Don’t Treat Your People Like Children

Jan 03, 2000

One thing I know about smart people—they hate being treated like children. It’s insulting and demeaning. Unfortunately, we routinely see owners and managers of A/E/P and environmental firms who do just that to their employees. They sweat the small stuff that really isn’t important. These people let the nickels get so big that they hide the dimes sitting behind them. The outcomes are higher turnover, lower morale, and poorer performance. Here are some examples of what I am talking about: Office supplies. Some firm owners get all worked up about the pads of paper or Post-it notes that disappear from the supply cabinet. There have even been cases where pencil stubs had to be turned in for the employee to get a new one (although that may be an urban myth). Unless your employees are taking cases of this stuff home at night, the time and energy spent by management could be put to better use. Internet access. I constantly get calls from owners and managers who are upset about employees using company-supplied Internet access for matters that are not work-related. In some cases, they want to take Internet access away from everyone because of this. But my experience is that you can’t do it. You need to confront abusers, but don’t treat everyone like children because a few people abuse their privileges. It’s kind of like my youngest daughter Anna’s teacher— if someone leaves food on the floor, then all the children lose their snack privileges! You can’t treat adults like that in the workplace! Cellular phones. This is another one of those areas where there is going to be personal use. What can you do about it? Tell your people they can’t ever use their cellular phones for a personal call? I use mine for personal calls some of the time. The way I rationalize it is that I have to work a lot. And if the cellular allows me to stay in touch with family members when I can’t be there, it’s a good investment for the company. And I think it would be wrong to chide an employee for something you also do. Besides, I don’t want to spend my time poring over cell phone bills trying to sort personal from business calls, nor do I want our accounting people doing that. Their time is better spent giving us good information to run our business and collecting money than it is bugging people about a $3 personal phone call. I should add that we close our books within five days of the month end and have a 28-day average collection period! Computer games. Again, I would deal with this issue on a case-by-case basis. If you have someone who plays solitaire all day, talk to him or her about it. But don’t feel you need to pull the games from every computer because you have a single offender. Travel expenses. This, again, is small stuff. Never should anything that is not allowable be charged to a client. But to spend too much of your managers’ or your accounting department’s time nitpicking these expense reports doesn’t make sense. The potential for demotivation is much greater than the cost savings in most cases. Of course, we wouldn’t allow our folks to stay at the Ritz and order room service lobster either. There is a limit! Financial information. Many firm owners still don’t share financial data— not even summary reports— with their people. They don’t trust them! They are worried that the stuff will fall into the wrong hands. They don’t think their people will understand it. My experience is that not giving this kind of information to your people is insulting their intelligence. They aren’t kids. Their livelihoods depend on the firm, so let them know how healthy it is. Interactions with employees. Some owners and managers treat their people as if they were personal servants. I once worked for a real jerk who asked me to stop by his house on the way home from work and install air conditioners in his kids’ windows because he was going out of town on a business trip! People just don’t go for this nonsense today. You have to think about whether what you are asking someone to do is appropriate or not. So what do you do about managers who just don’t get it when it comes to these issues? Confront them, of course! It’s an employee’s market these days, not an employer’s market. And that’s not going to change soon! Originally published 1/03/2000

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