I love the notion of trusting relationships. I’ve also come to learn that you can’t trust blindly. That’s a game that fools play and then wonder why they get burnt. I know because I’ve been there.
You can’t trust employees blindly. Employees are there to perform work that produces a profit or other defined value-producing outcome. Anything short of this is unacceptable and the cause of eventual business failure. Here are some ways I’ve seen well-intended employers get burnt:
1. They’ll steal your money. You must have checks and balances around any money, anywhere. Is your CPA checking the work of your bookkeeper? Do all P&Ls and banker reconciliations have to be signed off by more than one person? Do you have specific rules about handling cash? Have you considered video surveillance anywhere cash or money is handled? The point is: Don’t conduct social experiments! You might be doing OK financially, but there are people out there who are not. The temptation can be overwhelming when panic is at their doorstep.
2. They’ll steal your merchandise. Employee pilferage in the retail industry is alarming. But guess what? It’s the same in every industry! Employees are stealing everything from office supplies to equipment, tools, furniture, food, employee valuables, you name it. If you run a retail operation without surveillance, you’re conducting a social experiment. If you have equipment that hasn’t been stamped and bar-coded, you’re conducting a social experiment. If your security guard isn’t watching your employees as well as your customers, you’re allowing people to think they can get away with it (which is the reason that most people steal). Your job is to remove that thought.
3. They’ll steal your time. I’m always amazed when I go into stores or other offices and observe the amount of time that employees waste. We’ve all had the experience of waiting in a customer line while somebody is finishing a personal conversation. If the business owner saw this, they’d have a heart attack. Add cell phones, online shopping, MySpace, texting, and instant messaging and you begin to see the many ways in which employees become distracted. Dan Kennedy, in his excellent book, Ruthless Management, recommends that companies set up separate areas for employees to engage in private communications during their breaks. Outside of an emergency, no private communications are allowed while they’re supposed to be doing work. Great idea!
4. Your managers would rather be liked than be effective. Nobody likes to be “villainized” and bosses have been cast squarely in the villain role. As a result, they’ll often focus on being liked, as opposed to being effective. The result is that poor performers are kept on the bus much longer than they should be and their department never makes the profit it should. Have your managers generated crystal clear performance objectives, goals, and benchmarks for both themselves and every one of their employees? If not, then what are they managing? If not, how can you trust them? It’s also important not to assume that just because somebody is in a management position that their primary motivation is to help you make a profit. They have lives of their own and, quite frankly, their conversation with their kid, their online shopping, and their fantasy football league might be far more important to them than enhancing the bottom line.
5. They’ll abuse sick pay leave and other attendance related policies. Every company has employees who seem to be sick more often on Monday mornings or Fridays before a holiday. Be very clear about your attendance policies; put them in writing. Make sure employees take their lunch and rest breaks and show up and leave on time. Taking 20 minutes for a smoke break is unacceptable if the break period is 10 minutes. If an employee is out for more than a few days, or if they claim family and medical leave or some other leave, then be sure to get proper medical certifications. According to annual surveys by the publishing giant CCH, more than two-thirds of sick time is used by employees who are not sick! Whether it’s to see their kid’s soccer game or entertain in-laws who are in town, the fact is that you’ve set up a system which encourages people to lie two-thirds of the time. This why we encourage employers to collapse vacation and sick days because the bottom line to you is they’re not there to help you service the client or customer. Here’s how it works: If you offer two weeks of vacation and offer five days of personal leave, simply collapse them into three weeks of vacation. Remember, before terminating an employee for violating your time and attendance policy, make sure that their actions aren’t due to a disability (protected by the ADA where there are more than 15 employees) or related to a serious medical condition or other condition covered by the Family Medical Leave Act (50 or more employees).
6. They’ll sabotage your relationships. Many employees have little regard for themselves — never mind you. These same folks will talk behind management’s back, poisoning the well with co-workers, clients, customers, and vendors. Employers who look up their company name on a Google search (this can be done automatically) will probably be amazed by what disgruntled employees say in chat rooms, blogs, etc.
7. Finally, they’ll file frivolous claims knowing that dragging you through the drill is an expensive and emotional waste of time. For example, I recently had a client who was hit with a completely frivolous EEO claim and an OSHA contact about “unsafe” working conditions — despite the fact that this is one of the best intended employers and safest workplaces I know of. The best way to pull this rug out from under the feet of litigious employees is by using the Employee Compliance Survey.