the days they already have, it implied that the C level had no idea of the amount of extra work, the amount of extra hours, and the amount of sacrifice the employees of the company were expending in order to keep the company afloat. Many could not take a day off for fear of what their inbox would look like the next day. Others mentioned their managers strongly discouraged the taking of a vacation day for fear of what their team or department would look like to upper management.

Beyond that, the response showed a simple lack of appreciation. Many of the other ‘suggestions’ from the CEO’s call were monetary based. Can we get our cut salary back? Can we get a higher bonus for the work we are doing? Can you pay for the four staples I used while working at home during the crisis. This wasn’t. While there was a monetary component to it, namely lost revenue due to lost work, it was an important non-monetary way to express the appreciation of the management of the company for the sacrifice being forced upon their people. By refusing to even consider it, and saying so in such an offhand way, the C level was saying that they were happy to express their appreciation verbally but putting any action behind it was not something they wished to consider. That changed the conversation from saying, “We’re all in this together.” to “It’s one thing to have you sacrifice and another thing to have the company do the same.”

Over the next few weeks there were clarifications and explanations, but the damage had been done. Lower level leaders of the company understood and would give an extra day to their people or tell the staff not to charge a day of vacation to the official time keeping application. Even the C level seemed to get the message and began making some other concessions, like vacation carryovers, which were appreciated by the staff. Still, the memory of that response stuck in the mind of many employees, even those who would roll their eyes at some of the more whining complaints of their co-workers.

Especially in times of crisis, leadership needs to tread a fine line of asking for shared sacrifice and showing appreciation to those who answer the call. Doing this successfully will add to the camaraderie of the company and encourage the employees to give what they can, when they can, to get through the crisis. When you draw that line in the dirt between words and action, your employees will do the same. When you show you are ignorant of their actions, you risk revolt.

You as a leader need to erase the lines, foster understanding, and breed compassion. Otherwise, you give your employees no reason to do anything but what you are modeling.

The 27% Heart

During the pandemic, many companies have tried to show they are concerned about their customers. Whether giving extra time to pay bills, rebates on insurance premiums, or offering low or no interest financing on larger purchases, these companies are trying to balance staying in business with showing care towards the plights of their customers, who may be working on reduced pay or not have a job at all.

Then there is Financer X. Financer X is the bank behind a store-based credit card. You know the type. Your favorite department store has a credit card, but it is not serviced by the store, but by the bank who actually extends the credit offer.

Henry had accepted an offer from the department store to finance the purchase of a piece of furniture. The offer was no interest to pay off the piece of furniture at no interest if the payments were made in a certain amount of time. Henry took the offer and budgeted accordingly to pay off before the 27% interest the card charged took effect.

During the pandemic, Henry was fortunate enough to continue work, but his employer had informed him and his fellow staffers that they would be getting a pay cut. It was either everyone took the cut or some staffers would have to be furloughed. With this in mind, Henry began looking at every bill that came into the house to ensure he did not overdraw his checking account balance.

Looking at the statement from Financer X, Henry was pleased to see he had only one more payment on the piece of furniture. Ensuring he wasn’t making any mistakes, and he would not have to pay any interest, he read the bill carefully. There his eye caught the following statement by the financing company.

“Our hearts go out to all those who are affected by the pandemic. Please know our call center remains open if you want to make your payment by phone.” End of statement. Well, not quite. There was a reminder that anyone who did not pay their bill in full would be subject to 27% interest as agreed to in their cardmember contract. There was nothing about payment abatement, postponing payments for the unemployed, shifting payments, or interest deferment. Nope. Financer X’s corporate heart bled for all the affected card holders, but was going to do nothing that might affect its bottom line.

As Henry arranged for an automatic payment, he made a mental note. He would not close the account, as that would affect his credit score, but he would not be shopping with Company X or using their credit card at all. It would gather dust in his desk. He would stop all email from the Company and spend his diminished resources elsewhere. Would that have any impact on Financer X or Company X? Possibly. At that fact, Henry thought, “You know, my heart goes out to them.” He promptly cut the card in two.

In times of crisis, it is your actions that people will remember. In a time when people suddenly have their incomes discontinued through no fault of their own, a company can shine through their acts of compassion, or can be tarnished through their acts of selfishness. These decisions come from the company’s leadership.

When that leadership decides to maintain profit over the suffering of their customers, it says a lot about the company and their ideals. The smart company will take a short-term hit to gain the long term benefit of loyal customers who remember the caring and commitment of that leadership. The not-so-smart company will value the next quarter and hope their customers memories are short.

Unless you sell something so unique that your customers cannot get it anywhere else, it is simply good business to show your customers you care. If you don’t demonstrate that, your customers may take their hearts, and their wallets, elsewhere.

Preach and Practice

The message was clear during all the seminars the company was broadcasting to its franchisees. If they wanted to keep their employees during and after the current recessionary times, they needed to make them feel needed, wanted, and special. Many of the franchisees understood the message and shared that they were doing just that. They were engaging in one-on-one conversations with their employees, writing notes of appreciation, and doing what they could to keep the spirits up of the employees, either in person or remotely.

What’s more than that, it seemed to be working well. The leadership of the company received positive reviews for both the seminars and the message that was being broadcast. The franchisees were not losing their employees to the competition even when their commissions were lower due to lower sales.

There was only one group who wasn’t practicing these techniques. The leadership of the company itself. Yes, they were regularly sending out an email or having a team web conference and saying how proud they were of the corporate employees, who were working extra hours at reduced pay to keep all these seminar and other events going. However, as for any of the other techniques the company was advocating its franchisee base do, the actions of the company’s leadership was lacking.

Not one employee could say that the leadership had singled them out for an individual email, phone call or personal note expressing their gratitude for the crippling workload, or managing a household budget with a reduced salary, or for getting all their work done when their hours had been reduced. True, their local managers, mostly, thanked them for their hard work and said they appreciated their extra work. Some of the local management had even said for the employee to take a day off and not declare it as a thank you for the extra time put in. But the senior leadership? Except for the obligatory ‘thank you’ at a company meeting, nothing more seemed to come from their collective creativity to make the employees feel wanted, needed, or appreciated.

As the weeks of onerous hours and little pay wore on, so did nerves, and they were fraying fast. That seemed to be little noticed by leadership, which was always asking for more, expecting more, and even criticizing more when mistakes happened.

A simple fact of life that seems to escape many leaders is that it takes a happy staff to make happy customers. How do you make staff happy? Besides money, most want to be appreciated in some meaningful way. That is not a passing, “Thank you so much” in a company meeting. It is something done for the employees on a personal level. It is a recognition that the employee has sacrificed part of their lives to make the customer happy. A good leader will understand that and take the time to reach out to the employee to make sure that appreciation is expressed in a why the employee will find special.

The gap between words and action is amplified when you are giving one message to others and then not putting actions to that message yourself. Your message becomes disingenuous when you are not following it yourself. That leads to your employees wondering why they should continue their Herculean efforts when their leaders can’t be bothered to recognize that effort beyond a few measly words said to everyone.

Simply put, when you don’t make an effort to value your employees, what is there to entice your employees to value you or your business?

Make the effort, put in the time, and make the recognition personal. When you do, you’ll see all the words you are throwing at others can actually work for you, too.

What? You Want Us to Give?

It had been a rough month and a half for the company. The recession had already caused the company to cut salaries, furlough employees, and cut benefits. Employees were working long hours to both make up for the work of their furloughed colleagues and to help preserve the company. As the work went into the second month of this, nerves were frayed, tempers short, and personal budgets strained.

The CEO had made it a practice to update the company each week on the status of the business, if there would be any further or extended salary cuts, and when there was going to be some relief. At the end of his remarks, he would take questions typed in by the employees viewing his live address. Over the course of the updates, he had made the following statements in response to questions asked.

  • The money lost from salary cuts would not be returned to employees once business was back to normal
  • Bonuses, which the company used to augment their less-than-fair-market-value salaries, would be very small, and employees better prepare for that
  • There would be no monetary compensation of any kind to thank employees for their herculean struggles

The employee questions were persistent, though. In this particular week, it was suggested that employees get an extra one day or two days off as a bonus for the hours they have put in and the sacrifices they have been forced to make. The CEO pondered that for a few seconds, and then turned the question over to his HR Director, who was also on the call.

The HR Director took a few seconds to reflect upon the question and answered as follows. “I would encourage employees to take the time off they already have”. That was the end of the statement.

The employees couldn’t believe what they heard. First, they were being told that no, they would not be receiving any type of appreciation for the company for the extraordinary work they were doing, for less money and fewer benefits. Second, they were being scolded for not taking off any time in a period where they were working 12-16 hours days just to stay even with their work. There were a chorus of people saying they would be finding a new place to work once this recession ended. Most had fewer reasons to give all they had to keep a business afloat when that same business seemed to care nothing of them.

In order to get through difficult times, leadership needs to have a give-and-take relationship with the employees. The leadership takes from employees during the deepest part of the crisis, but also needs to give something back to the employees to keep them motivated and productive. Saying how proud you are of your employees or giving them a virtual pat on the back is good, but not enough.

By continuously taking and giving nothing, you risk burning out your employees and engendering enough ill will to affect your business even when the good times come back. You risk losing incredible amounts of knowledge, the relationships your employees have created with your customers, and enough social media criticism of your company to make potential candidates think twice about working there.

Good leadership knows practicing all take and no give causes losses all around. They make sure that whatever they can give during the bad times will result in increased retention, happier employees, and a company which will survive good times and bad. Give that extra day off. Even if they can’t take it due to their workload, they will remember what the company did for them when they have the opportunity to go somewhere else.

Love Me or Get Fired!

It was a big task, but Barbara thought she was up to it. She has proposed to create a whole new system from scratch, though there were plenty of vendor alternatives on the market. No, this was going to be her baby, her inspiration, and her legacy. This system was going to be built.

There was very little input from others about this system. Yes, there were a few focus groups asking what end-users would like to see in the system. Unfortunately, there weren’t any focus groups for those who really used the current system about what they really needed. Thus, when the first iteration of the system was unveiled, there were more than a few questions and more than a few criticisms leveled at the effort.

Stung by this, Barbara vigorously defended the system, leveling accusations at those who criticized the system as ‘hater of innovation’ or ‘not giving the system a chance’. When the critics brought up key functionality that the system did not possess, Barbara would counter that they really didn’t need that functionality and were just looking for things to criticize. When other said maybe they shouldn’t use the system, but stay with the legacy system, Barbara doubled down on her defense of the system and refused to even acknowledge those concerns.

In her own organization, Barbara mandated only support for the system. She did not want to hear about the shortcomings and ordered her direct reports to vigorously defend the system against any stakeholders who might dare to level criticism. For those direct reports who did come to her with concerns about the viability of the product, Barbara had a unique strategy. She threatened to fire them.

It wasn’t an outright threat, as Barbara knew that might warrant HR coming to visit her and investigate. Instead, she would usually say that she didn’t think anyone who wasn’t a ‘team player’ had a place in her organizations, and that the employee better think long and hard if they wanted to level any criticisms against the system. For the majority of her direct reports, that bought their silence rather well, though they still had serious reservations about the system. Barbara could live with that.

One of the most difficult part of being a leader is shuttling your ego to one side and listening to ideas contrary to your own. Even more difficult is admitting that you might not be correct about a course of action you have taken. None of us enjoys admitting that, nor having to reverse course and suffer the backlash that will ensue.

It is also one of the most critical parts of being a leader. If your ego can’t take that kind of examination of your actions, then you don’t have a right to be sitting in that leadership chair. If your reaction to being told you might be wrong is to immediately threaten termination to an employee for being ‘disloyal’, then you should vacate that position immediately, as now you have demonstrated that you care more about yourself than your company or your employees.

We all make mistakes. It is how we learn from them and go forward that defines us. If your reaction to hearing about possible mistakes is to find any and all ways of silencing those who told you, then you don’t deserve a position where you are allowed to make any decisions at all.

Stretching Reality

The HR director was rather proud of herself. She was speaking to one of the company’s departments outlining her achievements, including the fact that she had a strong commitment to stretching employees with new assignments, career advancement, and job rotation. It was a hallmark of her tenure. She went as far to say that she didn’t want to have employees who weren’t willing to be stretched in the organization. It was part of the company’s success.

The employees listened to this politely, thanked her for attending, and left. They were polite enough not to laugh at her words in front of her, but had plenty of conversation about them afterwards. Job rotation? Advancement potential? Stretch assignments? None of them were part of the department they were in.

The HR director had addressed this. If this wasn’t happening, she wanted to know. She would take action. However, the actions taken were more deleterious to the employees than awakening to the management.

In theory, the HR director should have known this. After all, there was a representative for each of the departments, wasn’t there? Yes, but for most employees, the only time they saw their HR representative was at these meetings. When they did come to the department, it was to meet with the executives. And when the executives were questioned as to whether they were growing and stretching their people, what do you think was the answer? The message to the employees? They weren’t important enough for the HR representative to visit and speak with, even though it may tell a very different story than the executives related.

This didn’t happen, and since it didn’t, the commitment of the HR director went unfulfilled. It would have been easy to remedy. Talk to the employees. Find out when was the last time they received a stretch assignment. Find out if they were being groomed for a promotion possibility. Find out if they had been offered a job rotation or offered a short assignment with another group or department. Nobody did, because nobody cared. The employees simply weren’t important enough to do so.

The HR director said she didn’t want to see anyone leave the company because of unfulfilled expectations or potential. If she had put her energy into ways to ensure that instead of just making speeches about it, she would find a much lower turnover rate. She would have found much more fulfilled employees and a lot more heads nodding in her meetings with departments.