If You Want Happy Staff, Wear Their Shoes


If You Want Happy Staff, Wear Their Shoes

A few years ago a guy walked through our door and asked for a job. He was young, early 20’s, and he had zero experience in our industry. But he was willing to learn, and he was keen.

So keen in fact, that even though we weren’t hiring, he turned up the next day. Then again a few days after that. And again a few days after that. Eventually, after both impressing us and wearing us down, we created a junior position for him.

He lasted three weeks, quitting by text message, ten minutes after he was due to start work for the day. To say we were angry was an understatement. Aside from the fact he had unfinished work on his desk that needed reassignment, we were hurt that someone we’d created a job for would up and quit with less than no notice.

We spent the night talking it through, putting it down to him being a ‘lazy Gen Y’er’. Someone who wanted to work until he realised how hard it was.

We weren’t the only ones to have a staffing issue. We were frequently hearing things like ‘good staff are hard to find’ or ‘we can’t find anyone who wants to work’. And up until last week, I’d never thought anything more of it.

Until Wednesday night when I caught the amazing Lauren Maxwell from Headstrong Women, delivering her weekly Facebook Live discussion. The topic was ‘What do you do when you know more than your boss?’

My initial thoughts were that there was nothing in this for me, I am the boss! But as she started talking, I started thinking maybe this was an opportunity for me to inject some of the bosses’ perspective here.

What I actually got was a dose of my own medicine. I got to see things from my staffs’ point of view. Suddenly I could see myself as the employee, a position I had never put myself in before. And it made me think of an interview I’d seen with Richard Branson, where he talks about the importance of keeping your employees nurtured and happy. Adopting a more employee centric state of mind.

So where did we go wrong? When I put myself in the shoes of our ‘lazy Gen Y’er’, I could see three huge areas of improvement for us as bosses:

1. Adjust expectations.

Our expectations were that he would work as hard as we did and that just isn’t realistic. No-one is going to care about a business as much as the person who owns it. And why should they? So adjust expectations to more realistically reflect an employee’s position.

2. Check in and be present.

Many people won’t tell you how they’re feeling. Even I’m guilty of saying I’m fine when I’m not. Don’t just ask if everything is good, go deeper. And start looking for warning signs that things are not ok. If an employee has started doing less, going home early or producing sloppy work, don’t put it down to them being lazy, investigate the reasons.

3. Appreciate and acknowledge.

I’m not sure if our guy ever knew how much he had impressed us in the beginning. I think we just assumed that because we gave him a job, he would figure it out. People like to feel valued, and that they matter, so show them.

4. Mistakes happen.

I make mistakes, regularly. Everyone does. And it can be for any number of reasons which are very unlikely to be of a sinister nature. When a mistake happens, fix it. Learn from it. And move on.

They say to really understand someone you need to walk a mile in their shoes. And while we’ve always tried to go above and beyond for our staff, understanding their motivations and stressors, and therefore being able to address them, was never really possible until now.

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