The Case for Treating Employees Well

The unemployment level in the United States is at its lowest point in 50 years, which means different things to different sectors of the economy.

For many workers, this is generally good news–it shifts the power dynamic toward employees. The theory is that they have more choice, although other factors are at play that prevent us from saying that 2019 is an unambiguously great time for labor.

Small business owners, however, may look at the statistics with some queasiness. An environment of low unemployment makes it harder to attract and keep good employees.

Some companies might respond to this environment by trying to “churn and burn” your staff. By reducing pay and the amount of training a workforce needs, some businesses attempt to adapt to a future where a constant stream of workers are hired for short amounts of time before they quit or are terminated.

Not only is this strategy morally dubious, but it is also costly. Studies show that the price of losing an employee can amount to tens of thousands of dollars, even for small businesses. One study contends that the cost of losing and replacing an employee can cost up to double the lost employee’s annual salary.

A survey of human resource managers found that some businesses believe over half of staff turnover is caused by employee burnout, defined as job dissatisfaction marred by poor pay and an overwhelming workload.

“As the economy continues to improve, and employees have more job options, companies will have to provide more compensation, expand benefits and improve their employee experience,” business author Dan Schawbel said of the findings. “Managers should promote flexibility, and ensure that employees aren’t overworked, in order to prevent employee burnout that leads to turnover.”

Employee burnout appears to be an issue at businesses of all sizes across the country, but the survey, conducted by analyst firm Kronos, said it seems to get worse as employers grow in size.

“Though burnout touches organizations of all sizes, larger organizations seem to suffer more,” the researchers said. “One in 5 HR leaders at organizations with 100 to 500 employees cited burnout as the cause of 10% or less of their turnover while 15% of HR leaders at organizations larger than 2,500 employees say burnout causes 50% or more of annual turnover.”

Treating your employees well can have benefits that go far beyond the walls of your business. Happy employees are happy customer –a business that treats and compensates its workers fairly can impact its whole region.  

“Beyond boosting companies’ competitiveness, improving service workers’ jobs could have a huge impact on the US economy,” Zeynep Ton wrote recently in the Harvard Business Review. “It would increase the earnings and spending power of the working poor and reduce the enormous amount of public assistance they receive.”

Many HR experts today think about employee “engagement,” a term that attempts to explain how to hire and maintain top talent. Ideally, not only does an engaged employee have a decent work-life balance, but he or she feels fulfilled, at least on some level, by the job.

“Engagement has been the workforce buzzword for the past decade,” explained Mollie Lombardi, an expert in hiring matters, in a statement. “We talk about ensuring that employees are challenged, appreciated, and in sync with strategic objectives, but even when they have an intellectual or emotional engagement with their work they sometimes still feel overwhelmed.”

She recommends that employers take a customized approach to each employee. Compensation and workload are huge elements for keeping employees happy, but so is a feeling of achievement and community as part of a staff.

“While not all burnout can be eliminated, much of it can be avoided using critical strategies that balance consistency and personalization of schedules and workload; leverage managers as models for how their team can achieve work/life balance; and implement tools and technology that proactively manage burnout or otherwise support these efforts,” Lombardi continued.

Probably the oldest customer service mantra is that the customer is always right. 

Writing in Forbes, customer experience expert Shep Hyken believes that we should adapt this motto toward how we treat employees, with a bit of the Golden Rule thrown in for good measure.

In essence, an employer should treat employees the way you want your customers to be treated.  

“If top management berates those in middle management, leadership cannot expect line-level employees to be well-treated by their direct supervisors–even if there is something in a mission statement somewhere that makes the proper treatment of employees a high priority,” Hyken maintains. “The do as I say, not as I do approach doesn’t work.”

While the dynamics between the nation’s employees and employers will continue to shift, treating your staff with dignity is a time-tested method for growing a business and saving money in the long run.

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