A Time of Opportunity to Become a Great Employer

When it comes to employers looking for employees this is an incredible buyers’ market.  Consider: The current Business Week chronicles the woes of young people entering the labor force. Unemployment nationally is nearly 10%.  In cities it’s as high as 30%.  Labor unions have made enormous concessions. White collar workers have given up benefits, had their wages cut, or been downsized altogether, left to compete for scarce jobs.  Okay, okay, enough of the bad news that you already know.

Well, one startling point about the implications.  In an amazing article in The Economist, the impact of this lax labor market is detailed:  “A survey by the Center for Work-Life Policy… found that between June 2007 and December 2008 the proportion of employees who professed loyalty to their employers slumped from 95% to 39%; the number voicing trust in them fell from 79% to 22%.”

When employees feel no loyalty and express no trust, it’s only a matter of time before they leave.  Before they get the chance to leave altogether, it’s absurd to think they’re pouring their hearts and souls into the work.  From this dark tale emerges the light of opportunity:  What an incredible chance for humane and engaging employers to support their employees and thus secure their trust and productivity.

What are the central keys to doing that? They are the two oldest values in the universe:  Truth and love!  Clear truth will build trust even when the truth is tough.  Love and  care for your people by looking for non-economic ways to improve their quality of life.  At work, find ways to encourage, to celebrate, to
empower, and to underline the meaning of the work.  When you can’t reward with money look for the deep intrinsic human needs.  And in this time of great economic stress – when people are asked to do more, and their spouses are working harder too – look for ways to promote quality of life, especially through flexibility for emplolyees and their families.  Maria Shriver launches her report “A Woman’s Nation” this week.  She says that the “war of the sexes is over.” And that both sexes are clamoring for ways to support their families while accomplishing their work. 

It would be a great topic of conversation this week at work:  “What can we do to help you and your family in times when we can’t do much foryou economically?”

Talk truth and offer love to lead with your best self,


  • In 1967 in my first job, our boss said for us to be loyal to him, he should treat us better. He and his family were very generous to workers and we in turn did our jobs better. It’s intersting that now over 40 years later,this debate continues.

  • I would emphasize that even if you can reward with money, a good leader searches for places and ways to meet the intrinsic needs. These needs are not all that deep, but they do speak to the core of a person – to celebrat and to have meaning in our work and to have that work honored.

    It is really rather simple.

  • Dan – I am sure you saw the results of the Detroit News and Free Press Survey in Sunday’s edition on the Top Employers in Michigan – large, medium and small and the things they are doing to build loyalty and commitment to their workplace among employees – many strategies were highlighted providing a bright spot in the midst of a lot of gloomy news.

  • I think that anyone who becomes an employer should learn the story of Aaron Feuerstein. I’m sure that many of you know his story, which supports the premise that there’s no such thing as “business ethics,” there’s only ethics.

    Feuerstein was the CEO of Malden Mills, which made Polartec insulating fabric in Lawrence, Mass. In December 1995, a fire destroyed much of the Malden Mills plant, and the plant could no longer produce its goods. Feuerstein was under no legal obligation to keep his workers employed; he could have simply let the company go out of business, or laid off hundreds of workers while the plant was rebuilt.

    However, over the next six months, while teh plant was rebuilt, Feuerstein would pay out over $25 million of his own money to keep all 3,000 workers at the plant employed. Many of them actually helped to rebuild the plant with hammers, saws, and paint brushes, rather than their usual tools.

    Explaining the reasons for his actions, Feuerstein said, “I have a responsibility to the worker, both blue-collar and white-collar. I have an equal responsibility to the community. It would have been unconscionable to put 3,000 people on the streets and deliver a deathblow to the cities of Lawrence and Methuen. Maybe on paper our company is worthless to Wall Street, but I can tell you it’s worth more.” Many executives today don’t seem to realize that without the hard work of their employees, their enterprise would go nowhere. I welcome the return of that attitude, and have faith that it’ll actually happen.

    And now (as Monty Python would say), for something (almost) completely different: I’ve only started to skim through the Shriver Report, and am somewhat astounded that a study of this nature hasn’t taken place to this extent before. As part of the unveiling of the report, NBC is doing a series of reports this week. This morning, the Today Show aired a segment on Dan and Gov. Granholm, and how they’ve wound up planning their lives in order to accomplish their work as well as taking care of their children. The video is available today on MSNBC.COM. I was interested in the segment not only because Dan is one of our “electronic pen pals,” but also because I also took care of my children for almost two years while my wife worked outside the home.

    I was once embarrassed after snapping at a friend when she asked if I was enjoying being “Mr. Mom.” I had to insist that I was instead being “Mr. Dad,” thank you very much. While I loved that role, my wife and I later switched back to the more traditional roles with me at the office. But the non-traditional roles are certainly more the norm now.

  • Fabulous!

    Would love to have a way to “print page” for these weekly nuggets of inspiration. Would you please add this option to allow us to share with all of our ‘everyday’ leaders who may not have ready access to email?

    Thank you so much for all you do!

  • With all due respect, reading your comments about the lack of loyalty to employers, it is difficult to reconcile this with the strong support of Robert Bobb in DPS. If ever there was a school district in need of leadership as opposed to bossiness, DPS would be it. While I agree that Mr. Bobb has done wonders for the district financially, that certainly is not the case academically. Nor is it the case in helping the teachers build their capacity to benefit students. Students seem to be photo ops rather than the most important people in the district. It is little wonder that there is a lack of loyalty on all fronts. Just a thought.

  • Dan,

    An odd thing happened to me during a job interview several months ago. An interviewer for a prospective employer noticed that my work history includes 14 years at one employer and 17 years at another. She wondered aloud if I was too complacent, perhaps not driven to “get ahead” because I stayed so long with each employer. I tried to explain about loyalty to employers who, although hardly perfect, for a time provided welcoming work environments and treated employees both ethically and fairly — building trust on truth and transparency.

    She didn’t get it. In her opinion, employees are entrepreneurial mercenaries out to get what they can from an employer and then move on to better battlefields. Adversarial relationships filled her world. It shook me up a little and started me thinking.

    My departures from my last two jobs were different, both because it was not my plan to leave and because each sudden “ambush” layoff was preceeded by a period of silence, secrets, and solitude. Silence, because they stopped communicating with me about important issues until decisions had been made — I was informed, but not included. Secrets, because access to information was restricted, and meetings — previously open — were behind closed doors. Solitude, because surviving employees — already aware of my imminent departure — began to distance themselves from me.

    Secrets have a way of tearing a group apart, whether it is a business, a non-profit organization, or a family. If you want employee loyalty during times of economic shortfalls, remember the three “T”s: “Trust” – if you don’t trust your employees, why expect them to trust you? “Truth” – lies of commision and omission propagate in the dark, like termites, and destroy the foundation of your business and your relationships with employees, friends, and family. “Transparency” – employers who work in glass offices should open the curtains.

    It is a buyer’s market right now, but not a slave market. Get rid of the title: “Human Resources.” Treat people like people, not resources. Tell them the truth, the whole truth, and trust them to be fair with you if you are fair with them. It is how loyalty is earned, not purchased.

  • Mick hit it square on the money, ESPECIALLY in the 4th and 5th paragraphs. One thing I might add though, that was left off of the inclusiveness of a business, non-profit organization, or a family. Omisive was government, or is secrecy there a necessity?
    I’d love to have some employees again, but without a demand for a product or service, why a need for an employee(s).
    Thomas Jefferson is probably reeling in his grave.

  • Mark,

    You are right about government. At some levels, secrecy = security and there are reasons for zipping all lips. However, I was a Social Security Field Rep. for many years, and I always felt that more transparency would have saved the government millions of dollars in mistakes, misunderstandings, and lower-court rulings that held up necessary changes because of all the misinformation and political mis-direction that followed every piece of legislation. The SSA Programs Operation Manual System I used was 40,000 pages and still growing when I left in 1987. Changes came in every day and were implemented on vastly different timetables. Often, the problem was not secrecy, but information overload combined with legaleze, combined with stays, holds, and partial implementations caused by legal action at all levels, combined with training delays.

    Staying current was like swimming against a rip-tide. You simply had to go with flow and try not to drown. Often, things taken as “government secrets” are simply “government facts” lost in the maelstrom — like tree limbs in a hurricane — big enough to do real damage, but nearly invisible in the greater storm.

    Perhaps, that is why I did not include “government” with the list. However, within agencies and within offices, greater transparency would have done much to make my sojourn with SSA a memory more sweet than bittersweet.

    Thanks, Mark!


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