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Disposable employees will never be loyal employees

Columnist Dave Conrad says a little trust goes a long way in building loyalty.

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Dear Dave,

I work at a Rochester restaurant. It seems like the owners think all of us employees are dispensable, and we are just something that can be used up and thrown away. We are even told things like, “If you don’t like it, leave,” or even “You should just be lucky you got a job.” I know there are many unfilled job vacancies out there, but it is difficult to find a (good) job — where managers won’t threaten me and tell me that I am instantly replaceable.

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— P

Dear P,

Your employer should treat you employees as if you’re part of the team for the long term because you are the face of the restaurant that customers come to know and trust. Rather than having a replacement mentality, your bosses need a more collaborative, respectful and strategic approach to developing and retaining their most precious resource, their people.

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“Disposable employees” know they won’t be around for long, so their work quality is average at best. You can have loyal workers or disposable workers, but an employer needs to understand that using people up and then shoving them out the door does not save money: It actually costs more, because of training costs and diminished quality as new workers learn their jobs.

Also, employers that dump their loyal staff will create an environment where everyone is out to protect themselves and the whole “team concept” is lost. Loyal workers who feel disposable may throw others under the bus to save their own skins.

Mistreatment ripple effect

Disgruntled, fearful, and stressed-out employees often wear their emotions on their sleeve, and it becomes obvious to customers, too. In that vein, it makes good economic sense for managers to treat employees with compassion, kindness, and fairness. We all like hearing employees tell us how much they love their job — you can see it and sense it.

Studies show a relationship between employee job satisfaction and employee retention. In addition, nobody likes to work where their input is not sought or is totally ignored. Dissatisfied workers that feel like they have one foot out the door day in and day out, will certainly add to the phenomena of “The Great Resignation” which is being caused by employees quitting their jobs in droves, because they found better pay, benefits, leadership and a healthier work culture.

A whole new thinking

Achieving success through people means fundamentally altering the way managers think about the workforce and employee relationships. In this period of economic challenges, companies are asking more and more from their employees. That’s OK, as long as the employees feel they are treated fairly and with respect.

One local manager I know tells me, “Satisfied customers start with satisfied employees.”

Management by threat can provide short-term compliance at the expense of long-term commitment. This is called “managing without a license,” where managers don’t know what they are doing, and they create a fear culture — and not one where employees gain work satisfaction.

No matter what economic conditions exist, an organization’s employees — how they think and work — remain a crucial differentiating and competitive factor. While the culture and management practices that drive an effective workforce are not readily visible to outsiders, these factors can be as important as a company’s products, reputation or marketing practices.

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By implementing management practices that place real value on the employees, companies can achieve a competitive advantage. Those that foster an atmosphere of commitment and mutual trust will get the most output from their people. On the other hand, organizations that regard their employees as dispensable are unlikely to garner their commitment, loyalty or willingness to expend extra effort for the organization’s benefit.

The true costs

Loyalty cannot be taken for granted. According to one survey, over half of the employees queried said they expect to leave their organizations voluntarily within two to three years. What is lost with every person who leaves is valuable, including customer and business knowledge.

Plus, the open and hidden costs are significant including a reduction in operational efficiency and customer service levels; the loss of intimate knowledge of the customer; the cost of recruitment and selection; position coverage and the manager’s time; the cost of induction and training; plus, the decreased morale of those who remain.

Employees wonder

I believe employee contentment and engagement are revealed when employees can respond favorably to these questions:

  • Am I rewarded fairly?
  • Is there an investment in training and developing me?
  • Does management listen to my ideas?
  • Does the company allow me the flexibility and give me authority to solve customer issues?
  • Do managers respect me as an individual?

In addition, motivating employees goes beyond incentives such as good pay and safe working conditions. Research reveals that employees are more likely to move on if they believe they are not being treated well and given respect. To foster long term, sustained motivation, organizations must inspire employees to draw their motivation from inside, rather than rely on external factors such as pay. And many studies show that the number one reason employees quit or stay with a job is the quality of their relationship with their immediate boss.
In summary, employees want managers that provide strong, positive leadership that they can trust, while also being provided opportunities for career growth and job satisfaction.

Contact Dave Conrad with questions or comments at conradd@augsburg.edu . Conrad is an associate professor of business at Augsburg University in Rochester.

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