By Mike Novakoski – April 24, 2014
A valentine bag addressed to Mike, from Jeremy. Courtesy Elzinga & Volkers
Abuse is all around us. We’ve abused our environment in countless ways for decades. We abuse our bodies each day with poor food choices, lack of exercise and substances that harm, instead of help. However, I believe the worst abuse occurs between people.
Although we could talk about any of the various types of person-to-person abuse, I’m going to focus on something I’ve recently noticed called employee abuse. A powerfully negative phrase, this company-to-employee mistreatment occurs all too often and can be difficult to notice at first glance. But if you stand back and look at the minutia of the company-employee relationship, it’s no wonder a company can’t attract new help or keep the people it has.
Employee abuse exists in many ways.
- The company fails to recognize the employees as central to its success
- Company ego or greed (exclusively courting the bottom line) comes before employee welfare
- Employees are not given the opportunity to be heard on a regular basis
- Employees are underpaid, underappreciated and disallowed a healthy work-life balance
Employee abuse also exists in smaller ways.
- The company doesn’t offer an effective on-boarding program that makes the employee feel welcomed and connected
- The company ignores employee ideas for improvement initiatives
- The company fails to recognize and credit employee ideas and contributions
- The company treats the employee as a number, a cog in the wheel, instead of getting to know them as a person, keeping up with their likes and dislikes and personal life happenings
But there are ways to remedy our shortcomings. We must think of company-employee relationships as equivalent to other important relationships in our lives that require noticeable effort and nurturing.
Treat your employees like your children
In some cases, employees need to be treated like our children. We need to be cautious not to threaten them or get angry when they simply haven’t matured in their job enough to understand a new process or directive. We owe them the patience, tolerance and coaching any good parent would provide their children. If your child messes up, you still love them, right? There are times when we need to extend this same compassion to our employees.
Treat your employees like your spouse
In other situations, the company-employee relationship is like a marriage. We have to work at this relationship constantly or fall prey to the seven-year itch where the employee becomes bored and suddenly finds “greener grass” elsewhere. We need to have mutual respect for each person’s role. We can’t expect employees to stay “happily married” to us for long, if we constantly ignore and treat them as less than ourselves.
Treat your employees like your parent
Sometimes work relationships mimic your changing relationship with your parent. In the beginning, your parent is the authority and expert and you followed in their shadow as you grew and matured. Eventually, you will become your parent’s caretaker. I have lived through the dynamic of working under people for a lengthy period of time and then being promoted to a leadership position above them. It can be a tough road to traverse if you have a big ego or tendency to abuse power. But if you remember to treat your employees with the respect you give to your parents, you can salvage even a rocky relationship.
I, for one, favor relationships that reflect mutual respect and admiration, with employees both above and below me. This past Valentine’s Day, I was excited when one of my newer employees came by my office in the early hours of the morning with a small bag of candy and a valentine. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated this thoughtful gesture. Who in this world gives their co-workers (or the CEO of a company for that matter) a valentine anymore? I’ll tell you who: those who feel respected, well treated and interested in fun, healthy work relationships.
So as you reflect on how your company treats its employees, I leave you with two questions: Do you see regular instances of employee abuse that negatively impact your overall company culture? Can you see where recruitment and retention might suffer because of these instances?
Once you realize what holds your company back, you can start taking steps towards treating your employees in ways that move your company to a happier, healthier place.