Wednesday, February 15, 2012

On Employees, Employment and Labor Unions

Maybe I'm just in a bad mood, but I stumbled across a link to an article from Westxdesign about what employees need most. I don't know who wrote this incredible drivel, but the author should spend six months as an agricultural harvesting technician on a farm in Delta, Ohio during the tomato season. What is really frightening is that I think some people actually read crap like this and believe it for the gospel truth. Keep reading for the article and my commentary.

8 Things Employees Need Most
1. Freedom. Best practices can create excellence, but every task doesn't deserve a best practice or a micro-managed approach. Autonomy and latitude breed engagement and satisfaction. Latitude also breeds innovation. Even manufacturing and heavily process-oriented positions have room for different approaches. Whenever possible, give your employees the freedom to work they way they work best.
If best practices create excellence, then why not use them?  Unless the employee believes himself to be smarter than everyone else (in which case he isn't going to be in this sweat shop much longer) or, more likely, the employee is too lazy to do the job right.  Autonomy does not breed engagement; autonomy breeds negligence.  The process for a repetitive job is controlled by a time and motion study, not by someone who is thinking about a nice, cold beer at 5:15.
2. Targets. Goals are fun. Everyone is at least a little competitive, if only with themselves. Targets create a sense of purpose and add a little meaning to even the most repetitive tasks. Without a goal to shoot for, work is just work.
Goals are fun?   Fun for whom, exactly?   I have never in my life been handed a goal that was any fun.  Never.   Not once.  Targets are meant to be perforated, and without a goal work returns to just being work and stops being time in the dentist's chair.
3. Mission. We all like to feel a part of something bigger. Striving to be worthy of words like "best" or "largest" or "fastest" or "highest quality" provides a sense of purpose. Let employees know what you want to achieve, for your business, for customers, and even your community. And if you can, let them create a few missions of their own. Caring starts with knowing what to care about—and why.
Case in point, not all of us feel this way.  In fact there are many, many people who are gainfully employed with a company just like the one you're trying to inflict this new set of standards on, and none of these folks want to be part of anything bigger.   Of course, you may be talking about the exceptional employee who hasn't learned any better than to talk about some drug induced sense of purpose that will eventually cancel out the raise he was going to get on the next job review.
4. Expectations. While every job should include some degree of latitude, every job needs basic expectations regarding the way specific situations should be handled. Criticize an employee for expediting shipping today, even though last week that was the standard procedure if on-time delivery was in jeopardy, and you lose that employee. Few things are more stressful than not knowing what your boss expects from one minute to the next. When standards change make sure you communicate those changes first. When you can't, explain why this particular situation is different, and why you made the decision you made.
The only time management provides expectations beyond the specific time of day you begin work every morning and the time you're released from prison every afternoon is when those expectations cannot be met by labor.  Otherwise the expectations are a moving target.
5. Input. Everyone wants to offer suggestions and ideas. Deny employees the opportunity to make suggestions, or shoot their ideas down without consideration, and you create robots. Robots don't care. Make it easy for employees to offer suggestions. When an idea doesn't have merit, take the time to explain why. You can't implement every idea, but you can always make employees feel valued for their ideas.
Suggestion boxes never last long. I wonder just why that is?   Could it be that management really does not want any suggestions from the employees unless those suggestions involve:
  • Lower wages 
  • Fewer days off 
  • Shorter paid vacations 
  • Longer work days - as long as these are unpaid hours 

Management does, in fact, want robots. Robots don't call in sick, don't talk back and don't form labor unions.  Plus you'll never find a robot putting a suggestion into the suggestion box.
6. Connection. Employees don’t want to work for a paycheck; they want to work with and for people. A kind word, a short discussion about family, a brief check-in to see if they need anything... those individual moments are much more important than meetings or formal evaluations.
This is an out and out lie.  Employees work for pay.  Pay is a means to an end, and if you don't believe me just check the quality of life for your average, everyday, out of work homeless person and compare it with Joe Middleclass.  Your employees do not want your phony words of encouragement.  They want money and time off to enjoy the money.  Management can skip all the titles, employee of the month awards and motivational meetings - just increase the pay.  Hell, if this was anything close to the truth CEOs wouldn't be making billion dollar salaries - they'd all be volunteers down at the soup kitchen.
7. Consistency. Most people can deal with a boss who is demanding and quick to criticize... as long as he or she treats every employee the same. While you should treat each employee differently, you must treat each employee fairly. There's a big difference. The key to maintaining consistency is to communicate. The more employees understand why a decision was made the less likely they are to assume favoritism or unfair treatment.
More stable dressing.  While it's true that some people can deal with a boss who is a real son of a bitch, not everyone can.   Add to that the real way to deal with an ass hole is illegal in most States and you've got a problem boss, which is why labor unions still exist in many places.   Moreover, the real key to maintaining consistency is not communication.   It's being consistent.
8. Future. Every job should have the potential to lead to something more, either within or outside your company. Take the time to develop employees for jobs they someday hope to fill—even if those positions are outside your company. How will you know what they hope to do? Try asking.
Yeah, every job leads somewhere alright... the phrase 'dead end' comes to mind.  I've seen people train themselves for the future and the thing that kept them going to night school was the knowledge that one day they would walk up to that wonderful, caring, goal oriented son of a bitch the author of this incredible drivel has been building up and telling that officious gasbag to take this job and shove it!

Right in front of everyone.

You've never seen it happen?  I have.  Everyone applauded.

One place where I used to work there was a particularly abusive demanding manager who was also quick to criticize everyone, all the time.  He didn't play favorites.  His favorite saying was, "Don't try to complain to anyone about me.  I'm untouchable."  One day he got on the wrong side of the CEO.  He was taken into the company president's office and given a verbal going over similar to what he'd been dishing out on a regular basis every day, then he was demoted to assistant customer representative, second class, complete with salary cut.  When he returned to his desk right after learning the bad news he found a large note in the middle of his desk:


And that wasn't the end of it, either.

My point is that if anyone really believes these eight points, they aren't a part of the real world.  The real world is populated by abusive jerks who should be turned over to Beat and Release for a hickory shampoo.  Corporations are staffed with managers who can't manage, and labor who is protected by a union.  At the top of the pyramid are the corporate weasels and fat cats, busy packing their platinum parachutes and wondering just how much the next election is going to cost them.  They truly do not care about the people under them unless those people are a means to an end.  Then it comes down to cost versus reward.

Here are the real 8 things employees need the most, in no particular order:

  1. Another job offer or two.  Casually mention to the resident slave driver that you've had two calls this morning from prospective employers, and you're wondering about your job security here.  Is it time for a little informal, unscheduled job review?  You damn' betcha it is.  Get the results in writing.
  2. A raise.  Money is why we work, more money is what we want.  Ideally, your salary should be high enough to enable you to maintain your current standard of living for one month without worrying about personal finances.
  3. More vacation time.  Even unpaid vacation is fine, which is why I always wonder just who the hell is getting punished when some city employee get penalized with a couple weeks off.
  4. Better benefits.  We don't need or want higher health care premiums, we need more and better health care for a lower cost to the employee (consumer, in this case).  Don't even start whining about the cost of health care - employees care less about that than management does about the secretary's dog dying last week.
  5. Better working conditions.  If you've ever worked in a room without a window or a cube without a view, you've got pure luxury compared to an assembly line, a foundry or a tomato field.  Yeah, the work's a bitch and it has to get done, but there are always a few things things that could make life easier for the poor schmuck doing the job.
  6. A high priority, high visibility project.  This is only desirable when the employee has another job offer or two in the works.  If the employee is going to be involved in a high priority project, nothing will get the employee more support from management than knowing a key employee has opportunities to depart without notice.  Bluntly, it gets the fourteen carat, chrome plated bitch on a stick female Director of All She Surveys to stifle herself and add to her dental bill rather than chewing on the proffered butt of the poor line worker who wants an extra hour to see his newborn son.
  7. More education and training.  Optionally, should any schmuck in the trench want to better his lot in life, refer him to someone who has been through it and done it, then help him get the education he needs.  At company expense.  The company will get the benefit of his new training for a while, then he'll move on and the company can find some new schmuck to abuse.
  8. A four day work week.  Talk to anyone who's been there and done it, and they'll tell you that a four day work week is great.  Working four ten hour days is far and away preferable to working five eights, but because management in its infinite wisdom has decreed that Monday through Friday are reserved for the company, that's it.  Period.  You know what?  Screw 'em.  Monday through Thursday is good enough and if management can't adjust, let management try doing the job that they're reluctantly paying line workers to do.  They won't last ten minutes.

Anyway, that's my own opinion.  No one has to like it, agree with it or even read it.  But I'll say this and mean it: I think I'm closer to reality than whoever it was that said "Employees don’t want to work for a paycheck".

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