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The Employer/Employee Relationship

Howard Scott |

PEMBROKE, Mass. — Let’s talk relationships. You are the boss, and you have employees working for you. You pay them wages to do a good job. You expect them to want your company to do well and become mad when it seems they don’t care. Is there something more you can do to build allegiance and get them to care about your business?

Believe me, if you paid them one and a half times what they would earn at a competitor’s shop, you wouldn’t have created more allegiance. Money is not the answer. You build allegiance by creating a team.

One aspect of a team is that everyone looks out for everyone else. Since you are the most successful member of your team, the heaviest burden falls on you. You must be someone the others can go to when they need a favor.

This is tricky, because allegiance walks a fine line. Become overly friendly with an employee and you’ll lose the ability to be his or her boss. You will have difficulty making the hard decisions that are demanded of a business owner. The crew will take advantage of your softness.

They will make unreasonable demands. They will be derelict in their duties. They will walk all over you. Ultimately, your team will become dysfunctional and you will suffer the plight of a harried manager.

Become someone for whom teamwork is key. As the team leader, demonstrate that you value your employees more than just economic pegs that fit into appropriate holes. You see them as vulnerable human beings trying to live their lives as best they can and you are willing to go out on a limb for them. In fact, you are willing to help them out with their problems because they deserve a little help every so often.

Your staffers may not be the most ambitious people in the world. They may not be Rhodes Scholars. They may have made poor judgments in the past, have messy personal lives, not be terribly articulate. But they are human beings who are willing to work. The fact that they are willing to do repetitive drudgery in a dry cleaning plant is testament to their work ethic. Attention must be paid to these people.

If an employee has their car in the shop, maybe you could lend them one for a few days. You might help a staffer move by loaning use of the company truck and even pitching in on the day of the move. You might let an employee and his bride use your getaway cottage for their honeymoon.

How about sitting down with a longtime worker and listening to his marriage problems? Give him some good advice, and maybe arrange an appointment with someone in the know. Invite the workforce over on a hot Sunday to use your swimming pool. Hire a staffer’s daughter to baby-sit your kids. Use your general manager’s brother–in-law as your plumber. Hire your longtime seamstress’ son to work in the shop during his college break.

Go to bat for a steady worker when he receives a DUI by involving your lawyer. When an employee’s apartment floods out, arrange for him or her to buy appliances from your appliance dealer friend at a deeply discounted price. Help your faithful longtime worker complete paperwork for a home mortgage.

What about lending money? Tread carefully, because here is where you could get hurt. You’re committed to your team, you want to help them, but you don’t want money to come between you. Yes, you want to be a good guy, and you want to feel that they can come to you when they need help. But lending money seems to be the stumbling block where things can snag and go wrong. And they often do.

If you co-sign a note, for instance, and the staffer reneges on the obligation, making all kinds of excuses, the debt falls on you. You have two options: forget about the money or fire the employee. Garnishing the individual’s wages is not an option, because that relationship almost always results in dissatisfaction. Firing the person causes two problems: you have to replace the worker, which is a headache, and you absolutely won’t get paid. Better not get involved in loaning money. Steer clear of this ticking time bomb.

If an individual comes to you for a loan, offer a reason why you can’t help. My money is all tied up in investments. I am saving for my daughter’s wedding. My father needs 24-hour care and my brother and I are paying for it. I am putting two kids through college. Instead, help the staffer find a loan from other sources. Perhaps you know a banker who might create an arrangement. If the staffer needs a second car, possibly you could figure out a way in which the staffer and his wife could manage one car for a while. Maybe you could help the worker examine her mortgage to figure out a way to take out an equity line of credit. Offer aid without giving out the money.

That’s my advice, because I know from personal experience. Twice, I lent money to my employees. Twice, I lost both staffers and never got paid. The incidents created sour grapes among the entire staff because everybody knew what was going on. Talk about destroying team spirit.

Become a resource for your staffers. Your assistance will come in handy and will garner much appreciation. Second, you’ll become more involved in their life. Third, the workers will come to see themselves as part of a team and will want the company to succeed as much as you do.

You won’t just be the boss. You’ll become a person who values staffers. You’ll become a human being with a heart and soul. And people respect that sort of person more than just a money-grubbing, one-dimensional businessperson. That’s the ultimate bottom line. You grow committed employees.

Bend over backward for your people (in everything but money) and they will bend over backward for you.

About the author

Howard Scott

H&R Block

Industry Writer, Drycleaning Consultant, and H&R Block Tax Preparer

Howard Scott is a longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant, and an H&R Block tax preparer specializing in small businesses. He welcomes questions and comments, and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359.

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