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January 2013

Sharing the ‘Right’ Message

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For an employee, few life experiences are as traumatic or demoralizing as working for an employer who allows or even encourages its supervisors to hold job security or other advantages over their heads like a guillotine. Fortunately, growing numbers of employers have come to realize that they not only need hardworking, qualified employees in order to prosper, they need supervisors capable of communicating to the employees how much the company cares for and appreciates them.

Many company owners have a strong sense of responsibility toward their employees and truly respect and value them. Yet, this high regard can get lost in translation when the company grows big enough to need middle managers and supervisors. A look at the origins of the modern Employment Standards Act sheds some light on how the relationship between managers and employees has evolved. During confederation, Canada adopted master-servant law from Britain and to some extent, this inherently adversarial perspective has found its way into what many people accept as the nature of work, and of motivating and managing employees. It may be time to challenge this.

Yes, an employer still has a measure of power, such as the right to grant, enhance and withdraw an employee’s earning power, and to determine which types of tasks an employee will perform. However, competition among employers for the best employees means that in many fields, employers must go well beyond the Employment Standards Act. Higher wages, extended health benefits and pension plans are some of the ways employers show employees that they care. Others include other less obvious benefits such as offering additional paid vacation time, fitness reimbursement, team sponsorship, child care allowances, additional amenities in the workplace, and some measure of flexibility in terms of hours of work. Despite all of these measures, when old attitudes persist at the supervisory level some employees still feel that their employers don’t really care about them.

From this perspective, a forceful personality, formal authority and the desire to achieve the company’s business goals at all costs are not a recipe for supervisory success. In fact, they can be the opposite. A much better approach is to train supervisors to watch for and continually seek to balance and reconcile the differences between employer and employee priorities. Successful companies are interested in understanding and aligning the two areas of interest to develop an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect between management and employees.

The extent to which a supervisor is able to do this rests not only on his or her training, leadership and technical skills, knowledge and experience, but on the policy framework the employer puts in place. Ideally, policies offer employees a clear picture of how the company’s goals and the employee’s goals are aligned, and creates opportunities for mutual benefit. They also allow supervisors to adopt a model of consistency and fairness. Supervisors who are perceived as fair can still be firm while earning the respect of their employees. Respect translates into engagement, which in turn drives better results.

Policies should also help eliminate potential areas of conflict by providing clarity about the “rules” of the workplace. The framework should also articulate how supervisors are to manage the relationship between the company and its employees, and how differences between supervisors and employees will be resolved. The company should also provide supervisors with a sense of the company’s history, values and aspirations, so supervisors are better able to help employees see themselves as a vital part of the company’s future.

The depth and breadth of an employee’s ability to share their talents every day in exchange for pay and benefits is heavily dependent on the relationship between the employee and the employer, and the supervisors and managers who represent those values.

Most business leaders agree that employees leave supervisors, not companies. It’s in a company’s best interest to make sure that supervisors are sending the right message.

Time for a New Job?

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If you no longer enjoy going to work, but aren’t sure it’s time to take the plunge, try this simple exercise.

If advancing in your career, achieving greater work satisfaction or earning more money were among your New Year’s resolutions, but you keep putting off looking for a new job, you may need to do some soul searching. Moving on isn’t easy and no job is perfect. So, how do you know it’s really time to go?

Much like a personal relationship, employment relationships take energy, compromise and dedication to the task of staying together. When one of those elements is missing, considering other options may be the best decision for everyone involved, So, what keeps us at a job that no longer fits; that no longer brings us a sense of accomplishment or joy; or that no longer makes us proud when we tell people about what we do for a living or where we work?

Often, the answer is quite simple. Fear!

Fear can take many forms. Have you ever gone on a tirade about how rotten your job or boss or working conditions are and had someone ask why you don’t just leave? Fear is what makes you respond by saying things like: “I’m only a few years away from my pension.” Or “I need the benefits.” Or “I’d miss my colleagues.”

If you no longer enjoy going to work, but aren’t sure it’s time to take the plunge, try this simple exercise. Take a blank page and create two columns. In the left hand column, list all the reasons keeping you at your current job. Is it the money? The benefits? The rush you get with a sale? Your at-work friends? List as many points as you can.

Now in the column on the right, put a checkmark beside each reason that kept you at previous jobs. Everything else will be unique to your current job, so mark them with an “X.”

Take a second blank page and create two columns. On the column on the left, make a list of what is getting in the way of making every work day a great day. Is it that you feel your contributions are unrecognized? Do you feel underappreciated? Are you having trouble keeping pace with your work hours? Do you feel you are treated unfairly by colleagues and/or your boss? These may be the reasons for wanting to leave your job.

Now in the column on the right, put a check mark beside any of the reasons why you have wanted to leave any job in the past. If a reason for wanting to leave is unique to this job, this supervisor or this employer, mark it with an “X.”

Where did you land? What dominates your list? Checkmarks or “Xs”? If your lists include multiple checkmarks, this may indicate there is a pattern forming. You might notice that your experience in this position is actually similar to experiences that you’ve had in past positions. If this is the case, it’s possible that your employer isn’t the issue.

This short exercise can help you identify what is at the heart of your discontent at work. It can help you distinguish whether what you are experiencing is about you or your current employment situation. This is important because your attitude to life and work will set the bar for your successes. If you’ve reviewed your lists and you’ve found that the reasons for staying in your job are too important to overcome the fear of leaving, then consider this: making a decision to do well at work can mean the difference between continuing to dislike your job or staying focused on how you can make the most of it and any opportunities it may offer.