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!
The way you treat your employees will determine whether they just “show up for work” or if they give it their all. I am surprised how simple the concept is yet how difficult it is for business managers to grasp.
Every day I hear from employers about how the employees don’t care, how they take advantage of things, how they are unreliable. And for a small percentage of these conversations, I do believe that there may have been some poor choices made in the hiring process but for the majority, the blame lays squarely at the feet of the manager. How can I say such a thing? Simple, because the same people that are telling me about the employee issues they are having are usually the ones working very diligently to create processes and policies that treat the employee as no more than a number. So, why the surprise when the employee acts that way?
This, my friends, breaks one of the cardinal rules of employee relationship management. Rules? Okay, rules is a harsh word and we all know rules are made to be broken but there are a few “best practices”, if you will, that simply have to be given credence. Here are a few of the biggies:
- They don’t call it the “Golden Rule” for nothing. Really, if you can follow this you have got the majority of this employee relationship thing licked. Treating your employees the way you would like to be treated is huge but honestly I think it is quickly and easily lost in the shuffle. Let’s face it, you have a hundred things to worry about so analyzing the psychology behind every process or policy you implement seems daunting. But even a moment to pause and ask yourself, “How would I feel if I were them?” will be a great start.
- Trust is a two way street. Don’t take for granted that your employees trust you. Why? Because it is not automatic and has to be reciprocal. You have to earn their trust and you have to trust them. Sure, this is hard- no one said working with people was going to be easy- but it is a critical step in creating a relationship with your employees that paves the way to people who will go the extra mile for you.
- Give them opportunities to grow. This goes hand in hand with trust. You may find the occasional individual that is happy doing the same thing over and over again and that is great. However, many need to grow…notice I said need and not want. This is not optional. If you trust the employee, you can give them new experiences and chances to expand their skills. Not only does that make them more valuable to you, but it also fulfills the employees desire to learn and grow- a win-win situation.
- Create allies with communication. Everyone wants to be part of the in-crowd and by keeping them abreast of any changes not only quells rumors, which can quickly sap morale, but makes them feel part of the big picture. Of course I am not suggesting complete transparency but I am definitely warning against keeping everything as closely guarded secrets and “need to know” status intelligence. Holding back information that could have been shared makes the employee feel that they were not worthy of the consideration- you never want an employee to feel that you do not value them, NEVER!
Whether your employee makes minimum wage or 100k a year, at the end of the day, each and every employee is a person. People are unique, unpredictable, a real handful and a true joy. They are the greatest asset any company will ever have …now the trick is to always remember this and to treat them as you would any precious commodity.