Its not to late to save your people
How quickly we forget
"In your day-to-day business, as a Manager, what do you struggle with most?"
The question was asked by a human-resource representative during a recent Manager meeting I attended. The question was simple enough. The responses, on the other hand, were extremely complicated.
The responses from nearly every one in the room included problems with inventory, time management, store cleanliness, customer complaints, labor hours, and cash shortages. There was no shortage of blame to go around, because each Manager began their frustrated and angry rants with the phrase, "my employees don't..."or "my employees do..."
It is incredibly disheartening that so many people in positions of authority share this view. They were so intent on blaming their "employees," that they failed to see the fault to their failures was their own.
Still, there was one young lady (an assistant manager, covering for her manager, who was in another meeting) in the group of 21, that sat quietly while everyone else vented. When the speaker noticed, she asked her why she was so quiet. She responded, "I don't have anything to say, my boss is great."
The answer to many of their business issues lay in the heart of the youngest person in the room. One of their "employees." It was so easy for these people to blame their people. The people that see the customers and handle the inventory and the cash they are so worried about. We as "bosses" have dehumanized our people to "the worker." In this instance we did it by giving them a title; employee. We too often overlook the fact that, like us, they are people. They live lives outside of work and worry about things that are not work related. Too often it doesn't look like we notice, and sometimes I don't think we care nearly enough.
Killing With Kindness?
It Starts with You
Until you can see your people as more than just employees you will never be able to see yourself through their eyes. When this does happen. When you do see yourself the way they see you, you may just understand why you struggle with missing inventory, time management, and customer service. How hard would you work for someone that constantly blamed you for their problems?
One myth in retail is that employee theft can account for up to 70% of all theft in most companies. This is a myth, because the statistics are skewed. The overwhelming majority of customer theft is not counted, because most of those thieves are not caught, while almost all employee theft is ultimately accounted for. This is another example of our failure as leaders to earn the trust we expect from our people. So, when an "employee" does decide to steal, they steal from the company. When they don't, its usually because they decide not to steal from the Manager. There is a relationship. Without that relationship, there is no empathy. Can you honestly say you have that relationship with your people? What would you do for them? What would they do for you?
The people we blame for our poor time management could actually help us manage our time. Managing time can be the most difficult and disappointing facet of a Manager's hurdles. It leads to long hours, incomplete tasks and a sense of hopelessness. There are two reasons you have trouble with time management, and both of them revolve around how you work with your people. The first and most obvious is lack of training.
We too often push training our new hires off onto other people. The people that end up training our new hires don't normally enjoy training. it interrupts the flow of their day, and adds to their stress and responsibilities. Do we really want our new hire to learn habits from an unhappy trainer? I understand, as the manager, you have a lot on your plate. Still, a few hours now could save months of time later.
The second is a lack of motivation, not just to do their job, but to help you with yours.
I worked as a Manager for a truck stop some years ago. I would show up to work at 7:00 each morning. While making my rounds, I made it a point to merchandise the beverage coolers as I walked past to greet our morning customers. While I stalked the coolers, Ruben, our morning maintenance man and I would discuss everything from his kids homework the night before, to the problems we were having with a sink in the restroom. Only a few weeks after I took the location over, I no longer had to fill or front face the coolers. Ruben, would come in a few minutes before his shift and merchandise the coolers the exact same way I did every morning. I never stocked those coolers in the morning again, which gave me more time to spend with the coffee-buying customers each morning. A little later we will discuss communication, but this is an example of how effortless it can be to motivate someone simply by being present.
You will be busy, and if you are improving your time management, you will not be able to help every customer that walks into your store. The majority of those interactions will be between your customers and your people. If your people are unhappy, there is a good chance your customers will be as well. In retail there is enough stress on these people, what with sales goals, low pay, and life away from work, without an ungrateful boss issuing out blame. Yes they have a life away from the job, just like you do. Why make it more difficult.
You can make the difference.
Show You Care
"I have a business to run." How many times have we said or heard that? Many times that's a response to knowingly denying someone something they had to build the courage to ask for. Chances are, if you used that phrase once, you have used it before, and your people know that. So it takes some degree of courage for most people to face that rejection. Now, you may feel you are doing what needs to be done, and sometimes that might be true, but i encourage you to look a little deeper into these decisions because they have a lasting affect on your peoples perception of you as a leader and their "boss."
What is best for business? How well can you run it on your own? Your people are your most important asset. Not just concerning your businesses success, but your own personal well being. The happier they are at work, the happier you'll be as well. After working with and speaking to both managers and the people that work for them, I've come across varying degrees of disagreement about the workplace morale. In most cases, when asked, managers will tell me how happy their people are. Giving examples of everything they do for them. While, the majority of their people can list varying instances and examples that consistently make them think of looking for another job. It seems to me that most people will never tell their managers about these feelings. On the contrary they put on the happy face, laugh at all of his or her jokes, and hope things will get better. I think managers forget that they are the boss, and almost everyone is nice to the boss, because he or she seems to be the one in control of their paycheck. As a matter of fact, very few people have told me they are happy with their job, and most are on the look out for the first opportunity to leave.
Citing analytical work on what "impels" people to quit, the September 2016 issue of the Harvard Business Review, in an article on employee retention stated, "In general people leave their jobs because they don't like their boss, don't see opportunities for promotion or growth or are offered a better gig. These reasons have held steady for years."
So, if most managers say their employees are generally happy, why is the "boss" the most common reason people leave their job? What is the "Boss" missing? and where is the disconnect? Inc.com published a survey by Paychex conducted in August of 2016 that asked departing employees why they were leaving their jobs. "In general," the article explains, "it appears that the large majority of reasons for leaving a job were - unfortunately for employers - due to problems employees experienced with employers or working conditions in the workplace." Problems like "didn't like their boss" or "felt a lack of recognition" surface in every article or study published on the subject of employee retention. Is it that difficult? The Paychex survey says 52.77% of former employees said that their "employers didn't care about their employees," and 44.66% said "didn't like boss." Another 43.49% said their "boss didn't honor commitments."
After two decades of working, training and studying retail and restaurant management, the one constant error I have found is a lack of empathy for the worker. Managers know we need our servers, cashiers and maintenance people. We know how difficult our job is when we are short handed, and we understand the cost of having to constantly rehire and train new people. Yet, we fail to take care of the ones we have. In some cases, the managers themselves are not being looked out for by their superiors (which I feel may be the largest factor.) So what can we do?
You can Show you care. We say it, but you need to prove it. You can do that first, by understanding that your people have needs outside of work, and second by improving your communication with everyone you work with. Remember it is not their job to gain our trust, it is our job to earn theirs.
When you see it Say it
You Can Always Find a New Job. You Can Never Replace Your Family
Most people go to work to support their family. Especially the people you work with. Chances are you go to work every morning for the same reason everyone else does; because you have bills to pay and mouths to feed. Work should never be life, and life should never be work. I've never heard of anyone lying on their death-bed, saying, "if I could have only spent more time at work." You, as their manager have an incredible amount of control over the lives of everyone that works with you. You determine how much time they get to spend with the people that mean the most to them. You get to decide how early they have to get up in the morning to take their kids to school. You determine how far in advance they can schedule their children's doctor's appointment or their family vacation. YOU have a profound impact on the type of lives these people live and, maybe more importantly, whether they are happy living those lives.
The most dramatic changes in both the morale of your people and your own happiness at work (yes, I said your happiness), can be directly attributed to how you create work schedules.
Do you like the fact that you usually know when you are going to work next week. Heck you probably know what you will be doing two, maybe three weeks from right now. If your people have set schedules, then they know exactly how you feel. If they don't, and I understand its not possible in every business, but if they don't, be assured they are hurting for it and might even resent the fact that you have a set schedule, but you don't believe they deserve the one. I can hear it already. "I have to do what's best for the business," or " I have a business to run." You may not be able to give every one a set schedule, but consider using the same people on the same shifts every week. If you can avoid an overwhelming amount of shuffling every week, not only will you make your people's lives a little easier, you will begin to eliminate a lot of the dreaded call-ins that make your job more difficult. If Cindy knows she works Friday through Sunday evenings and either Monday or Tuesday morning, she will at least be able to attempt to schedule an appoint with a certain degree of confidence.
In every management position I worked I was able to implement a set schedule to some degree. I worked in restaurants that were open until 2 am, and 24 hour truck stops. I say to a degree, because I usually had a couple part time people at certain positions that were a bit more flexible. Allowing me to put them in when I needed an extra body, or give an extra day off when I needed to cut back.
The largest obstacle this presents is in the implementation. It will take some work to figure out who can work when and where, but once set, everything gets a little easier, especially for you, the manager. There will be fewer call-ins, because most of your people know when they work and can schedule around those days. It won't take you as long to create the schedule, because there will be fewer changes to it. When you hire people, you can interview and hire based on shift. If you need to fill that weekend graveyard shift, you can interview people that can work that shift, and you can ensure at the persons' hiring they understand that is when they will work.
One of the hidden benefits I found when working my schedules this way, was with requested days off. I had to do very little work when it came to requests. For instance, Cindy, who normally works Saturday morning, would like to attend her sister's wedding on Friday night. She knows she will be there extremely late and would really like to take Saturday off. Since the schedule didn't change all that much she new that Sarah was off on Saturday mornings. It became customary for Cindy to have to ask Sarah to switch with her. If she agreed, Sarah would work Saturday and Cindy would work Sunday (her usual day off) for Sarah. Its not complicated, and does a few things that can really benefit you:
1. You have fewer things to worry about. Cindy and Sarah only have to inform you or another manager of the change.
2. Cindy and Sarah are forced to maintain a positive work relationship, because who knows the next time Cindy or Sarah will need time off.
3. Sarah is more likely to agree to the switch because, again, she may need a day off in the future, and Cindy is more likely to agree to that later if she agrees now.
Its a heck of a way to begin strengthening your team.
No Notice: You can say, or even think you care about your people, but "no notice" schedules are cruel and inconsiderate. You, The schedule maker, look selfish and apathetic. You know what your schedule is going to be this week. If its not good enough for you to have no notice on your schedule, why is it alright for your people.
I worked as a Facility Maintenance Manager for a large truck stop a while back. It was my responsibility to create schedules for maintenance and security personnel. Another Manager was responsible for scheduling merchandisers and cashiers. She had worked at this truck stop for almost 20 years and had a tradition ("That's the way I have always done it," she once told me) of posting the schedule on Friday for the week starting on Saturday. That is a no notice schedule. When I suggested she give her people a little more notice, she said angrily," I do it like this so they can't ask for days off." Whatever her excuse, it was clear that she cared nothing for the people that worked for her. They were bodies that filled slots for her. This horrible lack of empathy toward people lead to horrible customer service, attendance, and constant turnover. Imagine waiting until 7 pm Friday night to find out if you had to be up Saturday morning for work.
Rotating Shifts: In speaking with a number of employees, those that have worked with me and many more that didn't, I have found that people differ in what shifts they like to work. Sure, the most popular is Monday through Friday mornings. But, you can find someone for every shift possible. Now, you can only find that person if you look. That might mean interviewing more than one person and asking the right questions. you will need to be clear about the shift you are hiring for. I mention this, because this lack of effort leads to people working shifts they don't want to work. Which leads to unhappy people looking for a job where they can work the schedule they are looking for. If you try and combat this by rotating schedules, you are sending the wrong message. The perceived idea is "if I'm not happy, no one should be."
Everyone can have an impact in other people's lives. As managers, responsible for scheduling people's lives we have the power to make that impact positive. The Atlantic cited a study by the Economic Policy Institute in April of 2015, that found "many workers had one week or less of advance notice about their upcoming work hours... Such haphazard scheduling has been linked to not only lower levels of job satisfaction, but also to greater levels of work-family conflict." It goes on to cite that the journal of occupational and environmental medicine "had similar findings, linking irregular shift schedules to diminished cognition and physical health."
What kind of affect are you having on the people that work with you?
Know Your People
Everything we have gone over so far revolves around our ability to understand what the people we call employees are going through. It really shouldn't be all that difficult, considering we were all, at one point or another, "employees." No matter how much you think you know, you will not know anything unless you learn to communicate with your people. You will need to be present, and learn to listen. If you must have meetings, you will need to make them count and avoid the dangerous pitfalls we all seem to fall into, and you have to stop the gossip before it starts.
Earlier I told you about Ruben, and how much I believe he appreciated our talks each morning. Spending time with your people, in their work space, is imperative if you want your store or restaurant to succeed. You have to make it a point to visit with each member of your team, every day. I made it a habit to walk the store or restaurant every morning, from the deli to the showers, and the cash registers to the fuel pumps, from the bus boy to the dish washer. If that meant coming in a little early, so be it.
When you do this it has to be in their work space. A visit in your office is too formal. You will need to listen, and avoid the urge to talk, and remember, it does not need to be about work. These individual meetings can last from 30 seconds to 10 minutes, and may be the best way to invest your time. You will improve morale, because if you listen well you will prove that you care. You will be able to catch rumors or complaints and eliminate or deal with them before they disrupt your atmosphere, and you can show that you too, are human.
Most places you work will make it obligatory to hold employee meetings. In most cases these are intended to allow the manager the opportunity to ensure, mostly for legal reasons, that everyone has been given the opportunity to hear and acknowledge policy. That's why a sign-in sheet is usually required. A common mistake in most meetings, is that it turns into a corrective action event. Something or things were done wrong, and the manager wants to use this opportunity to correct and ensure it doesn't happen again. This has the exact opposite effect.
1st. Feedback is tricky. Positive feedback works best when it is given right after it happens. As taught by the "practical coach." When you see it say it." If there are rewards, by all means make them public.
2nd. But if the feedback is Negative, it should never...let me repeat, never be done during a meeting. You should always try to keep negative feedback private, at least, if you want to correct the problem. If Johnny is constantly late, and during the meeting you tell everyone that being late is not acceptable and there could be consequences, what you have just done is alienate everyone that is usually on time, and let the culprit off the hook. Johnny now feels like he is obviously not the only person that comes to work late.
Meetings are important for compliance, and can be a good place to celebrate successes, but are extremely counter-productive when used for corrections. Think about the past few meetings. How often are you trying to fix the same problems and review the same policies each meeting. It is not the place to have those conversations.
Remember, the store or restaurant's atmosphere begins with you. When you meet with your people every day, keep those conversations private. if you make it a point not to spread "gossip" the people around you will begin to do the same. You cannot make it look like its alright. From my experience, if you have a gossip issue at work, you probably started it. Only you can stop it.
Communication is a great tool. It can help you build a team, loyalty and trust. You will have the opportunity to eliminate problems before they begin. You will hear complaints, and because you are present with everyone that works for you, you will be prepared to address those needs.
Finally, you set the tone. Show compassion. Don't Whine. Focus on acting professional. You are in fact a professional. When someone calls in, you have the right to ask why, but remember, trust goes both ways. if you make it a habit of questioning why people are calling in, you will weaken your work relationship and ultimately lose whatever loyalty and confidence you may have gained from that person. Simply lead by example.
I, like anyone else, use the occasional swear word. Sometimes I use more than the occasional swear word. But at work, out of respect for the people I work with I avoid that language. I do this so well, that when people let a word slip here or there, they apologize to me, even though, not once did I make a rule that they can't swear around me.
There is something missing
You put yourself in their shoes. You remember what it was like when you worked an entry level job. Think of all the Managers you worked for, and remember why you enjoyed or didn't enjoy working with them. One of the most common reasons people leave their jobs isn't money or hours. They leave because they believe their "boss" doesn't care about them.
I was with a Manager discussing this very topic recently. As he explained everything he did for his employees, he hollered across the store to a older woman working at the register. He asked why she hadn't clocked out to go home. She replied that she was doing just that. He then said "well, come on, its already after 4." I looked at my watch to see that it was 4:02.
The secret is people. You must realize that it starts with you. You have to realize that these are people. They worry and love just as much as you do. You should be able to understand what they need from you. You do that by listening.
You have the power to positively impact people's lives. You can build trust and loyalty by allowing your people to have a life outside work. Your first step is to schedule for them, not you. If you can't give permanent shifts give them at least two weeks to plan their life around work. Avoiding the evil no-notice schedules and the dreaded rotating shifts, may quickly begin to eliminate attendance issues and improve morale.
Get in front of the problems by making it a point to talk to everyone every day. It may seem like more work, but in the long run you will realize how much easier your job is, because everyone will be more productive. including you.
They are people after all. It shouldn't be a secret.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2014 Raul Sierra Jr
knslms from North Carolina on January 16, 2015:
Sometimes it is easy to forget what it's like. Less than one year into my first management position I made this same complaint to my boss and I never forgot her reply "they are your employees"
As you stated above it's very common however blaming employees simply shows a lack of understanding of a managers own job.
This is a result of failure to properly recruit, interview, hire, train, motivate, and retain employees. Even when this is done properly a few will slip through that are not a good fit and failure to let them go will bring on even worse problems.
I know, "easy for me to say" "that's great in a perfect world but I don't have time, there is no room in labor budget to pay well, no one decent applies, all the other managers have the same problems"
Yep I have heard them all. There is a reason that managers are paid salary and a manager's pay is NOT based on 45, 50, or any hourly figure. A managers job is to be responsible for a business at all times and not just when they are there. This is done by properly hiring, training employees amungst many other tasks.
Recruitment should be done all the time, business cards should be with a manager everywhere they go. Everyday we go in stores and places where we observe how it functions, it's a habit and we just do. We can give out those cards and ask them to come by and talk to us. At best we are always two weeks away from needing to hire.
As far as no room in budget to pay decent enough for good employees. Pay is never a motivational tool. No one is ever happy with what they are making longer than a couple of months. Pay rate is agreed to during the hiring process and future promises about money should be held to a minimum.
It may seem time consuming to properly interview candidates especially when short on help. Hiring the wrong employees however, will cost much more time and money which cuts deep into a bonus.
What motivates people is recognition, advancement opportunity, and mostly feeling "in on things" in other words knowing what company and store goals are and knowing where the business stands.
There are many other aspects to being a successful manager other than team building. As a manager we can not control what happens at a business in our absence and for that reason there is nothing more critical than properly trained and motivated team on the payroll.
Sharilee Swaity from Canada on October 13, 2014:
Wow, this is excellent and would apply to any field -- not just retail. Whenever I go to a store or a restaurant and the staff seem grouchy, I always think to myself, "it must be bad management," because the staff members reflect the way the management treats them.
Love this article and I am sharing! Have a wonderful day.
FlourishAnyway from USA on July 16, 2014:
This was a terrific message. I once worked for a Director in HR who told all his staff he wanted to know nothing about them personally. He was a lawyer. Voted up and more.