Recently, I heard of a leader within an organization who was treating his assistant much like a slave. Not only was the leader verbally demeaning to the assistant, but the leader would often bring his dog into work, and expect that his assistant would clean up the mess that his dog left inside the building. Working in a non unionized environment the employee was under an obligation to comply or risk losing favor with the boss and possibly his position.
Thankfully it's rare that I come across a business owner who believes that they are doing their employees a huge favor by just giving them a job. It's true that we need to create jobs for people to ensure a stable society, however, our economy in North America is humming along and unemployment is at an all-time low, which means that most people who want jobs can easily find them. Nevertheless, an attitude implying that we are someone special because we own or run a business and therefore able to unjustly use that power, to the detriment of others, is a serious mistake. In fact, there are several things that we owe our employees and these include:
A safe environment: the focus on safety in some industries is at an all time high, yet creating a safe space to work includes more than just physical safety. As leaders we should be looking to create environments where our employees feel safe. This means that we need to work to curtail drama including bullying and psychological manipulation. We must protect employees from harmful external influences and ensure that our people feel that they can speak out when they think that they might be in harm's way or are treated unjustly.
Fair Pay: Many regions have set minimum wages that business owners must pay employees However, owners need to be aware of what a living wage for their area is and strive to pay wages that will enable their employees a decent standard of living without having to take on multiple jobs to make ends meet. Unfortunately, most minimum wage systems built by government officials that don't take into account that many of the lowest paid workers are teenagers who are supported by their parents. When minimum wages are bumped, it's the owners who suffer at the benefit of youth. A more equitable system might include minimum wages based on age. Most business owners I know would love to pay their full-time employees more but are only marginally profitable themselves, and many times take home less than their top paid employees.
Leadership: Last week I had a business owner tell me that when he saw one of his employees working with inadequate shoes and realized that the employee couldn't afford suitable shoes, he took off his shoes and gave them to his employee. This is a great example of leadership. In addition to extraordinary examples of leadership, most employees need us as leaders to provide a vision of where the company is going. They need to understand their roles and responsibilities within the company and they must hold everyone within the organization to the same level of accountability.
Consideration of their future: A good employer must consider his employees' futures. This means they should be thinking ahead for employees who are going to be working for them for years or decades, and introduce strategies that ensure their financial stability after they retire. It also means that when employees are not happy working for them, they engage the employees in the tough conversations that encourage them to move on.
Employees are the backbone of our organizations; we would not be successful in fulfilling our mission and vision without them. Employees need to understand that running an organization is stressful, and there are many challenges of leadership that are never seen or fully comprehended by the average person.
While we should be able to expect that fair transactions take place between employee and employers and we have obligations that go beyond the law. Great leaders understand that respectful treatment of employees makes a huge difference in enabling them to contribute to the advancement of the society around us.
Dave Fuller MBA, is an award-winning professional business coach and the author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy. Fiuller would love to hear your feedback by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.