Even job perks can’t offset poor management, low morale

Dear Joan:
I read your column often and find it to be practical and informative. As I read your column on retention, I was very surprised to find that the company I work for offers many of the "perks" listed in your column that are supposed to increase retention and loyalty. I was surprised because I consider the company I work for to be very poorly managed. I wanted to pass along to you the thought that I had immediately upon finishing your column: All the perks on the list cannot make up for the damage to employee loyalty and morale caused by poor management.

The company I work for is small (under 50 employees). Management consists of a few people, none of whom have any formal management education. Their training consists of attending seminars once in a while, and paying high-priced consultants to force-feed the latest management fad down the employee's throats. Pay has always been low. To offset low pay, management offered benefits like flexible scheduling, participation in decision making, and telecommuting before some of the larger companies discovered them.

Because pay is low, it has become increasingly difficult to attract and retain employees with the minimum level of competence needed to do their jobs. Over the past three years, the administrative section of the company has been a revolving door, staffed by a virtual parade of incompetent temporary workers, instead of investing time, money and effort into recruiting good employees and paying them a decent wage. The managers don't discipline these workers and let them talk on the phone for hours each day in plain view of management and the staff.

Last year, management implemented the team concept. While I have nothing against teams, and believe in some settings they are beneficial, it has created artificial logistical problems for our company. Management could give employees no clear, logical reason as to why the team structure would be better than the prior structure. What was clear from the beginning was that teams were created to remove additional responsibilities from management. Teams are expected to manage themselves with little or no support from management.

Add to this an unmanageably large workload and a senior manager who leaves early every day and you have a recipe for burn-out, hostility, and resentment. Over the past two years, the company has lost valuable permanent employees. Each time the senior manager let the staff know that the departing employee's productivity had fallen off, so it would be no big loss, or how they were only interested in money and that's why they were leaving for a higher paying job. Not once did management thank the employee for his or her contribution. This sort of behavior angers the remaining employees and tells us we aren't valuable either. I know I will be "bashed" when I resign, too.

You may be wondering by now why I don't resign. Yes, the "perks" are part of it, and my salary is pretty decent. The main reason I stay is that I enjoy the work that I do and most of the people I work with. Also, because of the unusual field I work in, there are not many other opportunities in the area where I live, and I am not willing to relocate at this point. So I stay, and I telecommute as much as possible, so I don't have to see and hear what goes on in the office most days.

I wish there was some way to get the message out to managers like those I work for that their lack of training, lack of willingness to carry out basic management responsibilities, and their blind spots have a very damaging effect on their employee's loyalty and morale. Employees just want managers to do their jobs so that we can do ours. This one simple step would go a long way toward relieving hostility, resentment and retaining good employees.

I think you just found a way to get your message out. There's no question that over time, perks will not offset poor management. Like in your case, they will be an incentive to join a firm and stay longer than intended, but as the old Beatle's song goes, they "can't buy me love."

Your company is going to see even more attrition in the future, if they aren't able to pay market wages. It's unfair for management to blame employees for being greedy or disloyal, when in fact, employees are only protecting their own interests by finding a job that pays more.

Using temporary employees is a logical response to a tight market, but it sounds as if your managers are letting these employees hold them hostage. They are probably subscribing to the warm body theory: a warm body is better than no body at all. I agree that they would probably save money by investing in a few quality employees or at least expecting the same performance from the temporary staff as they do from their full-time staff.

If your management team is searching for some quick fixes, it's no wonder they are easy marks for consultants with the latest, greatest solution. For instance, if they can't make a good case for why teams are an appropriate step, they shouldn't be doing them.

You happen to have a combination of factors that are keeping you on your job. However, I suspect the same does not hold true for many of your colleagues. Unfortunately, sometimes even heavy turnover isn't a clear enough message that the problem rests with management.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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