I have two younger brothers who are extremely talented. They happen to be twins and have painted aircrafts for the same company since they were young. Recently, they both left that company at nearly the same time. It didn’t happen overnight. They didn’t leave entirely because of money. They didn’t leave because they felt their skills had diminished in any way. They left because they felt unappreciated.
One of the brothers, Bryan, returned to the company after a brief stint with an auto shop. They begged him to return, gave him a substantial raise, and finally agreed to some of the requests they had been asking for for years. But the other twin, Anthony, did not return. He had found another job very different from painting and said there was nothing the company could do to get him to go back. After 19 years of concerns being ignored and requests being denied, he had had enough. He found a new company that listened to him, compensated him, and, most importantly, didn’t take him for granted.
Talking to my brother about his decision to leave was like being on a roller coaster. On the one hand, as an employer, I understand the challenges that companies face in balancing payroll and profit. Sometimes hard decisions must be made for the fiscal health of the company. After all, if it doesn’t make a profit, there won’t be any jobs for people to complain about. On the other hand, this is my brother. Every ignored concern, every legitimate complaint, every time he felt like he was expected to be a robot who kept producing even as the environment deteriorated around him, my blood boiled. What happened to my brothers is a cautionary tale for all employers who want the good ones to stick around long-term. You can’t just talk about a good game; you must show it.
- Show that you take legitimate concerns seriously. My brothers often voiced their concerns to management and felt like their words fell on deaf ears. For instance, they had as many as 50 crew members with about 10-15 painters over three shifts to properly handle the workload of planes coming in. However, as the company began looking for areas to trim the budget, they stopped hiring to fill positions when painters quit. Instead, they expected the remaining painters to pick up the slack. As a result, by the time my brothers left, only three experienced painters were left in the department with a minimal support crew. They complained about how their small crew could not keep up with the pace that the company demanded, how they were now forced to cut corners or face delays, and how safety was being compromised for profit. Overtime became a regular occurrence, and it was exhausting. It took my brothers’ quitting to force the hand of the company to revisit its hiring practices. Lesson learned: Listening to the concerns of your valued employees shows respect and fosters loyalty among your crew. Indeed, some people will always be complainers, and the things they want will not be realistic. However, solid employees bring issues to your attention that will help your company be successful in the long run. Listen to them. They are in the best position to give you the point of view that you lack. Ignore their concerns at your peril.
- Show that you view your employees as more than a means to make a profit. As the number of painters dwindled, the workload and responsibilities increased. As I mentioned before, my brothers are talented painters. They paint and do body work on classic cars on the side. Vehicles they have worked on have won awards in car shows. They love what they do and are true artists. The changes, however, began to sap the joy they derived from the work. The joy they both found in painting aircraft gave way to being content with making a living, and to provide for and spend time with their families. Now even that was being threatened. When they communicated their unhappiness with the situation, literally nothing changed. They were, in effect, told that this was the way it was and they could take it or leave it. The company didn’t realize the “leave it” part was an option they were ready to take. Lesson learned: Let your company’s actions show that you view them as human beings, not just as a means to profit. Avoid having a “take it or leave it” approach with policies. There are more productive ways to run your business without forming an unnecessarily adversarial relationship with the people who provide the labor you need. Proper communication about the reasons for policies and acknowledging that your employees have a life apart from their work will instill trust in your decision-making. That does not mean that a committee must approve every decision you make. However, if a company’s decision will affect your employees’ quality of life, they deserve some communication. There will be times when you must make some tough decisions as an employer. But how you treat your employees before those decisions determines whether they stick by your company afterward.
- Show that you appreciate your quality employees by offering sincere commendations in an interpretable way. Aside from all my brothers’ issues with the company, they left their job for the same reasons many people quit; they did not feel appreciated. They were treated as expendable and replaceable, neither of which was true. My brother’s leaving had an immediate impact on the production in their department. So much so that the company finally responded to many of the concerns and offered a raise in pay to commensurate with the value they held with the company. Yet only one of my brothers returned. Why? The one who remained in his new job stayed because he felt appreciated where he was. Was he valued at his former job? Possibly. After he left, certainly. He just felt that he shouldn’t have to quit his job to have that appreciation communicated. He was right.
- Lesson Learned: Regularly communicate to your employees that they are valued and appreciated. More than that, communicate it in a way they understand and makes an impact. Of course, their paycheck is the primary way to show appreciation. Pay your quality employees well. Talk with your accountant about ways to ensure the employees who make your company the most money are rewarded in a fiscally responsible way. Have incentives that reward good customer service and work that exceeds profitability benchmarks. More than that, find out what your quality employee’s goals are. Can you reward them for their hard work by helping them reach goals or pursue projects they have a personal interest in? One employer I know paid for his lead technician, an avid runner, to enter a race he had always wanted to run. Another rewarded his highest profit-earner with a vacation for his entire family. All employees love to get bonuses for their hard work, but how much more meaningful would a personalized gift be that encaptured their dreams and passions? Whatever you decide to do, remember that saying you appreciate them is expected, but showing them that they are appreciated is next level.
In the end, my brothers made the right decision for their situation. Bryan felt his needs were finally met and was comfortable enough to return. Anthony found what he was lacking elsewhere and is happy with his change in employment. Who didn’t make the right decision was the original company. If they had just made policy decisions based on feedback instead of having their hand forced through employee loss, they would have two talented and experienced painters leading their department instead of one. Isn’t that the point? It’s often said that good employees quit their bosses, not their jobs. Be the boss your good employees need. Your company will thank you for it.