Editorial: The employer-employee relationship

Jun 17, 2011

By Mark C. Zweig CEO, ZweigWhite Some could argue that human resources management has taken a blow in the past three or four years with such a soft economy. Many employers have probably felt they had the upper hand with the job market being as soft as it is. But the truth is good people always have other options. Employers cannot just take their people for granted and maintain an effective workforce— especially in a business like the A/E and environmental consulting business— where all we sell are our individual and collective talents. We’ve had some difficult people to deal with since I rejoined ZweigWhite last July. On top of it, I have seen some of the firms we work for as consultants or where I serve on the BOD going through some difficult people problems lately, too. It got me thinking about the whole employer-employee relationship in June of 2011. Here are a few of my conclusions: 1) Some people just have dysfunctional attitudes or mental illnesses that they bring into the workplace that you just will not be able to change. Whether it is their inability to deal with change, problems interacting with other people, paranoia about job security, resentment for other team members who they think have a better deal, or any number of other behaviors that make these people impossible to work with as a part of team, you aren’t going to change them. Move them out. They will always consume a disproportionate amount of your “management time” and the salvage rate is just too low to make it worth your while. 2) Some people may be competent and able to do their jobs, but want too much of your time, as well. I once had a woman working for me— a manager of a small unit— who simply refused to communicate on anything over e-mail or telephone. She had to have a meeting. And if you couldn’t meet with her, then that was (in her mind) a legitimate excuse for failure. This isn’t acceptable, either, though you may be able to reprogram the employee such that they can succeed and not take so much of your time, if you simply confront them on it and make them communicate with you the way you want them to. 3) I don’t like hearing “I don’t have time to do that” or complaints from someone that they are working harder than anyone else. I don’t think anyone really knows how hard someone else in management works because you aren’t with them all of the time. If someone is not in the office and someone else always is, does that mean that the one who is “at work” works harder? In this business it doesn’t! I find that those who travel work more hours than most of those who don’t, because you have to work and then you also have to travel. It just takes time. And what about those who work from home late into the night writing, returning e-mails, or doing creative work? Are they not working because they aren’t there? I have seen and heard this kind of nonsense a lot lately and I won’t stand for it. 4) Just because times are bad doesn’t mean that someone should ever be abused in any way by their employers. I’m talking about dressing them down in public, not paying expense reports, asking people to do unpleasant personal chores for the firm owner or owners, and other such matters. This stuff has to be avoided at all costs, and any employee who objects or leaves over these kinds of things cannot be faulted. 5) Laying good people off due to a lack of work “because of the economy” is a rationalization for management not doing their job. It’s one thing to let people go for poor performance, poor attitude, or inability to fulfill the expectations of a specific role, but it is another to let good people go for lack of work. Employees trade off a certain amount of opportunity to come to work for you vs. starting their own business or working on their own. In return, they expect you to take care of them to a great extent during difficult times. I just don’t think we, as employers, can forget that. 6) We all have to be careful not to be perceived as playing favorites or creating the perception that we do. Who do we go to lunch with, who do we talk to the most, who do you take on client engagements? These things and more can create a feeling among some staffers that you have a “favorite,” even if you don’t. Be careful about perceptions. A little attention may go a long way to keep a good employee feeling like you recognize them and their efforts.

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.