When I grew up there was a different perception of employment relationship that we have seen in the past twenty years. It was an unwritten rule of work that if you, as an employee, gave your all to your employer, they do would do the right thing, even though they were not legally obligated to do so. That changed in the eighties, when corporate bean counters began to assume roles of importance in organizations.Profits became the focus at the expense of human capital. It did not take time for employees to recognize that their loyalty was not rewarded by management. As a result, today we see employees changing jobs as soon as a better opportunity presents itself. Their rationale, “My employer is only concerned with profit, so why should I stick it out with a company that will probably never reward my loyalty?” It is a sad but true statement.
Enter the current economic downturn (a/k/a train wreck). All the rules have gone out of the window. Employers that have been successful in weathering this crisis have come to realize that their ability to adapt to the new economic climate is largely dependent on attracting and retaining quality employees. Employees have also become less eager to jump ship. This is the classic case of employers and employees allowing crisis to become the catalyst for change.
The employers that are succeeding, in spite of the economy, understand that organizational competitiveness not only depends on employees mastering increasingly complex tasks, but that they must place greater value on their human capital. These organizations see that positive change occurs when they take steps to assist their employees become better people. To do so, they have to discard the old paradigm that focused on the bottom line and create a positive environment and an environment of trust. No matter how hard we work as employment lawyers, it is difficult, if not impossible to assist an employer create meaningful organizational change when there is a fundamental lack of trust between management and the people they manage or where employees act like whipped puppies.
I have been accused on being “old school” and maybe that’s true, but I believe that most employees want to stay with a company long term and want to enjoy their job. They have all heard about grandpa that worked for a company for 45 years before he retired. They want the same thing. The challenge for you, as a leader, is to recognize this and begin to work with your employees to create an workplace that rewards creativity, longevity of service, and integrity. As I write this I am reminded of a recent conversation I had with a friend. He works for a large company that for the first time in their history experienced a financial loss. When the news of this spread through the company, there was understandable concern. The CEO decided to be proactive and arranged to meet with small groups of employees throughout the company until he met with his entire workforce. In these meetings, he listened to the employees while they shared their concerns, offered suggestions and answered their questions. According to my friend, following these meetings, this company is more focused than it ever has been, morale is up, and there is a greater degree of trust that management has their back. No amount of policies, procedures or training courses can replicate what this CEO did in the course of several weeks.
When was the last time you did an honest review of your company and asked the hard questions such as do people like working here and are we, as a company, achieving our potential? It is not about changing the organization as much as it is about people within your company changing and, in turn, becoming a source of organizational change. As I heard one individual put it, “Most organizations don’t aim too high and miss, they aim too low and hit.”
Maybe it’s time for a change.