elitefts™ Sunday edition

"Those Awful Employees!"

I'm often required to attend divisional meetings for the corporation I work for...which is when we spend countless hours in conference rooms listening to horrid presentations delivered via Power Point and eating catered meals that would leave most Girl Scouts in a protein deficient state. The days typically close with the obligatory cocktail hour where I'm blessed with the wonderful opportunity to listen to my fellow executives tell me their professional woes. I have a bit of a reputation as a personnel and employee culture specialist, so it's not uncommon for my colleagues to dialogue with me about issues that they're having with their workforce.

A couple of weeks ago, an "exec" approached me with a problem. He stated that his hourly, line-level employees were "milking the clock" (i.e. punching into the time clock either too early or too late) and that his frustration was such that he was going to position his department managers at the time clock during the times when the facility has its shift changes. "This HAS to stop!" he said...a little too passionately.  "These employees are abusing the system and are taking advantage of us." I allowed him to finish his rant, and then I started asking questions.

Me: "How is your current staffing? Are all of your positions filled?"

Exec: "It's terrible...we have several positions that we are struggling to get filled."

Me: "As far as your labor budgets are concerned, are you over?"

Exec: "No, we are almost always at, or under our targets."

Me: "Are you taking a huge overtime expense?"

Him: "No...we are below our budgeted expenses."

Me: "How is your service delivery?"

Him: "Very consistent...no chronic problems."

Me: "Have you always had problems with employees punching in/out on time?"

Him: "No, this is new."

After hearing his answers, my advice to him was to go back to his facility and genuinely thank his employees for working so hard and doing a tremendous job in spite of their staffing difficulties. The answer shocked him. "What about the time clock abuse?" he asked. I told him that chances were very likely that his employees were doing all they could do to make certain that his business line was successful. I also told him that sending a global message to his staff that he thought they were taking advantage of the corporation would be incredibly damaging to their morale and (most importantly) their motivation to work hard despite the staffing challenges they were up against. I advised him to always be watchful for any real circumstances of abuse; however, my guess was that this was a group of employees who deeply cared about the success of the organization and wanted to see it succeed.

A few days later, I received an email from him thanking me for the advice and letting me know that it would have been a huge mistake to accuse his staff of "milking the clock."

It hurts to be right.

I never understood the rationale behind supervisors always assuming the worst when it comes to their staff – and unfortunately, I see it all the time. Whenever a problem arises, it seems that managers often default to a mindset that their employees are lazy, unmotivated, or generally awful people. The worst aspect about this destructive way of thinking is that the employees can sense how they are perceived and any internal motivation they have to do a good job can be deflated very quickly. I have been hiring and supervising employees for a long time and along the way, I discovered a "universal truth" regarding employees as a whole.

Practically all employees want to do a great job and contribute to the success of the organization.

This desire becomes stifled when they feel like their individual efforts are not being recognized.  Staff, as a general rule, want to be listened to...not tolerated, educated...not limited, grown...not deflated. When we, as supervisors, perceive them in a negative light, we diminish their potential and turn what could be meaningful work into the "daily grind." We, through our own perceptions (which always transfer into our words and actions), give them the excuse to not give a damn.

Think about this – a coach who assumes the worst about his/her players seldom experiences any lasting success. The players sense how they are perceived and refuse to put in the work it takes to win. Parents who consider their children as failures and constantly remind them of their short comings end up with fractured relationships and unforgivable baggage that lasts a lifetime. Why would we think that treating our employees the same way as the examples above would create a different result?

In closing, I'm going to leave you with a couple of points.

  • Judge each employee on their own individual merit, rather than throw out generalizations about the workforce as a whole. If a couple of employees are screwing up, address them individually and specifically hold them accountable for their actions. Don't assemble the whole team and make them feel like they are all to blame.
  • Reverse your mindset. Be surprised when an employee fails...rather than be surprised when they succeed. If you expect them to do the right things at the right times, they will typically reward you with more wins than losses. All people want to be the beneficiaries of a supervisor who has faith in them. Sometimes that alone can make a huge difference in their performance and motivation to achieve.
  • Before you make a judgment about an employee or situation, don't assume that you know the reason why things are the way they are...do a little research and make certain that you are barking up the right tree. There are times when the picture you are given cannot be taken at face value. Be objective in your effort to discover the whole picture and act appropriately.

Thanks for reading.