This morning, as I am enjoying my first cup of coffee and watching my favorite news channel, a commercial came on that floored me. It was a rather lengthy spot for the Service Employee International Union-that’s right, I said Union. They were reaching out to heath care workers in retirement homes. I have never worked in health care but I have a few friends that have and I guess, given the stories they have told, the surprise should be that I haven’t seen this sooner.
On the face, they were asking everyone (workers and non-workers alike) to pay attention to the issues at one retirement center and to contact that CEO because, despite an enormous salary for him, he is looking to slash the wages of other workers- including those taking care of our loved ones. I am sure that they are hoping to call to light this important issue as part of their Healthcare Workers’ Rising Project but even more so my bet is that they are hoping to stir the pot to see how many retirement home workers they can touch who feel underpaid, overworked and not appreciated.
This is, to me, the key to unionization…how the employees feel. Sorry, managers but here we go again with those darn feelings getting in the way of business (yes, I am being sarcastic here.) If employees feel mistreated, the only way that they can see to initiate change in most cases is to band together against the people they feel are at the core of the problem- you guessed it, the managers. There is safety in numbers so by coming together they hope to be able to make things better while not jeopardizing their jobs. By doing this, there is an immediate Us versus Them mentality. The war has begun.
So what can you do if you would like to avoid the war and the union? Create an environment where the management and the employees work as one cohesive unit. Achieving this is not easy and there are many facets to be considered (we can look at these in depth more later) but two biggies are the company culture and management style. Deciding who you want to be as a company and what you value will determine the behaviors of the entire organization thus culture is critical (not just to union avoidance but the everything from attracting top talent to retaining them to giving your company the advantage over your competitors).
The culture has a big influence on management style- whether it is Control Management or Commitment Management. Control management is the one-sided, do as you are told style contrasted by the Commitment style which is a “everyone committed to working together style.” This, of course, in turn affects your employees’ feelings about their work and their ability to be heard as individuals. If they know they can impact the company and be heard with fear of reprisal then they will not feel the necessity of banding together against you.
The one common denominator in all union avoidance strategies is the employee…bottom line to avoid having to fight against unionization or to fight the employees period is to make sure everyone is working on the same side. There is no fight if there is no opponent!
Have you ever walked through one of those haunted houses where everything is pitch black and you are kind of just feeling your way through? Scary as heck, right? Of course it better be or the haunted house would be a major flop. While intentionally inflicting fear on ourselves at Halloween is fun (at least for some), that horrifying, stumbling-around-in-the-dark feeling has no place in our work lives.
We want and need to know where we are going and how we are getting there. It empowers us to do our very best and makes us feel in control of the situation at hand. Now, I have worked with some really smart people in my career so I am forever baffled when they seem taken aback by the mere suggestion that we share information with the employees of the company.
Now, please don’t misunderstand, I am not suggesting that information that needs to be confidential is shared but more often than not, managers tend to want to withhold information that would help to strengthen the vision of the company or the ability of employee to succeed at their job and is not classified information. For example, a company I worked for was doing some reorganization. There was a position that was going to go through a transformation (not elimination) but the managers did not want the employee to know for fear that he would be unhappy with the change and would leave. The plan was to get everything set-up and when it was time to make the change they would tell the employee.
Well, you can probably guess where I am going with this but because I no longer take things for granted, I will lay it out for you. The day came for the transition to happen and they called the employee into the office to break the news to him. After the shock wore off, a few things were apparent; 1) the employee felt betrayed that people he knew and trusted did not let him in on the plans for his position and 2) the managers, not being as intimate with the position as the employee, made a huge mistake in what was realistically able to be expected from the person and related systems.
So, there they all sat, with egg on their face. The one person that could have and should have been consulted was left out of the planning and now that there was a mess to be cleaned up they did not have the trust of the person that could help them out of the jam they created…hmmmm, you know we have all seen something similar happen. So the question that just begs for an answer is why can’t we trust our employees?
That is what this all comes down to in the end. We don’t trust them to act in the company’s best interest so we keep them in the dark until we think we have backed them in a corner and left them with no option. They have to comply with things as they are presented – as the managers want them to be- or so we think. Silly Rabbit!
The one thing the employees (especially your best employees) have that nothing can change is their ability to choose. They can choose to leave, they can choose to stay, they can choose a good attitude or they can fight the entire time…but no matter what, THEY choose. As managers, the impact we can have is giving the employees the information and support so that the trust and respect is maintained. Turn on the lights and help them choose you and everything else will fall into place.
Walk in my shoes….how often do we wish our boss, our spouse, or children, heck even the cashier at the grocery store would just for a moment really understand where we are coming from. No one truly understands what we go through each and every day just to get our daily tasks accomplished. Wouldn’t it be great if they could, for even a day, be able to take a walk in our shoes? That way, they would truly understand things from our perspective.
Well, guess what, just as we say that about the people in our lives, you better believe that there are people in ours wishing the same thing about us. Guaranteed, our employees do not believe that we know what they go through every day to get their job done. So…the big question is, do we? I am not so sure. Of course, we think we do. And at one time, maybe we actually did their job so we think our insight is plenty but I would like to caution you on this. Why? Because things evolve and change at a constant pace, nothing stays the same. So, what can we do to get a true picture?
I can already hear the moaning and groaning but here it goes. Walk in their shoes! Here is my challenge to you…for at least 4 hours, do someone’s job. Choose a position you are comfortable with and think that you know what that employee actually does on a daily basis (of course, you could really up the ante and select a job about which you know precious little). Let that person know several days in advance that you will be coming to “be them” for a few hours and that you would like them to prepare to show you a typical day. Stress that you want this to be a learning experience and because you value what they do you would like them to be a partner with you on this exciting challenge.
Then get out there and do your best! Enjoy the adventure and keep an open mind. At the very least, you find you were right and you do know what goes on in their world at work. Chances are, however, that you will learn something new. This knowledge is powerful! It will give you a greater appreciation for the work your employees do, will allow you first hand experience upon which to base process improvement initiatives and will allow your employees to see that you are on their side. Louder than any words you speak, this action will instill upon them that you value their time and their efforts and will strengthen the relationship you have with your staff. If you think you don’t have 4 hours to “waste”, reconsider the return on investment that this experience proposes. You stand to gain far more than money can buy. So while it may not show up on any balance sheet, the asset you are protecting is the most valuable one any company has- investment in your people is always, always worth its weight in gold.
If you are shooting for higher productivity, look to psychology not policy. Productivity is the result of motivated employees. Motivated employees are not the result of policies….let me repeat that. Motivated employees are not the result of policies.
Managers worry about when employees come and go, when they take a break and for how long, how long they spend on the internet, and on and on. So their first instinct is to create a policy to limit what the employee can do. Sounds sensible, right? Hmmmm….I don’t think so.
To find out what really motivates employees, you need to have an understanding of motivational theories. Motivational theories are psychological understandings of what can inspire people to extend their abilities and to perform to the best of those talents.
There are many great theories out there and it is certainly worth the time and effort required to at least garner a basic knowledge of some of the most prominent. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Herzberg’s Two-factor Theory and Alderfer’s ERG Theory are three good ones to investigate.
You will find one theory after another out there and most have their merits. Bottom line is each will discuss what people need to be motivate in the workplace and most will discuss what can kill that motivation.
People want to feel trusted, they need to be able to express creativity, they want growth opportunities, they want what they give to their job to equal what they feel they get in return…not once will you hear that people want to inundated with rules, micromanaged and controlled. Yet, that is exactly what some policies do.
Now don’t misunderstand me, policies are necessary to run a smooth operation just as laws are necessary to have orderly neighborhoods. There is a line however, between laws for an orderly neighborhood and a military state where people are oppressed by the government. It is exactly the same with an organization and its policies- less can be more; more creativity, more trust, more loyalty and more productivity.
Understanding your employees and learning what motivates them will give you the productivity you are looking for without writing a single prohibitive policy. Give them a try!
I am such a strong believer that people want to do a good- if not great- job at work. I have never heard of anyone waking up and saying, ” I think I am going to go be a screw-up at work today.” People want to succeed. So if this is the case then why do so many companies feel that they do not have a good, talented workforce? They ask where can they find people that can get the job done…maybe the question should be, “what can we do to empower our current workforce to be successful?”
There are a lot of answers to this question including setting realistic goals and making sure they have proper equipment and tools to get the job done. In my eyes though, the most frequently overlooked way is to make sure that the employees are trained. Manager’s favorite lines to this are, “they can learn on the job” or “they have experience so they should know what to do”. Both of these are true- but they are not enough. It is imperative that a company is SURE the employee is trained. This is too important to leave to chance.
A manager I was having this discussion with really believes that training is spoon feeding the employee and that they should take it upon themselves if they feel they are lacking a skill or knowledge in an area. Okay, fair enough, as long as you are fine with the idea that the employee may or may not know what skill or knowledge is lacking. Proactive training is not such a crazy idea as long as the employee AND the employer are active in the process and get to enjoy the fruits of the labor.