My Advice to Employees Everywhere

Nov 18, 2002

What a difference one year makes, huh? Things have gone from an employee-driven job market to an employer-driven one. Nevertheless, if you get out there and talk with the folks in the trenches, you may hear some grousing. Here’s some of what I hear from employees of design and environmental firms along with my response to it: “We’re working too hard.” Of course you are. Everyone in this business is. So let’s do what it takes to finally get organized so we don’t have to work so hard. And let’s make sure we all know what we are supposed to be doing before we start working. And let’s be sure to do a really great job so we can keep our prices high enough to make all this hard work worthwhile! “I don’t know what’s going on elsewhere in the firm.” Whose fault is that? Is the company refusing to answer your questions or are you not making your questions known? Maybe you should pick up the phone or stop by someone’s office or ask someone in another area out to lunch some time. Please don’t wait for management to figure out what you want. Go to them and ask. And one more thing— if you don’t know what everyone else you work with gets paid, that’s probably one piece of information that people really should not know about each other. You can feel perfectly good and then, if you learn what someone else makes, feel terrible. That’s human nature.\ “I’m not making enough.” Why do you think that? Compared to whom? And what’s really important to you? If I paid you twice as much would you mine underground coal all day? Probably not! Well different design/engineering/environmental firms all provide different kinds of work experiences and work environments. Pay is only one factor. I’ll bet the other things are important, too. I guess you just have to decide what’s best for you. But think long and hard about jumping ship for a few more bucks. That can be pretty risky, and you may find out the grass is not so much greener on the other side of the fence. “I do too much grunt work.” I know how you feel. We all do too much grunt work. But you know what? When I look back on my career over the years, one thing I am thankful for is I got a good grounding in the fundamentals of what I do. That came from a lot of grunt work. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking everything they do is beneath them, and that can come back to bite you hard down the road when you are expected to know something that is seemingly fundamental and you don’t. Don’t be impatient. “Human Resources (HR) doesn’t care about me.” Whatever gave you the idea they were supposed to care about you? The ombudsman function is only one small aspect of human resources management. Their primary concern revolves around the legal aspects and liability issues of employment. That’s what they are concerned with, first and foremost…protecting the company. Along with that comes a lot of other stuff that they deal with that’s not so fun, like dealing with insurance companies, outside payroll processors, trying to have the best policies that protect the firm and still make it a good place to work, and more. They are here because we need them here just like we need you here. I can tell you that I care about you, the other principals care about you, and your immediate supervisor cares about you, and that’s not bad! “We need better benefits.” That would be nice, __________, but do you know what’s happening in our business right now? Profit margins are getting squeezed, markets are slowing down, there’s more competition, and health insurance and professional liability insurance costs are going up fast. It’s pretty unlikely that right now we can do much more for our people— as much as we’d like to. I’m sure you can understand that. “Communications stink around here.” You know, __________, I’m not going to say that we don’t have a lot of work to do on this subject. But if you talk with the managers and employees in just about every company, they all say communications could be better. And they are right! What would you like to know that you don’t know now? How can we give you the information you want? Do you really need that information or are you just curious? I hope you understand that information always comes at a cost. Profits and bonuses already have a lot of pressure on them and while we want everyone to be kept informed and feel that they are a part of what’s happening, we are doing the best we can. Don’t get the wrong idea. I take employee concerns seriously. There is usually some validity to every concern you hear. But I also want to be sure that there’s some realism out there on this stuff. I have found that as it relates to the truth, many folks don’t want to hear it and many managers don’t want to deliver it. But we are all better off for it. Originally published 11/18/2002.

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