Employers’ Self-Inflicted Wounds — Overestimating & Under-Training New Employees

You Have To Assume New Employees Have No Idea How To Act On The Job

By David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)

Employers Need To Train Every New Employee As If They Know Nothing

People often talk about small businesses being the backbone of the American economy. If that’s true, we desperately need the equivalent of boot camp for small-business owners on the topic of how to train their new employees.

Many small-business owners assume that every new employee had a good family, good teachers, and a solid grounding in how humans are supposed to act and the work values they should have.

Those assumptions are often wrong.

As an employer you would do well to start with the assumption that your employees know nothing, have no common sense, and have no basic cultural or behavioral values applicable to the workplace.

Many parents fail to teach their children even the most fundamental lessons that will help them have a successful work life. And if you expect the schools to do that, you’re seriously out of touch with reality.

Sorry if you think you’re almost always going to get pre-trained employees who already have a good work ethic and already understand the basic rules about how they should conduct themselves during working hours.

Instead, you should assume that every new employee has no clue about proper work ethics, attitudes and conduct.

That makes it your job to teach every, single new employee:

  • The See Something, Say Something principle
  • What is unacceptable conduct.

The Right Attitude Toward Your Work

If You Can’t Get The Job You Like, You Need To Like The Job You Get

It’s popular for parents to tell their kids, “Follow your passion.” That’s often like telling the members of the high school baseball team, “You should shoot for a career in the major leagues.”

It would be wonderful if it happened, but the odds of their accomplishing that are small.

As much as a kid might want to be a singer, a musician, a movie director or professional race-car driver, the chances that he/she will be paid a living wage to do that are really tiny. Most people discover that they have to take jobs that are not within the scope of what they consider to be their “passion.”

If they think that they have a right to be paid to perform a job they love and instead of that dream job they find themselves working in your accounts-payable department, they’re going to resent their job.

If an employee is going to go to work every day thinking, “I shouldn’t have to do this crap,” how good a job will he/she do? What’s their attitude going to be?

It’s in your own self interest to get your employees’ heads turned around.

Many Employees’ Flawed Psychology

The psychology of many employees is that smart people:

  • Do the minimum amount of work they can get away with
  • Ignore any problems that aren’t specifically part of their job description.
  • Show up as late as they can.
  • Leave as early as they can.
  • Pray for the day when they can give their boss the finger and tell him, “Take this job and shove it.”

Many think that their “non-passion” job is a waste of their time to be avoided and minimized as much as possible.

No one has ever told them that acting according to those rules will:

  • Keep from getting a raise or a bonus
  • Put them at the top of the layoff list.
  • Make them a candidate to be fired, and, most importantly,
  • Make them unhappy in their work which fills almost one-half of their waking life.

It’s in your self-interest to wise them up. Look them in the eye and tell them just that.

You need to make them understand that doing the best job they can do will get them more rewards and doing the least work they can get away with will eventually cost them.

And then you need to actually reward them for taking that advice.

Do The Best Job You Can Do

If a kid starts out thinking, “This job is for suckers” and is doing it only because he needs to eat, he’s not only going to be a poor employee. He’s also going to be an unhappy person, dreading going to work in the morning and counting the minutes until he can go home at night.

The best advice I’ve ever heard for how to have a reasonably happy or at least a satisfying work life no matter how menial your job, is to show up every day determined to be the best “whatever” you can be — to treat your job performance as a component of your self respect.

My friend’s first job was managing the salad bar in a large supermarket. On day one she decided that she was going to have the best salad bar in the history of supermarkets. She went to work every day focused on how she could make it cleaner, better stocked, more appetizing, more accessible, etc. etc. etc.

Instead of groaning every morning, “Oh, crap, another day at that stupid salad bar” she made herself happy by taking pride in her work. Her attitude was, “Whatever job I have, I going to do the best job anyone who’s ever had that job has ever done.”

Every night she went home with a feeling of satisfaction and pride in how well she had done her job.

When she got promoted she took that attitude with her. Every task she got she approached with goal of doing the best job possible and doing it such a way that she could look back on her day and be proud of her work.

She ended up as the CEO of a 30-employee company.

Do your employees a favor. Teach them what their parents and their teachers perhaps never did, namely, that the easiest way to enjoy coming to work is to decide that if you’re a widget polisher that you’re going to be the best damn widget-polisher there ever was; that you’re going to go home every night knowing that you did the best widget polishing it was possible to do — to take pride in the way you do their job — to see the quality of your work as a component of your self respect.

If an employee can find a mental technique whereby he/she can take pride in their work, then their work can become a source of satisfaction rather than drudgery.

Ninety-nine percent of your employees will not figure this out on their own. You, the employer, will have to take the time and energy to teach them.

And then you will have to reward them when you see them following your advice.

If you don’t let them know that you see and appreciate how hard they are trying to do a great job they will quickly decide that you were just running a con on them in order to get them to work harder for the same pay and then they will go back to counting the minutes until it’s quitting time.

Work As If You’re The Owner

The best employees make decisions as if they were the owner. Most employees have to be taught to think this way. Imagine if you sat down with every new employee, looked him or her in the eyes and said:

“Whenever a problem or question comes up, I want you to ask yourself, ‘What would I do about this if I were the owner of the company?’

“I want you to do your job as if you owned the company.”

It’s amazing how many good decisions an employee can make if their Golden Rule is: “Do your job as if you own the company.”

If You See Something, Say Something

If you see something wrong it seems obvious that you would tell someone. But lots of people don’t think that way. There are a material number of people who will walk past a body lying in the street without a backward glance.

Don’t expect your employees to intuitively follow the “See Something, Say Something” rule.

You have to explicitly tell them: “If you see a problem, tell someone. If you see a way to fix that problem, it’s even more important that you tell someone.”

You have smoke alarms and sensors in your facility because you can’t personally monitor every square foot of your premises. Every employee is a sensor that can notice problems and sound an alarm, but only if you’ve trained them to say something and only if you really and truly listen to what they tell you.

  • You have to tell them that reporting bottlenecks, deficiencies, error points, etc. is part of their job description even if the problem is in someone else’s department.
  • You have to encourage them to speak up.
  • You have to establish mechanisms that make it easy for them to voice concerns or give suggestions for improvements.
  • You have to set up a line of communication directly from the lowest employee to a top manager or to yourself personally that bypasses middle-level supervisors who will often want to hide problems in their department.
  • You have to reward people for speaking up, even if it’s only a, “Bob, you did good. Thank you!”
  • You have to make sure someone follows through on their report, even if it’s only to tell Bob why you’re not going to make any changes in response to what he reported.
  • You have to actively prevent your managers from retaliating against employees who report problems/inefficiencies in the manager’s department.

You Have To Tell People That Stealing Company Stuff Is Not Allowed

I wrote much of the following advice in another column (Management Failures. Avoidable Mistakes Often Made By Small Business Owners ) but it bears repeating here.

Lots of people who will come to you for a job will assume that company supplies are there for the taking as some kind of an unofficial fringe benefit.

You need to explicitly tell every employee at the very beginning that taking company property for personal use is stealing and that it will get them instantly fired.

It’s common for employees to assume that if they want to mail a package that it’s OK to take it to work, wrap it using company supplies, and put postage on it from the company’s postage meter.

If you haven’t explicitly told them this is a no-no and you confront them they will be confused. They will tell you that “Everybody does it”, that “It’s just some supplies and a little postage” and that “No one told me I couldn’t do that.”

The-No-One-Told-Me-Not-To Defense is amazingly common in all kinds of situations.

A few years ago a San Francisco County supervisor was indicted (and went to jail) for soliciting money from a company in his district as “compensation” for his help in obtaining a business permit.

His defense was, “I thought that was how government worked. No one told me I couldn’t do that.”

Perhaps you remember the scene from Seinfeld where George’s boss, Mr. Lippman, calls George into his office.

“George,” Mr. Lippman begins, “it’s come to my attention that you had sex with the cleaning lady on your desk. Is that true?”

“Was that wrong?” George asks. “Let tell you, I’ve worked at a lot of companies, and if anyone had ever told me that having sex on my desk with the cleaning lady was frowned upon I never would have done it.”

Every employer would be well advised to create a “You Can’t Do This” video that every employee is required to watch. It should include things such as,

  • You can’t take company equipment home.
  • You can’t personally use or take office supplies — tape, staples, envelopes, etc. — home.
  • You can’t have sex in the building.
  • You can’t drink alcohol or use recreational drugs on company property.
  • You can’t show up for work under the influence of alcohol or recreational drugs.
  • You can’t use racial, ethnic, religious slurs at work.

People Are Amazingly Clueless

Think of all the basic attitudes/rules you want your employees to know. In addition to the topic items in this column there may be other rules that apply to your particular business. Don’t ignore the obvious.

If you’re running a software company, explicitly tell employees that they can’t copy somebody else’s code and paste into your product. You would think they would know that but, trust me, someone might do that and then give you the “Nobody told me I couldn’t do that” defense.

Next, write down how you would explain those attitudes/rules to a new employee. Practice it, polish it, then turn it into a video and make each new employee watch it.

After they’ve watched it, sit down with the new employee and have a dialog with them about what they’ve just seen.

  • What questions do they have?
  • What comments do they have?

Try to figure out if they got it or if they just want to ignore it as “employer baloney” and collect their check.

Keep the employees who demonstrate that they get it. Reward them for their hard work.

Figure out who’s just phoning it in, watching the clock, ignoring problems, doing the sloppiest job he/she thinks they can get away with, spending every possible minute on breaks and trolling the Internet, and as quickly as possible fire them and try to find someone better.

Having the right employees in the right positions will make you a lot of money.

Keeping the wrong employees in the wrong positions can cost you a fortune.

— David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)

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David Grace

Graduate of Stanford University & U.C. Berkeley Law School. Author of 16 novels and over 400 Medium columns on Economics, Politics, Law, Humor & Satire.