When you go back to work in 2014 ask yourself one question: Do my employees trust me?
If you have no idea as to the answer - or don't care about the answer - you had better think about finding a new place of employment. It may seem surprising given the shaky economy, but consider 2014 and the years that follow as the time of the worker.
Payback, as they say, is a bitch. The middle class, blue and white collar, are looking to reclaim lost leverage. Unions will become more attractive because of the poor and neglectful management of corporations; transient or hourly workers will become harder to find because education has now been designed for the masses; and just as importantly, boomers are retiring.
Ask yourself: who is going to lead your company in 10 years if you have alienated all the "little people"? This is history repeating itself: The conditions we are living in are similar to what occurred just after the great depression began in 1930.
Again, 2014 will be the year that people will no longer just sit and take the abuse that has been heaped on them by their employers since the financial crisis. You can only push people so far and before you become the company no one wants to work for. Whether you are a large company or a small firm, your employees have been living in fear that they are going to lose their job and many "bosses" have been playing on this to push people further and further and work them hard. Reporters I know are now scrambling to write more stories than is humanly possible in less time, corporate managers live in fear of VPs who send them requests Fridays at 5:00 to have a project done Monday at noon and senior leaders are not going to take another change in remuneration structure.
The anecdotal evidence I encounter day after day is telling. One very senior female I know is fed up with the old boys club and is leaving her firm, where she is one of the few senior women, to start who own business. A decorated military leader found it easier to go to war than to deal with his so called bosses at work. A 14-year veteran at a Fortune 100 corporation walked away without another job because of his manager's poor treatment of him. Subsequently his team quit too.
Management can no longer count on an uncertain economy to keep employees tied down to jobs that they hate.
The last 20 years have been what I call the Jack Welch years, defined as a focus on the shareholder and the board, primarily old white men, who are the kings, and everyone else is akin to the court jester, necessary but not important.
Even business reporters were swept up in the CEO as Emperor Phenomenon, hence Jack Welch. I am sure all that was good for its time but what has happened since is workforces are no longer engaged, they do not feel valued, nor do they trust their employer and this will hurt corporate profitability and the ability to innovate. These aren't just my ideas by the way - they are those of Peter Drucker, the man who is dubbed the father of management. Drucker's research focused on a healthy balance between the needs of the shareholders and the needs of the employees. He understood that management means developing people and leaders in your organization.
How can you change in 2014? Follow these steps:
1. Don't be the Emperor with no clothes. Measure - ask for a third party independent surveys that measure performance, commitment, work satisfaction, burnout and trust.
2. Observe -Which managers have the highest turn over - find out why that is. Sometimes it's due to lack of resources for that manager, other times you just have the wrong people in management.
3. Listen - Put down the smartphone and talk with your employees. Glancing at a phone every two minutes sends a clear message that you really don't care about the conversation you are involved in.
4. Deploy tactics - Begin a workplace education program that strengthens your core culture and builds trust in senior leadership.
5. Measure again - evaluate your tactics and the change the have achieved, use quantitative and qualitative measurements, don't use anecdotal evidence from your senior leaders - use outside measurement.
None of these tactics will work if you expect immediate results, defined as weeks rather than months. It took 20 years for business leaders to fall lower than politicians, lawyers and used car salesmen in terms of public trust. Rebuilding that trust will take time, but it is well worth your investment.
Over the past five years our workplace education program has proven that human capital productivity can be increased an average of 11% when employees are engaged and rebuilding trust in each other and senior leadership.
A crisis is coming for management as employees seek redress for years of abuse. Now is the time to either get ahead of the freight train or be run over by it.
Dr. Mary Donohue is the founder of the thedms.org and an adjunct professor at the University of Dalhousie, graduate school of management.
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