As a manager, you can do a lot of good or a lot of harm—it is a tremendous responsibility to be a boss.
In both my personal and professional life, I interact with a lot of different people in a lot of different businesses. In addition to automotive, I deal with law enforcement, hospitality, and a myriad of other types of organizations. At times, I serve as a business management consultant, while at other times, I serve as a mediator who addresses workplace conflict and labour relations issues. As with many of you, I often hear complaints about an employer’s ability to attract and retain staff. Recently, I have been hearing stories from employees in a variety of industries about perceived injustices and unilateral changes to their employment conditions, which became the impetus for this article.
In the corporate customer service world, there is a book called A Complaint Is a Gift, by Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller. Its premise is that many customers do not tell you when they are dissatisfied. Instead, they simply leave as customers. The same principle applies to employers. If you do not treat your staff right, they will leave. Believe it or not, in every industry people discuss who is a good employer and who is a bad employer.
First there is a company’s corporate culture, which may have great values, but then there is local management, who may or may not truly live those values. These days with toxic social media and a seemingly mean-spirited world, it bears repeating “words matter.” Yes, “words matter!”
There is a saying, “No man is an island,” and the reality is that we are many things within this world. We are employees or owners within organizations, we are members of families, we have a circle of friends, and we have organizations that we belong to. Jobs, even professions, no matter the level of dedication or the importance of the role, are simply a means to an end. Some of us have had roles that we believed are callings—policing is one of them, also the military, and religious vocations—one could go on. But at the end of the day, Maslow’s pyramid did not list those but rather survival as the most fundamental need.
"You are not managing numbers but people, and you have a grave responsibility because your actions effect their lives.”
Survival—let’s take a minute to break that down. Survival is more than just breathing. It is being able to function, to live, to feel valued, loved, and have a full life. Is this the responsibility of a company or a manager? In totality—no! But, and this is a strong but, if you want to actually be a manager, a professional, and do your job, then do it! Be professional. You are not managing numbers, but people, and you have a grave responsibility because your actions effect their lives.
I have been a manager for most of my life starting when I was 15 years old. I know that is insane. For approximately 40 years I have been a manager at many different levels in many different organizations. Some of those roles involved life and death consequences, and some of them were mundane. I have dealt with more death and tragedy than over 99% of the population, and perhaps that gives me a different perspective. But in a nutshell, people matter, whether they are a customer or a staff member. And readers, when I say staff member, I am talking about a customer because your employees are your internal customers. If you think they don’t matter, treat them poorly, have all your good staff leave, and then see how much they matter.
Recently, I have heard from some incredible employees about the cavalier behavior of their managers. How do I know they are incredible employees? I have worked with many of them, and I have actually listened to them—crazy I know! But there are many people who are dedicated to their job and actually care. Even those who make poor wages with poor benefits can care about their job, their customers, and their coworkers. Some have had hours changed unilaterally or reduced with the expectation that they will simply agree, and some have quit as a consequence. Some of those people were twenty-year employees and dedicated—twenty years!
"Managing people is not like managing widgets. It is a great responsibility. Leadership must come from the top with proper coaching and training down the ladder to everyone in the organization.”
Frankly I am angry about the damage that the stupidity some of these so-called managers have caused. All I can say is that they are lucky that I am not their manager. There are questions that need to be asked: “What are you hoping to achieve by this action? Did you consider the consequences of this action, not just for you but for the individual involved and the long-range implications?”
Managing people is not like managing widgets. It is a great responsibility. Leadership must come from the top with proper coaching and training down the ladder to everyone in the organization. All too often managers react to a situation without thinking it through, making the situation worse. In the case of unilaterally changing a person’s hours, including their shifts etc., often it is because a manager does not have coverage and is in a bind.
Rather than unilaterally changing schedules on what appears to be a permanent basis resulting in a dissatisfied employee who then decides to leave, or worse, they decide not to leave but they no longer care, the manager needs to look at why. Why are you considering a change, and are there other options? As well, could the change be temporary? Often, If we explain the situation to the employee, offer incentives, and figure out timelines, etc., the employee may be willing, and you will have come to a far better solution.
Often when I get called into a workplace to resolve a workplace issue, the root of the problem is that management did not manage. They did not have the mechanisms in place to set out expectations, support, coach, and more. Often the people in the management position did not have the requisite training to do the job, and frankly, often they were not suited to the position.
I might add that making these unilateral moves can be construed as “constructive dismissal,” which can lead to a whole heap of new problems for the employer. I acknowledge I am not a lawyer, but I invite you to find a good labour lawyer and ask them and it, and they will tell you the same thing (and I am confident that they will).
In my 50 years of work, I have been a job steward, a councillor, and a director of a very large union, and I have handled grievances and negotiations on that side and then on the management side. From those many years, and now with over 10 years of doing employment-related mediations, I can tell you that words not only matter, but actions matter too. If your actions are guided by the belief that you have positional authority and that is enough to justify whatever you do, you are sadly mistaken and exposed.
This article may sound like a rant. It may sound like I am angry. Well, to a degree you are right, reader, because all of this is so unnecessary. We should all strive to be better than this. We should appreciate the tremendous responsibility it is to be a boss. We have an opportunity to do a lot of good or a lot of harm. Which do you want to do? ■