A recent Dilbert strip (thanks for catching this one for me, Jules – I have not been keeping up with my daily comic fix lately) sparked the usual random thought in my noggin’. This strip comes at a perfect time as the hot topic for the media seems to be the declining work ethic in Corporate America. Whether it’s absenteeism, playing games at the job, or just not putting in 100%, more and more Americans are simply not caring enough to put in a real effort at the work place.. But the issue, from what I’m told, goes beyond the United States.
Sadly, I feel that most are quick to blame employees, stating that people do not work as hard as they used to.. but is that really the case?
Quite honestly, I do not see absenteeism as a huge problem, at least not on it’s own. I think the greater issues lie in identifying which employees are simply not efficient, responsive, or excited. Why is that? Surely, you can only be so excited to go to certain jobs, even if you love what you do [at times] but you’d think some people want to commit suicide the way they treat their work. Before I get carried into another direction, I’ll just cut straight to the point: the problem is not with absenteeism but, more accurately, the lack of ownership and motivation at jobs across the nation.
As an employer or manager, are you a true leader? Do you engage, inspire, and motivate.. Or do you just tell people to do things because “you know better”.
Nowadays, most people just want to come in, do the minimal job, and get paid. This used to be all right but with the job market being so saturated with people looking for work, this is a risky game, ESPECIALLY if you live in New York City. People still think they are in a bargaining position. They want more pay and they wish to do less work for it. It’s no wonder corporations are sending work overseas, even as incompetent as some of these international support people can be – you get a more people for less money and far less headaches along with the operational savings.
To me, this problem is two-fold. First, employees need to come to the realization that someone out there can do what they do and probably for much less than they get paid. The leverage that we were once afforded no longer exists. Now, you may think to yourself “well, they’d need to train the new person lots to get them to the point I am with things” but that is not good logic. Operational procedures are easy to duplicate, even in a business setting where standards are lacking, but strategy advantages and efficiency are a whole different matter. This means that, if you are not particularly good at what you do, you will most likely be replaced.
The second part of this puzzle is the effort that companies put forth to provide employees with a viable work environment. Managing expectations, providing incentives, and finding ways to challenge and stimulate employees in a positive way are some of the key initiatives that employers should always tackle. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done but, really, replacing people with others is just a simple escape. Flawed management will always reflect in a flawed staff.
As a team leader and business owner, I try to keep my consultants and staff members excited. I keep communication lines open, encourage feedback, keep things casual yet professional, and take regular dipsticks to see where everything is at. It is these simple little things that go a long way but sometimes it is not enough. Some people need to be micromanaged and some people are just plain umotivatable. The “trick” to it all is not to assume the worst-case scenario and work with people as much as possible. Making preemptive negative assumptions is rarely a good idea.
Currently, I have a business partner and friend that does great work but he is very unresponsive and unfocused. It can be quite daunting, to say the least. I’ve learned to work with his quirks but, believe me, if I went with initial impressions, I would have cut him off long ago. There are people like this in all our lives. Getting to the heart of matters is key because you can’t fix a problem if you do not know the root cause. For my friend, family issues and money matters had him down so I worked with him by advancing him some money and it seems to have helped quite a bit.
Returning to the topic of absenteeism, employee motivation may not always be the reason people take time off. Life happens and, believe it or not, people have lives. It’s hard to draw a line between being understanding and being abused but this is something that can be developed with time. This is why working with even more difficult people should be done with great patience; you want to build a relationship so that all parties can really mesh and play into each other’s strengths and weaknesses. All around NYC, you have companies that say that they are “at will” companies. They hire and fire at will. This mentality is sad because they forget that the “revolving door” approach does not allow for the creation of effective relationships; companies that fire people and hire replacements constantly are only thinking about operations at a bare minimum level, rather than at he most efficient level possible.
The scary part is that now companies have become as jaded as the employees that are bored with their mundane work. HR decision makers nation-wide are implementing stringent policies on PTO (Paid Time Off), extended leaves, and the like. Even with these policies in place, there is always the risk that you may pushing your luck. While some may really need time off to take care of life emergencies, be there for their newborns, or tend to legal matters, there are those asking for away days just to break the routine.
Companies are now cracking down on lazy employees. Those that really do need the time off will suffer simply because of those that abused lenient PTO policies. If you look at the trends, the number of companies offering more than a month of time off a year is shrinking. Even people with tenure are lucky if they get about two week’s worth of PTO. Unlimited sick days? HA – don’t make the HR people laugh! You get sick on your own time, buddy!
It is a brave new world out there. You can be recovering from a near- death experience, pregnant, or dealing with the death of your mother and that may not seem like justification for PTO to the almighty HR folks on their high horses. I recall coming into work puking and bleeding all over the place just so that I wouldn’t have to hear the gossip from people saying that I really wasn’t sick or was taking ”too much” time off. Apparently, the doctor was wrong and they knew wwat was best for my health. This may
seem extreme but it is very much real. People this dumb and inconsiderate are all around us - YAY!
Dilbert made it into a laughing matter but the whole issue of absenteeism at the work place is a very touchy subject. There are simply so many considerations and other issues involved that it can be very demoralizing just thinking about how little freedom we really have on the job. I’ve actually had the experience recently with a cousin who got pregnant and got let go during her maternity leave, by her own cousin, no less (she’s the HR Director). It’s crunch time and, with American standards for productivity going down, businesses are looking to drive their bottomline in all sorts of extreme ways while salaries, incentives, and fringe benefits continue to plummet into the bottomless pit called nothingness.
Dilbert, you are the only shining light for Corporate America (well, you and the wonderful B2B consultants out there that “get it”)!