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!
Thursday was a pivotal day in my professional life; the past year has been a year of serious firsts if I really look back on it. My first time to go through an acquisition, my first time to go through a merger (sort of), my first time to be “down sized” (or whatever the vogue term for having your position eliminated is now). These kinds of things change you. But change does not have to be viewed as a negative.
So here I sit on a Sunday morning- just a few short days after losing my job- trying to look on the bright side of things. It is easy to feel sour, but I just can’t let myself go there…so loving the old cliché, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade”, I decide that is the way to go for me.
What can be considered sweet in all of this or any workplace adversity for that matter? Well let’s see if I can discover at least three things that are positive (three seems to be a good starting point when something seems overwhelming to me):
- In my short time there, I learned some truly valuable lessons. While it was awful putting up with certain inequities and unethical behaviors, I did learn that trust is paramount to an organization’s overall health. Once it is gone, it is gone. I have never seen this in practice in such a blatant manner before but I certainly was able to gather many “What not to do” stories that will help me bring life to my teaching and will serve as a reminder of what I never want to be. My dad says, “You have to experience the bad to appreciate to good.” So that is my first positive- I can now truly appreciate the good and can use my experience to help others improve the health of their organizations.
- I met some really great people. I made some very good connections- both professionally and personally- which I would never trade for the world. I know that staying in touch is difficult once you are gone from their daily life but I know there are a few people that I will work very hard to continue to communicate with on a regular basis.
- While free-falling is a terrifying feeling, I believe that if I had not been pushed out of the nest I would not have propelled myself forward as hard or fast to begin my own company. Not that I wouldn’t have gotten there eventually but I certainly would have taken my time and approached it in a very methodical manner. I do think that often times this calculated approach stifles our creativity. While emotionally difficult for me- the rejection you feel when you are told you are no longer wanted somewhere is painful, even if you know that to them you were not a person but a number-being laid off gives me the opportunity to let the creative juices flow free and makes me have to work extremely hard to ensure the success of my new endeavor.
If I worked at it a little longer, I bet I could have come up with a few additional blessings that this hardship has bestowed upon me. Life is messy sometimes and we can either choose to cry over the spilled milk or embrace the challenge as an open door to a bright new opportunity. I am choosing to make some really delicious lemonade and I am excited to pour a nice cold glass and bask in the glow of a sunny future- care to join me?
Happy employees matter. It is the happy people that go the extra mile, impact the culture and elevate the team to the next level. Happy employees make the difference between mildly successful and wildly successful.
You think, and want others to think, that you do care about the employees that work for you. But if you examine your actions- and this is where the rubber hits the road, Folks- are they in line with this thought or is it nothing more than lip service because you know that it the expectation?
Here are a few things that may help you determine if you truly care to impact your employee’s happiness:
1. Employees are people- not assets. You can’t act like people are things. As soon as you don’t consider feelings (I know it is almost innate in business people to want to divorce themselves from this “soft” stuff but it causes more problems than they are willing to admit), you are acting as if your employees are no different than a piece of equipment to be used by you and discarded when they have expended their usefulness to you that is how they will act. No one will be happy if they feel expendable. (Notice the repeated “you” in this section- it was not an accident. Whose interest comes first in your world?)
2. People need a vision– your employees will gladly pitch in to do whatever it is that needs done, IF they can see how their efforts will positively impact the direction of the company. Employees that have the feeling of belonging and being able to contribute to a common goal will happily do what it takes to ensure success and isn’t that what you want?
3. Trust is paramount to leadership success and good leaders are paramount to happy employees– Leaders, PLEASE listen closely…trust is the most valuable commodity you can ever hope to have, it takes time and effort to gain it and it can be downright elusive: do not jeopardize it for any reason. Once it is gone, it is gone and it will take more than a miracle to try to build that again. And guess what, you might not even realize that it is gone. Employees are NOT going to come up to you and tell you that they don’t trust you, period. So what can you do? While this is a topic big enough to fill several books, I can give you my bottom line, basic thought on it…be ”real” with your employees. You might think that employees believe the façade you have built, but I can guarantee with 100% certainty that they don’t. So… What is real? Tell the truth, keep your word, maintain a high ethical standard, never break the Golden Rule, admit when you are wrong and be transparent. People need to know what to expect from you and if you don’t offer that “real” you to them they will not trust you.
Happiness is not going to come to your employees because you buy doughnuts on Friday mornings or throw pizza parties on occasion. They will be happy if you treat them as valuable, unique individuals that you want to be part of the team. They need to know you care and that you have their back—and they will in turn have yours. When employees are happy, great things can happen. –Tony Hsieh. CEO Zappos