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What employees don't want

MPLOYEES have it good. They are subject to so much attention. People even go so far as to write articles about them. It may therefore sound ironic when I say that the only people who actively ignore them are managers. Not of all of them, perhaps not even the majority of them, but definitely some of them. And they are the reason HR professionals and armchair experts like me are able to earn their bread and butter. Where would we be if all employees everywhere had wise and kind managers and were perfectly happy with their jobs? Thankfully, fate has blessed us with an abundance of bosses with incredibly bad people skills. The result? Poor morale, of course. Which in turn lends itself to high attrition rates, which again lends itself to even poorer morale. It is a vicious cycle.

So what is the solution? For a change, we will not dwell on it. There may not even be a solution. However, for the edification of recently promoted managers and unhappy employees everywhere, we will tell you what is not the solution:

Adding more hierarchal levels: This should have been, to use a gross Americanism - a `no-brainer'. Employees do not like hierarchy - especially the traditional top-down one. Mainly because the perception is that top-down hierarchies tend to treat employees like cheap labour when employee labour is anything but cheap.

Excluding employees from the decision-making process: Many managers have this idea that when they want their employees' opinion they will beat it out of them. The only sort of employees who are happy are empowered employees. You have to allow them to be a part of the decision-making process, and importantly, make them feel that they are.

Ambiguity: What do most people - especially entry-level employees want more than anything else? Direction. Focus. A standard. A goal. Call it what you will. Employees want to know where they are going. Unfortunately, this is hardly ever the case since managers themselves are sometimes unclear about where they are headed with a particular strategy or project.

Red tape: Structure is good, paperwork is not. Dissatisfied employees are typically a characteristic of permission-bound offices where everything - from leave to lunch breaks are obtained after filling out four bulky documents in triplicate and getting it attested by a gazetted officer. Okay so this could be an exaggeration but you get my drift.

Inefficient bosses: If there is anything that can completely deflate employee morale, it is an inefficient boss. Who is an inefficient boss? Someone, who when assigned responsibility for a project, delays it until the last minute and then drops it like a ten-ton WOMD (Weapon of Mass Destruction) on unsuspecting employees who are looking forward to their annual vacation. The criteria is so wide that it is impossible to cover it here, but as a rule of thumb an inefficient boss is somebody who has dissatisfied employees.

Uncooperative management: When you are dealing with people you have to be prepared to bend the rules every now and then. Places that have a rigid, inflexible, orthodox system, founded on an overabundance of rules are bound to have low employee morale, especially if they intend on sticking by those stiff rules.

Too much work: This point hardly requires any further elaboration. Needless to say, this is a frequent complaint. In short-staffed offices, every late night shift and every additional piece of paperwork is the last straw that is about to break a very tired camel's back.

An injudicious reward/punishment system: You promote, you punish. Just make sure you do it to the right people. Often, people who get promoted get promoted because they are in the boss' good books or because they are perceived to be deserving candidates for reward. In most cases, perception could not be farther from the truth. Check your facts before you make these decisions. Remember, it is often easier to retain your employees than it is to find the right kind of people to replace them. Building employee morale is just as hard as it is easy to break it. It is fragile. Handle it with care. Your employees will thank you for it and in time, so will your company.

PETER THUTURI

faqs@cnkonline.com

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