Editorial: Small demotivators; big impacts

Mar 26, 2014

Being treated as a second class employee, independent of rank, is very demoralizing, Mark Zweig writes.

The other day I stopped to talk with ZweigWhite’s CPA, who was meeting with our in-house accountant – a young woman who was a former student of mine. When first built, ZW’s office was the home of Fayetteville Diagnostic Clinic – a doctors’ office. The accountant’s office is right off the reception area and has a small, sliding glass window that opens up to the reception area where people used to go to pay their bills and set appointments. Both our men’s and women’s restrooms are off the reception/waiting area. So you can imagine how everyone likes to go past that window, slide it open, and make some kind of a joke or wisecrack, or just say “Hi” to our accountant. I am one of those people. After I left her office I used the restroom. On the way back, however, I found myself wanting to say something to our CPA again. But then I noticed a lock on the “appointment” window. Evidently, because she was getting tired of the constant interruptions, our employee installed a small lock on the window. I acted frustrated with the lock (was really joking around) and said I didn’t care for it there (again, joking). Later that day, I learned from our CFO that the accountant took her window lock off because she thought I didn’t want it there. I said, “Tell her it’s OK. I was kidding and don’t need to demand total compliance over such a small thing!” You see, the truth is some companies DO demand total compliance from their people over seemingly small, trivial things – and they also demotivate their good employees in a thousand other small ways. Some of these include:
  • Not paying money owed on expense reports promptly. This seemingly little thing is decided all of the time by those who pay the bills in firms. They may make employees wait two, three or four weeks, or even more, just to get a reimbursement. You are in a better position to finance business expenses than your employees are. Don’t abuse and demoralize them by being a slow-pay company!
  • Having special privileges for a few people only. I always like to think back on an architectural firm I worked for as a consultant some years ago where the owners had special parking places close to the building and everyone else had to walk blocks through some severe weather to the “regular” employee parking. It was horrible and a major source of discontent in the firm. Same thing when executives get their parking paid for but admins have to pay $200/month to park. Demoralizing when the word gets around.
  • Not having business cards for people at or below a certain level. Nothing says, “We don’t think you’re important enough to merit anything” like not getting business cards for everyone in the firm, regardless of level. It’s demoralizing for them.
  • Not having a mailbox for everyone. See my comments on business cards above. Some firms have mail cubbies for all employees. Just imagine if you are hired and then don’t get one. Demoralizing!
  • Not including certain people on “company-wide” communications. It may be an oversight – or it may be deliberate. But to exclude someone from a company-wide email list (even if just a part-timer or intern) could be devastating to them in terms of morale.
  • Not inviting people to meetings they should probably attend. I remember this happening to me the first year I worked at Carter & Burgess. They went off for a shareholder’s retreat to talk about people and marketing and finance, and left the HR director, the marketing director, and the CFO back at the office. VERY demoralizing.
It may be as small as not having a good stapler when the person in the cube next to you has a fantastic one. But the truth is, little things really do matter. If you’re smart, you’ll get tuned in to this stuff. I can assure you that not doing so will eventually prove costly! Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of ZweigWhite. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweigwhite.com. This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1049, originally published 3/31/2014. Copyright© 2014, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.