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.