Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hostile Managers and Scared Employees: Are we back to the Interactive White Board

My friend works for this manager who threatens to either write up employees or terminate them if they don't perform well. This manager never confronts his employees with these ultimatums, but frequently offers these two alternatives whenever something goes amiss at work. Her natural reaction is panic, because as a supervisor she is very well aware of the agony associated with the recruiting process. To make matters worse, she has a tendency to share this news with her trusted coworkers.

There was a time last year where the company experienced many changes. There was the switching around of new accounts, changes in positions, roles, and functions, then came the 'early out' offer which cut her staff by a third. The switch-up came rather fast and unexpectedly, and the entire workforce is still heaving from the experience.

There was another residual effect that goes unnoticed by demanding managers: employee morale. Even if my friend refrains from squealing (sorry, but that's what it is) her manager's tirades, employees can sense the hostilities and the reaction is bad. They pick up clues from the terminations fluffed up with a exit package of benefits and extended salaries, frustrated higher-ups become more demanding, and every action or decision is scrutinized under a microscope. Basically, there's no pleasing anyone, especially the managers who are obviously reacting to demands from their higher-ups.

My friend is frustrated with having to defend the workers under her control. She genuinely believes they are doing the best they can under the circumstances. Not everyone reacts to change similarly; some may need more time to adapt. Keep in mind that her workers have had their responsibilities rotated three times since these changes started, which was this past December. Which means that just as they have grown accustomed to their responsibilities, they lose them.

The result has been several employees asking for transfers to other departments, three have left the company altogether - one left three days before critical deadlines were approaching. Some workers have sat in her office and literally cried, including men. Others have started taking longer lunches, requesting additional days off, and oh, let's not forget the childish bickering and backbiting. That's one hostile atmosphere. Within the past two months, she lost her composure as she was relating her story.

Look, times are tough. Five years after the last financial meltdown, many businesses are not performing as well as expected. Every year since that time, you have one analyst or another trying to stimulate the economy by hyping consumer expectations. So they dance around the potential of near future growth because happy consumers spend and invest more, which is supposed to get that economy out of the bind it's in. The strategy works temporarily, and growth happens for a month or even a quarter. Then it loses momentum and we're back to the interactive white board plotting and planning a new direction. So, instead of wait for an economic recovery, many companies have decided they're going to force it to happen.

A healthy economy is good for everyone, and it's actually a good thing that the business world's head honchos are taking the initiative. Problem is, they're inadvertently reverting back to the pre-crisis days. Demanding change creates ripe opportunities for fraud. Employees process these demands in a contaminated way. They want to keep their jobs, especially during tough times, even if it means turning to questionable behavior.

But fraud is not the only consequence stemming from such irrational demands. Many workers tend to internalize the hostilities and it affects them physically, emotionally, and mentally. This dilutes a company's bottom line, and the best growth-generating strategies will not compensate for this loss in profits. What managers need to do is lay off their employees. This doesn't include babying their staff or toning down expectations, but that they stop being less threatening and more inspiring. What we're seeing is a return to the traditional management styles of the past century, and less of the inspiring future-oriented leadership role. Before another crisis hits our shores.

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