Henry Ford once remarked: “Why is it that I always get the whole person when what I really want is a pair of hands?” Whether many of us are willing to admit it, this is too often the prevailing attitude toward those workers who carry out the most basic of tasks at our organizations. For one of my companies, this is the janitorial team members who clean nearly 10 million square feet of facilities each night. The temptation for our leadership team and me is to view our team members as merely robots programmed to get the job done, getting frustrated when the task is not completed exactly as instructed.
But let’s face it, this frustration does us no good. In fact, treating our employees as machines only devalues them as persons, which will lower productivity and lead to decreased profits. When you hire an individual, regardless of skill or intelligence level, they have a desire to use their talents (whatever they may be) to achieve something meaningful. Viewing them as merely “a pair of hands” cuts against the grain and only makes management harder. Good leaders, on the other hand, realize the God-given desire rooted in each person and seek to connect that person with the work being done.
So how can you do this?
- Promote the value of the work – Our employees must see the intrinsic value of the work they are performing. They must see how their work connects with the good being brought to society. Work is voluntary giving of your time in the service of another. If you divorce an employee’s work from the intrinsic value of the service provided to the end customer, you rob them of the dignity of their job. But when workers see the dignity and value of their job, productivity, performance, and retention soar. This is especially important among millennials, as studies indicate.
- Give freedom within boundaries – True liberty is the ability to live freely within certain healthy restraints. The tension for employers is providing enough freedom to liberate workers to use their talents, but not so much leeway that the company as a whole is jeopardized. While this freedom/restraint tension is different for each company, it must be realized and honored. When employees don’t feel like slaves, job satisfaction and performance increase.
- Treat the person as a person – As unpleasant as it often times may be, when you hire an individual, you get the WHOLE person – the good, bad, and the ugly. Our tendency is to say “Business is business…keep your personal life at home.” But let’s be real. This is just not the way life works. When “life” happens at home, it affects the person, which affects the job. Therefore, we must set our expectation to match this reality. Treating the employee as a person and not a business machine, will gain his/her respect and trust in you as a leader. Once again, this results in increased retention, morale, and long term productivity.
21st century companies must embrace these principles, even more so considering the growing millennial workforce. We want to pursue these goals because they are good and right in and of themselves. But secondarily, they increase morale, productivity, and profit. This is an example where putting people above profits can actually create more profit in the long run.