A local radio DJ was talking a few days ago about a new survey among American workers regarding how happy they are in their jobs. The key finding was that 60 percent are unhappy, and when the economy gets better, they plan to bolt.
One can always quibble about the accuracy of such surveys. But I thought that the percentage sounds plausible, at least. Then I thought, “What a shame” and, “Sixty percent don’t get it.”
I’m not talking about the employees who are unhappy. I’m talking about the companies that employ them, because I think that if their employees are miserable, management is shortsighted and missing the boat.
I think just about every person in the country recognizes the broad scope of the economic downturn that has occurred pretty much worldwide for the past year. I also believe that except for the few malcontents who always will be unhappy, most workers realize that companies are having to make some tough choices and cutbacks in order to survive. They may not like the cuts that affect them personally. But deep down, they want their company to keep going and give them and their co-workers a job. And I think they are willing to grit their teeth and bear the cutbacks until times get better.
The misstep that I think is being made by many owners and managers is their attitude. I think that only 40 percent are having an honest dialogue with employees, explaining the reasons behind choices being made, recognizing the pain being inflicted and thanking workers for hanging tough. They acknowledge their employees’ sacrifices and act like they care.
I think leaders at the other 60 percent of companies simply regard their workers as numbers on a spreadsheet that they pencil in and out. Their attitude is, “They should just be glad to have a job” and there is no sympathy or acknowledgement of the hardships that are inflicted by cutting pay or benefits and/or doubling the workload. And that attitude grates on the people at the receiving end.
Yes, those workers are glad to have a job. They know unemployment is high and that having a steady paycheck means a lot right now. But they are staying at that job only because they feel stuck and as soon as they have options, they will be gone.
I think that their employers have lost sight of the long-term. They may feel that they have all the power to keep employees now. But what are their long-term prospects after they lose experienced employees when the economy starts to improve? I’m betting that when the recovery does hit, it will be the 40 percent companies that get back up to speed and see a return to prosperity first, and the 60 percent will still struggle to survive.
I do think most companies in the woodworking industry recognize that the skills and dedication of their employees are critical to their ultimate success. And whether the true numbers are 60-40, 50-50 or some other figures, I expect that they make up a big chunk of the percentage that will retain workers into the future. But I think there are many firms in the country that have never learned to value their employees, and they may have a Day of Reckoning ahead of them.

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