The Care and Feeding of Good, Skilled Employees

A blog post by Simon Cooper sent up a reminder of a subject that has been at the forefront of my mind for the last couple weeks and is a follow up to my blog post The Superman Conundrum.  I’d had lunch with a previous coworker from years ago about  less than stellar management behavior directed towards him as an employee and also spoke last week to another previous co-worker about challenges in her current workplace.  I’m pretty content with how I am treated at my company.  Even though the company does not comprise of techies, they at least attempt to understand the demands of the IT industry, giving folks off time during the day when appointments and personal issues arise, knowing that we often “pay-it-forward”  within a week or so in after-hours work that is common for most operations support roles.

Simon’s post discusses what should be common sense in a business-   Give employees what they need to be as productive as possible, pick your battles and you will reap the benefit in return for the business.  You want loyal employees-  ones that come to work, look forward to coming to work, drive for new challenges with gusto and always give their best to the company that hired them.  Unfortunately, their morale and loyalty is often tested by management and management practices that have no common sense behind them.

The simple policy of treating your employees well and in return you will receive their best is a rarity in the work place.  Having this policy, with the understanding that if abused, then there was a mistake made in hiring them and then the company has the  opportunity to replace the individual should be in place everywhere when it comes to Information Technology.  Instead we commonly hear of companies mistreating skilled professionals and in return, spend ridiculous amounts of time repeatedly in the recruiting phase due to consistent turnover which is a huge waste of any company’s time and money.

The employees that a company such as this will retain are either:

1.  possessed of little self-esteem, which in turn shows itself in lack of initiative and personal growth, (doesn’t serve any business well in the long run.)

2. Aren’t shining examples of good employees anyway and are perfectly happy mistreating the company as they are mistreated, (also an additional burden to those that have stuck around with the low self-esteems…)

I think most techies will agree with me-  Information Technology is a peculiar industry.  Many of the folks that fall into the field have a broad range of skills, often quite intelligent and unique personality traits vs. other areas of business.  Since most companies prefer to promote from within the department that the group will be managed from,  this results in techies being turned into managers.  Where the problem of management promotion being based on control issues more often than true leadership skills, this is never more apparent than in IT.  Sorry folks, it’s just a major fact as it is a problem in business overall.  We say, “Our Manager is being unfair and effecting morale!” and someone is going to undeniably say, “It’s a job, you’re not supposed to like it, man up, (or woman up, depending on the case)!”

The deal is, most companies should be paying more attention to these types of complaints.  Often employees aren’t too keen to complain in fear of reprisal to begin with, let alone stating what the REAL problem is.  Keeping an employee happy and productive is actually quite easy and involves very little effort than simple respect.  It baffles the mind how often it is more important to a manager to “be right” than to do the right thing for the long haul.

Take the following scenarios:

Jennifer has worked a year for her company and has performed well in her manager’s eyes.  He relies on her often for last minute jobs and she has always come through.  She suddenly needs the afternoon off , her son is sick at school and has to pick him up. Jennifer’s boss asks her to take sick time to do so and follows up with an email asking her to correct the time in the system because it was short what he feels was a 1/2 hr from what she really took off.  Jennifer has only five sick days a year and often performs after-hour support for the company, interrupting her personal life to address issues, losing time with her kids and spouse to address them.  There is no “comp time” that she is given for this work-  it is just expected from employees at her company.

John has been employed for years by the same company and is in good standing with his current manager.  John lost his son in a car accident three months ago.  His family has had a very difficult time with the loss and John has a large cache of vacation time that he is pestered by HR to take.  When his wife has an extra difficult day due to the loss of their son, he has requested to take a vacation day.  John now has an interim manager who refuses to OK the vacation day and chooses to leave  John unpaid for those days.  John is the sole provider for his family and this is causing even more stress in his personal life.  John also performs after hour support and rarely is offered any type of comp time for this time away from his family.

These above scenarios were both opportunities to build employee loyalty but poor management choices, driven by control issues have ended up costing employee loyalty, morale and in the end, company time and money.

The company has taken the time to hire professionals-  treat them as you would wish to be treated if you are their managers.   Make them realize the value they have to the company as they ARE what comprises the company.  I have seen this wonderful pay-it-forward attitude in action when I worked for the Parent Company, formally known as eToys, Inc.  They took four months to hire me and once there, I walked around and was impressed to realize the quality of the folks in every department.  I give high kudos to what a great manager Steve Ridley, the director of technical operations, along with the Manager of the DataWarehouse group, Greg Sitzman and our CTO, Chris Cummings all were.  Steve, as my direct manager, always challenged me, treated me with respect and if I had an emergency come up or needed an afternoon off, he simply stated that my family must come first and he meant it.  I came in everyday wanting to work there, do my best and you better believe I put in any after hours support they needed from me.   I made sure I was always available and had a sense of pride for the company that I belonged to.  This was a direct result of feeling valued and important to the company for the part I played.  They understood that employee loyalty was earned by treating everyone with respect, no matter what part you played on the company ladder.

“Jennifer” and “John’s” scenarios above could easily have been turned into a win for everyone.  If “Jennifer’s” manager had supported her situation, stating, “I always appreciate everything you do for us and the after-hours support you put in, please, go take care of your family and I will see you tomorrow….”  how much time just in emails, time entry and frustration could have been saved to the company?  If “John’s” interim manager, no matter what his personal management style was, had put himself in “John’s” shoes for just a moment and said, “John, I know you’ve had a rough time the past couple months and I know you already have an agreement in place with your previous manager.  Please, go tend to your family’s needs…”  how much could he have earned John’s loyalty if he was interested in making that interim position permanent and in making John a more productive employee the next day when he was back after taking care of his family?

I hear time and time again from different companies and even through recruiters how exhausted certain companies are of finding good people, but I also hear from impressive candidates looking for employment stating that they won’t even phone interview with certain companies due to this type of behavior.  Before any company starts complaining about how lacking the hiring pool is, it might be a good idea to look internally and find out if you are losing perfectly good people due to the lack of care and feeding that should be common sense so that a company is able to retain those valuable resources once originally hired.



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  • yes, it baffles me when companies are penny pinchers and pound foolish. The only thing that comes to mind is the managers must feel insecure or under the gun. The best managers I’ve had are the ones who were totally comfortable with their value add to the company and had no hesitation in standing up to upper management if any questions arrose about giving benefits to their team members that seem like common sense but may not follow the handbook.