Would You Want to Work for You?

The discussion among colleagues came up again recently.  Why are so many employees disengaged? Where is the enthusiasm, the willingness to go the extra mile?

There is, of course, no one answer to that question.  Based on examples shared by participants in some of my workshops, sometimes the answer is pretty obvious. 

One participant works as a part-time hostess at a restaurant.  She thought she was doing a good job.  She took it upon herself to let the kitchen know when a large group came in. She helped the servers by bussing tables. She let the servers know when she’d seated someone in their section instead of letting them find out for themselves next time they walked by. 

But when she asked for more shifts, her manager told her that she wasn’t going the extra mile.  She told the manager everything she was doing and then asked “What is it that I haven’t been doing?’  He told her she wasn’t taking her turn sweeping the floor at the entrance.   

Why did he wait for her to come and ask what she was doing wrong, instead of letting her know that she was forgetting one part of her job?   Why didn’t he recognize her for the things she was doing well?

Another person shared that his supervisor was running his little ship with threats and intimidation (my words, not his). The only time a person was called into his office was if something had been done wrong, and instead of dealing with concerns as they arose, the boss created lists.  When the list was long enough, the guilty party would be hauled in.  There was no discussion as to why errors were being made and how they could be fixed.  The meeting was a dressing down and an ultimatum to change or else was given.

 With supervisors and managers like these around, the answer to low employee engagement is pretty obvious. But “bad bosses” aren’t always unfair, mean and inconsistent. 

Some bosses are nice.  They want to help their team as much as possible.  But when nice means letting things slide or giving too many chances to improve, the employees who are working hard, to standard or higher, may decide they don’t need to work as hard.  When bosses help too much, they take away the opportunity for personal buy-in. 

So what are some ways to improve employee engagement?

  1. Be consistent.  Performance standards apply to everyone, all the time, not just some of the people, some of the time. (That includes you!)
  2. Be a cheerleader. Celebrate successes, both team and individual.
  3. Provide feedback, both positive and constructive and do it on a timely basis.  Immediately is best, but if that is not possible, as close to the time the action took place as possible.
  4. Don’t have all the answers.  Allow your team members to help solve challenges and create plans.
  5. Be trustworthy.  Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t make false promises or idle threats. 

These are just five suggestions. What do you do to create the culture where employee engagement can flourish?

But it is a Real Job!

The tourism / hospitality industry has an image problem.  In many people’s eyes, it continues to be seen as an industry to work in until a “real” job is found.

That was exactly what I thought when I took my first job waiting on tables at Boston Pizza.  I was a year out of high school, had moved into Winnipeg from small town Manitoba and wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Rent needed to be paid and with my lack of work experience or training, I focused on landing a job in the retail sector or the hospitality industry.

Within just a few short weeks of starting work, I knew I had found my future.  I continued waiting on tables and registered into the hospitality program at Red River College.  Along the way, I transitioned from the food and beverage sector into the accommodation sector, and the rest, as they say, is history.

There will always be people who use our industry as a stepping stone to another career, and that’s ok. Without them, our industry would be facing an even bigger labour shortage than it does.   But I think that sometimes new hires are treated as temporary workers instead of potential long term industry professionals. We don’t take the time to really explain the career opportunities available to them, both in our own business and in the industry as a whole and so we lose them.

Do the people that work for you know the career opportunities the tourism/hospitality industry provides?  Not just in your own business but in the industry as a whole.  Yes, letting them know all the options and opportunities available to them may mean they leave, but if they only leave you and not the industry entirely, that is a good thing!  It reminds me of when I was part of a destination marketing partnership.  Sales team made up of industry professionals went out to sell our destination, not our individual properties. When the destination won, we all won. When our industry is seen as a viable career choice, we all benefit.

And for those people who decide our challenging, vibrant, topsy-turvy industry isn’t for them, we still need them to be aware of what is possible so that someday, when they have the opportunity to influence the career choice of a young adult, they won’t try to dissuade them from entering our industry.

Glass Bubble Management

If a leader isn’t careful, moving up the ladder can lead to glass bubble management.

Glass bubble management is characterized by distorted or inaccurate perceptions of employees’ day-to-day activities and challenges.

Some glass bubble managers make decisions based on the job as they knew it before they got their promotion.  Unfortunately, the likelihood of the job duties, demands and expectations being unchanged is pretty low.

Some glass bubble managers have never done a particular job or filled a particular role. Without that knowledge, it is easy to underestimate the time, the physical demands or the mental processes required to fulfill the expectations associated with the job.

Effective management means getting out of the glass bubble and talking to employees.  It’s not about becoming an expert on all the day to day tasks and challenges employees face.  It is about recognizing lack of expertise. It may mean job shadowing in unfamiliar roles for a day or two.  Most importantly, it means being willing to throw out assumptions, asking questions and keeping an open mind.

Getting out of the bubble and spending time with the people completing those daily tasks, the people interacting with customers on a regular basis, leads to better decisions and demonstrates a leaders willingness to learn by consulting with the experts.  Leaders who do that enjoy a level of respect and trust from employees that glass bubble managers never will.

What does your employee handbook say about your company?

The impression a new hire forms about your company is initially created during the hiring process.  If someone decides to take you up on your offer of employment, the assumption is that you sold your company well.  Good job.  After you’ve convinced them to join you, it’s time to officially welcome them to the team and give them an opportunity to really get to know your company.

The employee handbook is a key part of that learning curve.  It provides information on the company, the policies, the procedures, employee benefits and opportunities.  Take a look at your employee handbook from the perspective of a new hire. What type of language is used? Is the focus on the employee or on the company?  Is the list of “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” statements longer than the list of employee benefits?  Some employee handbooks are written that way because that is the company culture, which, from a glass-is-half-full perspective, means they are being honest about who they are. On the other hand, some employee handbooks are written in a traditional, rather autocratic style simply because nobody has looked at them in a while or thought about the hidden message the handbook sends.

In 2009, Zappos took their employee handbook and created a document that reflects who they are and what they stand for as a company.  All the traditional information is still there, but presented in a comic book / MAD magazine format.  And instead of assigning this task to HR, they pulled employees from different areas in the company to help write it.  It is fun, it is colourful and it is true reflection of the company’s values. (More information here.)

I’m not a gamer which may explain why Valve Software’s new employee handbook, introduced in April of this year, flew under my radar. Valve’s company culture is absolutely not for everyone, but like it or not, the culture very clearly comes through in the handbook.  One thing completely unique about their handbook is the section clearly outlining what they’re not good at.  Take a look here.

Your employee handbook is an extension of your company; it should send a message consistent with your brand image and culture.  If you haven’t reviewed it lately, I encourage you to pull it off the shelf, dust it off and read it.  And if it does need updating, perhaps like the Zappos example, your team can help rewrite it with you.

We All Want Respect

There are unique differences between boomers, Gen-X and Gen-Y. Anytime you bring people together, an assortment of  life views and perspectives are represented.  That holds true along a lot of lines, not just in the year of birth category.  The key is to recognize and respect the individual nuances each person brings to the team instead of categorizing them based on stereotypes.  It also doesn’t hurt to find and focus on some shared values.

1. People want a life that includes a healthy balance of work and play.  Is that perception of balance as different as we think it is or is it just that Gen-Y refuses to give up play time as easily as other generations have?  Gen-X may come in early, stay late and give up weekends, but that doesn’t mean they’re not resenting the time away from family and friends.  Gen-Y will pitch in when they know the why, when they see you are also willing to give up your time and when they understand they will get that time back another day.  Seems to me that is something that all generations appreciate.

2.  People want sincere recognition for a job well done, with emphasis on sincere.  I read an article that said Gen-Y was raised being told how amazing they are, so managers need to flatter them in order to motivate them.  I found that rather condescending.  Just like any other generation, Gen-Y understands the difference between sincere praise and patronizing flattery, and I’m guessing they don’t like the latter any more than anyone else.

3.  People want to have fun at work.  Gen-Y may be the first generation to expect fun, but I hardly think that they are the only generation that thinks a little more fun at work is a bad thing.  What can you do to incorporate more fun at work?  Why not ask your team for some ideas?

Do generational differences in the workforce exist? Absolutely.  My two cents … recognize the differences and the value those differing viewpoints can bring to your team, respect each person as an individual and work to create an environment where full potential and future leaders are nurtured.